You may have not listened to any of her songs but if you have heard Ali Haider’s music, you would know where the famous ‘Zalim Nazron Se’ was taken from. It was actually an Urdu version of Mashooq Sultan’s ‘Da Spogmayy Khorey’. Before Sultan became the sensation who ruled the Pashto music industry for four decades, she was just a young girl with sparkling eyes whose real name was Mehjabeen. The journey from Mehjabeen to being the ‘Sultana’ of the music industry is humbling, awe-inspiring and free of clichés.
She started dreaming to become a singer when she was six-years-old by listening to Kishwar Sultana’s melodious songs. “Kishwar apa inspired me to be a singer and pursue this as a profession,” Sultan told The Express Tribune, adding she would listen to Radio Pakistan Peshawar, the only medium available at her parents’ house back then.
Ali Haider’s popular song ‘Zalim Nazron Se’ is the Urdu version of Mashooq’s ‘Da Spogmayy Khorey’.
Hailing from Shah Dherai area of Swat, her family shifted to Mardan when she was a kid. “I pursued my dream after I got married in Peshawar at the age of 12 in the late 50s,” she said, mentioning how her husband and her in-laws supported her singing career. “I was lucky I got married in a music-loving family,” she added, getting her veil fixed.
Belonging to a small, impoverished family, her parents never allowed her to sing and perform. It was her husband, Wilayat Hussain who took care of their four sons and two daughters while she was busy establishing her musical career.
Wearing a simple shalwar kameez and covering her grey tresses with henna, Sultan reveals her father-in-law, Raadat Hussain and his brother Ummat Hussain aka ‘Tablay walay’, would give music lessons. “My husband’s family fulfilled my wish to sing in front of everyone. At the age of 16, I started singing at local weddings in the neighbourhood and practiced daily at my home,” she said.
In 1962, a radio producer, Nawab Ali Khan Yousafzai, introduced her to the Radio Pakistan Peshawar. “Since then, I am associated with Radio Pakistan,” she recalled. Sultan can’t put to words the thrilling experience of singing on radio in the 60s, “While recording, we used to sing live and in just one take. But now the scenario is really different and there are many adaptations.”
“The feel of live singing is irreplaceable,” she said, humming one of her songs in Pashto.
“Many of my songs were translated in Urdu by the renowned singers including Ali Haider and Saleem Javed,” she proudly said. ‘Zalim Nazron Se’ was originally in Pashto, which Sultan sang early in her career.
“In 1974, Jamiluddin Aali invited me to Karachi and I performed there with well-known Indian lyricist, Javed Akhtar,” she added.
Sultan has more than 600 national and international awards from the US, France, the UK, Belgium, Afghanistan and UAE, where she represented Pakistan at several occasions. Apart from being a proud winner of Sitara-e-Imtiaz, she has “1,600 music albums” to her credit.
Although she has also acted in classic movies like Jawargar andJanaan, she prefers singing over acting. “Movies are not my thing, I am a singer and that is what I should do,” She said.
Today, the legendary singer lives in a two-room rented house in Chughalpura, in the outskirts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with her son and daughter. “I still perform whenever Radio Pakistan or any other channel approaches me,” she said. Her husband passed away two decades ago. “Being the only artist in the family and a single parent makes life more difficult,” she says.
The singer also spoke about the on-going law and order situation in Peshawar, saying that the growing militancy had badly affected the Pashto music industry, especially in K-P. “The situation is getting worse in our province. Singers are migrating and regional music is diminishing very fast,” she said.