Indian and Pakistani communities celebrate together their common ground in the Punjab

Saieen ZahoorTHE City of Bhangra Festival and Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration Society (VIBC) can be counted on to be bold and to always explore new expressions of this thing called bhangra.

“In the past we only presented aspects of Punjabi culture found in Punjab, India,” noted VIBC Director Mo Dhaliwal. “We were missing half the picture. So, three years ago we began the conversation with the local Pakistani community and found inspired partners to help us complete the picture and present a fuller spectrum of Punjabi culture.”

VIBC programmers have come up with two major concerts, highlighting two very different interpretations of Pakistani music, and some complementary local artists. Rizwan Shawl of BC’s Pakistani Canadian Cultural Association said they were “looking forward to a healthy collaboration with VIBC, and glad to see that Pakistani singers are becoming a part of Vancouver’s community entertainment.”

Saieen Zahoor is a leading Sufi musician from Pakistan, who has spent most of his life singing in Sufi shrines. He produced his first record in 2006, when he was nominated for the BBC World Music awards, and emerged as the Best BBC voice of the year 2006. Saieen is not his first name but a Sindhi honorific title.

For most of his life, Zahoor has performed mainly in dargahs (Sufi tombs / shrines) and festivals, and in the streets. He adopted the folk instrument ektara (ek = one, tar = string), in its three-stringed version called tumbi, as his main instrument. Like some traditions of Sufi music, he has a passionate, high-energy style of singing, often dancing in a frenzied style with the tassels on his instrument whirling around him. His typical costume includes an embroidered kurta, beads, tightly bound turban, as well as ghungroos (anklet-bells worn by dancers). His voice has an earthy tone, almost cracking at the edges, but capable of a wide vocal and emotional range.

In 1989 he performed on a concert stage for the first time at the All Pakistan Music Conference, which brought him into musical prominence. Subsequently he has emerged as a leading performer in Pakistan, frequently appearing on TV and in concerts. Zahoor has also given concerts in UK, Japan, Ireland, India, Canada, and Norway.

Sufi singing is focused on poetry with themes of devotional love, which shares much with Persian mystic poets like Rumi and with other South Asian traditions such as the Bhakti cult.
Sufi traditions highlight a softer, multi-cultural aspect of Islam, and in present-day are seen as countering extremism that creates ill-will between cultural groups, according to some organizers of Saieen Zahoor’s concerts.

In 2006 Zahoor released an album titled Awazay (Sounds) through Matteela Records. In 2007 he helped produce the soundtrack to the Pakistani film Khuda Ke Liye. He sang an OST in 2011 for West is West, a British comedy-drama film, which is a sequel to the 1999 comedy East Is East. He also acted and appeared in the film.

Saieen Zahoor will perform on Saturday, May 31 at the Vogue Theatre, 918 Granville Street, at 8 p.m.

The opening act will be Surrey’s naQsh, an Indo-Pak band, founded in 2007 by songwriter Daksh Kubba, guitarist Imran Habib, drummer Aman and bassist Irfan Lawrence, bringing together members from New Delhi to Lahore to spread peace and unity through their music. They’ve played some high profile shows, including opening for Blue Rodeo at the Olympics. They have a new single and videos coming out soon.

Qurat-ul-Ain BalouchTHIS year’s Bhangra on Main, in collaboration with Music on Main, brings a singer from a new generation. QB (Qurat-ul-Ain Balouch) exemplifies the eclectic sound of contemporary Pakistani pop music, with influences of jazz, rock, and Sufi folk. The 26-year-old singer was born in Iran to a Persian father and a Pakistani mother. She is an American citizen, but moved back to Pakistan from the USA to make her mark in Pakistan’s music industry.

QB started her career in 2011 with a cover track, “Ankhian Nu Ren De.” She became a household name in Pakistan soon after singing the title song for the television drama serial “Humsafar.” QB has also been featured on Season 4 of the highly-acclaimed Coke Studio series, collaborating with Jal Band. Her achievements include winning Pakistan’s Youngest Achievement Award UK and Europe 2011 in Britain, and Best Song of the Year for “Humsafar” and Best OST for “Humsafar” at the Lux Style Awards 2012. That same year, QB performed with the Philharmonic Orchestra for the BBC Asian Network “Queens of Melody” in London.

Growing up, QB did not aspire to be a great singer, and she doesn’t have the typical formal training. Instead of being under the guidance of a vocal coach, she was heavily inspired by Sufi musicians Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, and especially Reshma. A hallmark of QB’s personality is her modesty and respect for these artists. Whatever success she has had, she credits to “the divine inspiration I get from the big names.”

Bhangra on Main featuring QB is Tuesday, June 3 at the Fox Cabaret, 2321 Main Street at 8 p.m.

Many thanks to our partners in this celebration of Punjabi arts: The Consulate General of Pakistan in Vancouver, the Pakistan Canadian Cultural Association, and The Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians, Vancouver Chapter.

“We wish VIBC all the best for this year’s City of Bhangra and are excited at the prospect of having Pakistani artists perform. We are hopeful that VIBC’s partnership with Pakistani Community would prove to be promising for the future of Bhangra and South Asian art and culture in the Lower Mainland,” says the Consul General of Pakistan, Vancouver.

We also invite you to read the Pakistani Canadian Cultural Association’s Saeda Khan’s post at for an enlightening perspective on the Punjab.

“Our work at VIBC is driven by the Punjabi way of being,” explains Mo Dhaliwal, “a spirit of generosity, welcoming and community – a warm and boisterous mode of living that we try to reflect in our festival.”