Ustad Noor Bakhsh, from near Pasni, Balochistan, is a maestro of the Balochi Benju (a keyed Zither), which he has played since he was a child. Noor Bakhsh is well known as a legendary instrumentalist throughout the Makran Coast, but only garnered wider attention after his most recent recordings and videos. The Benju, was once a Japanese children’s toy called the taishōkoto before it was adopted by Balochi musicians and made into the refined folk instrument that it is today. Noor Bakhsh plays an electric Benju, getting his sound through an old pickup and small Phillips amp he bought from Karachi 2 decades ago. He carries forward the legacy of his teachers and inspirations such as Bilawal Belgium and Misri Khan Jamali but his own music elicits influences from various traditions and musical forms far beyond Balochistan. His virtuosic playing is deeply rooted in Balochi musical forms and enriched by his knowledge of South Asian Raags, which he also renders in his own, experimental style.
His repertoire includes Persian and Kurdish tunes that have probably floated in his land since before the modern borders of Iran and Pakistan were set up and Balochistan, divided as it were. In one of his recent recording sessions, he even played an Arabic Ghazal on his Benju. Needless to say, he also renders popular and folk tunes in all the major languages spoken across Pakistan. His Sindhi repertoire is particularly novel in that it reflects a beautiful conversation between the neighbouring musical cultures of Sindh and Balochistan. No surprises, that Noor Baksh plays several Bollywood songs too, after all, he has soaked the sounds around him like a sponge, including those of all birds in the mountains and the jungle near his village. Other than his diverse repertoire, he has several original compositions too, including one inspired by bird songs. His debut album, ‘Jingul‘, was released digitally in September 2022, and will be out on vinyl via the UK’s Hive Mind Records on September 15, 2023.
For listeners unfamiliar with Balochi music, Noor Baksh’s electric Benju tone and his melodic ornamentations will be reminiscent of Ali Farka Toure’s style, and polyrhythmic sixes and eights with so much groovy innovation and improvisation will make the body move in ways very similar to the music of West as well as East Africa. This is unsurprising, given the well documented migrations and seafaring, historical, intimacies between Balochistan and Africa, via the greater Indian Ocean world. It is this world that his music brings back to life.