Wahab Ali Bugti: Stark Reminder Of Artist Neglect In Pakistan

Wahab Ali Bugti: Stark Reminder Of Artist Neglect In Pakistan
Time and again we are reminded of how the state fails its people in so many different ways. Perhaps a more accurate reading would be people failing people, but however you look at it, the final result is the same. Recently, pictures of Balochi musician Wahab Ali Bugti have been making the rounds that show him and his family stranded in his flooded village in Dera Murad Jamali. The pictures, like almost all the visuals from flood-hit areas are heart-breaking, but in the case of Bugti they are even more so when you consider where he was just a year ago. In January of this year, Coke Studio came out with its latest season, which included a song featuring Bugti and fellow Baloch singers Kaifi Khalil and rapper Eva B. The song, Kana Yari, became a huge hit, and currently has over 35 million views on Youtube. But now, after seeing Twitter timelines full of photos of Bugti in very different circumstances, the question one must ask is, how are we repaying our artists?


This isn't to insinuate that it is Coke Studio's fault for not helping out Bugti. To his credit, Xulfi, who was the producer of this season of Coke Studio, reached out to the stranded musician to offer support and assistance, and since then, it has been learnt that Bugti has relocated, though he is still in need of financial assistance. But there have been too many instances of artists and internet personalities from humble backgrounds who go viral and are invited to do press junkets and morning show appearances only to be forgotten the next week, for this to remain an anomaly. Far too many 'viral sensations' are never heard of again, after providing the press cycle great content for almost nothing in exchange. If anything, this is a question of mentorship, and not just mere exposure. Who will stand up for the artisans and the entertainers?


I had been thinking about the Justin Bibi's for many years before they made an appearance on this year's Coke Studio. In fact, in December 2019 I had even reached out to them, in hopes of finding out where they were and maybe highlighting this exact question that I'm posing today. Where do viral sensations go to die? Why can't we offer them more than a 20 minute appearance on a morning show? These girls had talent, and more importantly had lucked out by getting noticed, even if only fleetingly. How can our infrastructure make it possible for people like them to hold on to that awareness, and make the best out of it?


Maybe the answer is Coke Studio. For the Justin Bibi's it certainly seemed to be, as it catapulted them back to an even bigger place in the spotlight, and a well-deserved one too. But it shouldn't stop there. We need to revisit our infrastructure and really re-think how we can offer artists a sustained income throughout the year, beyond Coke Studio. In addition to a lack of infrastructure, there is also a lack of mentorship, for the pioneers in the fields of art and culture have mostly come from privileged elite families, and don't have to worry about income sustainability the same way Wahab Ali Bugti or the Justin Bibi's do.

This conversation also makes me think of Arshad Khan, better known as the handsome Chai Wala, who went viral for his good looks and great tea back in 2016 — as I say, I've been thinking about this for a while. Life after going viral for Arshad looked like getting into the modeling industry, even though he fizzled out of the media circuit, as one does if one is a viral sensation. He, however, made the smart move to make some business investments, and opened up a cafe called, you guessed it, Chai Wala Cafe. The cafe now has two different branches, making sure Arshad doesn't have to rely on the fleeting loyalty of fame.

Khadija Muzaffar is the culture editor at The Friday Times. Previously a Fulbright scholar at NYU, she enjoys writing about society, culture, music and food. She tweets at @khadijamuzaffar, but is far more interesting on Instagram.