Pakistani Showbiz

Voice of the desert takes the world by storm

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Hailing from one of the oldest tribes in Thar, Mai Dhai has emerged to the fore as a vocal powerhouse. After gaining ground in interior Sindh, the folk singer and dhol player received mainstream recognition when Islamabad-based guitarist Zain Ali and Lahore-based drummer Danish Bakhtiyaar Khawaja approached her for what came to be known as the Mai Dhai band.

Dhai’s raw vocals and soulful compositions have transcended borders, with her having recently performed in New York City. And it seems like international audiences can’t get enough of her as she’s already booked to perform another gig at the University of North Carolina next year.

“I want the world to know about us Manganiyars, our simplicity and our love of music,” says Mai Dhai. “We stay away from politics. We play music and seek happiness from it,” she adds. Khawaja says they invited Dhai and her group to jam in Lahore with them through a personal connection in interior Sindh.  The fusion of folk with contemporary jazz music made for a class act, which is why they decided to team up and form a band.

“We became fans of her voice the instant we listened to her music for the first time on a phone recording,” states Ali. “Also, due to our personal fondness for folk music, we thought we can come up with something really interesting,” he further says. Since the band was already in Punjab, Ali and Khawaja took the opportunity to record the songs Sarak Sarak and La Gorey. Written and composed by Dhai herself, Sarak Sarak is a playful song about her walking on the road when her shoe breaks.

What was a milestone in Dhai’s life and musical career, Dhai performed at SXSW, riveting the audiences at the four venues she performed at. In May 2014, the Foundation for Arts, Culture and Education and the US embassy invited Dhai to perform at Music Mela.

Dhai’s music has a raw and natural feel to it, which comes from the dry deserts of Tharparkar. Through simple lyrics, most of her songs deliver the simplicity, beauty and challenges of life in the village. Some of her songs are inspired by Sindh’s Sufi saints, such as Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai.

The Manganiyars, the community of Muslim musicians she belongs to, traditionally performed for the kings of Rajasthan in the subcontinent. Over the years, their patrons shifted from kings to anyone who could offer them a meal. Their repertoire ranges from ballads about kings to Sufi songs. They also sing songs for occasions such as birth, marriage, rain and feasts, among others. Today, the Manganiyars live in Thar and Cholistan in Pakistan and Rajasthan in India. Given her origin, Dhai’s driving percussion and ethereal voice evoke the ancient rhythms of times long past.

Voice of the desert takes the world by storm by pakshowbiz


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