By Sonya Rehman
The acclaimed Pakistani folk singer, Krishan Lal Bheel, passed away last week following serious health issues. Leaving behind his wife and two children, the arc of Bheel’s career was rich and vibrant, much like his larger-than-life personality.
Hailing from Cholistan, a desert in South Punjab, Bheel began his career in singing over four decades ago. While he would often sing in his local language, Marwari, he would also sing in a number of other languages too such as; Urdu, Sindhi, Saraiki, Hindi and more.
Always dressed in traditional Cholistani attire, in various shades of saffron and red, along with chunky ethnic jewellery, Bheel would perform with his troupe of singers and dancers while playing his ektara (a one-stringed instrument used in traditional music from the region) at various festivals and events over the years.
On stage, he was a cosmic force.
“Bheel was an amazing act,” stated Saadan Peerzada, the Chief Operating Officer of the renowned Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop (RPTW) in Lahore. “Whenever I’d see him performing it was almost as if I was looking at him for the first time. He was that magical.”
Unable to receive a formal education, Bheel grew up taking care of his family’s cattle as a young boy. But his heart wanted more out of life – he loved music and singing, it drew him in and made his soul soar. Therefore, a few years later, Bheel left Cholistan and traveled to Sindh where he found a teacher in the renowned Sindhi folk singer, Jalal Chandio.
Having worked with Bheel for 25 years for over 100 shows, Peerzada mentions that none of the RPTW’s events, such as its popular Mystic Music Sufi Festival, would have been complete without Bheel and his group’s attendance. For Peerzada, the jovial and supremely talented artiste was an integral part of cultural events and his passing has left a vacuum in the Pakistani folk music scene.
“[Bheel] was a very humble guy, the best thing about him was that he was always eager to better his craft and his image,” Peerzada revealed, “Other musicians I worked with over the years wouldn’t really respond to my advice, but he had this hunger to discover new ways to improve himself…right till the very last day. Bheel was also very passionate about introducing me to other musicians and performers from his community so that they could get a big break, just like he did. Who does that anymore? The man had a very deep spiritual bent.”
Endearing and generous to a fault, Bheel would regard his students as if they were his teachers. He didn’t have an iota of competitiveness in him and in fact rejoiced in someone else’s talent and potential.
His love for his culture and his people shone through everything he did, Peerzada stated fondly. If Bheel succeeded, he wanted others like him to succeed too.
“For me, Bheel was a jewel from Cholistan; one of the brightest and most rare artistes I’ve ever encountered in my life. All these years hosting festivals, looking back I realize I could’ve never have thought of doing them without him.”