Ustad Noor Bakhsh

About

Ustad Noor Bakhsh lives in a village called Sindhi Paso, in Pasni, Balochistan. He is a maestro of the Balochi Benju (a keyed Zither), which he has played since he was a child. Like his father, also a musician, he spent the early part of his life as nomadic shepherd, taking his livestock and following the rains, before settling down as a professional musician. Noor Bakhsh was well known as a legendary instrumentalist throughout the Makran coast, but garnered global attention after his recent videos and releases by honiunhoni in 2022.


Artist Links:   Spotify  |  Bandcamp

Areas of Representation: The Americas, Australia, New Zealand

Biography

Ustad Noor Bakhsh lives in a village called Sindhi Paso, in Pasni, Balochistan. He is a maestro of the Balochi Benju (a keyed Zither), which he has played since he was a child. Like his father, also a musician, he spent the early part of his life as nomadic shepherd, taking his livestock and following the rains, before settling down as a professional musician. Noor Bakhsh was well known as a legendary instrumentalist throughout the Makran coast, but garnered global attention after his recent videos and releases by honiunhoni in 2022.

The Benju, was once a Japanese children’s toy called the taishōkoto before it was adopted by Baloch musicians living in Karachi and developed into the refined folk instrument that it is today. Noor Bakhsh plays an Electric Benju, getting his sound through an old single coil pickup and a small amp he bought from Karachi 2 decades ago. Because there is no electricity in his village, he runs the amp from a motorcycle battery, and maintains this setup even as he plays shows across the world.

He carries forward the legacy of his teachers, Ustad Khuda Bakhsh and Ustad Rehmat and his inspirations, Bilawal Belgium and Misri Khan Jamali, but his own music elicits influences from diverse traditions and musical forms far beyond Balochistan. His virtuosic playing is deeply rooted in Balochi musical forms but enriched by his knowledge of South Asian Ragas, 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, many of which are inspired by his experiences in nature, particularly, from bird songs. His debut album, ‘Jingul’, is also titled after a small bird that has built nests in Noor’s house. The critically acclaimed debut was released digitally in September 2022 on honiunhoni, and came out on vinyl via the UK’s Hive Mind Records on September 15, 2023.

“It’s the kind of music that leaves you grasping for the spiritual and indefinable, that burrows into your soul and glows there” – Pitchfork

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.

Since 2023, Noor Bakhsh, and his accompanists, Doshambay, and Daniyal have played almost 40 shows in Europe over two tours in the summer and the fall. Prominent appearances include the Roskilde Festival (Avalon Stage),  WOMEX, Rudolstadt Festival, Clandestino Festival, Le Guess Who Festival, as well as important cultural houses like the Budapest House of Music, Ancienne Belgique, Münchner Kammerspiele and several other large and small venues across Europe.

 

Tour Dates

Future Tour Dates

View Tour History

Videos

BBC-Balochistan’s Mystery Benjo Man – Part 1 

BBC-Balochistan’s Mystery Benjo Man – Part 2

News

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Press

“Throughout this electrifying project, the benju twists through sorrow, ecstasy, and epiphany, embroidering a vivid tapestry of emotion…

The instrument sounds incandescent here, like light refracting on fresh snow. As ruminative and heady as Bakhsh’s music often is, “Shahbaz Qalandar” shows that he’s just as compelling when his delivery is playful and exploratory…

It’s the kind of music that leaves you grasping for the spiritual and indefinable, that burrows into your soul and glows there.”

Vrinda Jagota for Pitchfork – Sep 2022


“Like many master musicians, Bakhsh appears completely at ease with the benju, the technical flourishes and melodies flowing out of him in an endless stream of sound. Through repetition and speed his performances can lean towards the ecstasy of Sufism and qawwali

Due to Balochistan’s geography, myriad influences can be heard in Bakhsh’s playing, be it melodies from the Arab Peninsula, Iran, various ragas from Pakistan and India, and echoes of past masters such as Bilawal Belgium or the double flute player Misri Jamali Khan. For Bakhsh, though, his music connects with something more elemental that perhaps lends it its timeless appeal. “Birds make different kinds of sounds, but it’s about how they are memorised in the imagination,” he concludes. “You see it’s about how one can find inspiration from them to create original tunes. When I hear the birds sing, I try to tune my benju to their voices.”

Chris Menist, for Songlines – Oct 2022

Downloads/Media

Technical Riders:

Artist Rider: Download (pdf)

 

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