Singer of Tales: Story of a Baloch minstrel how he was discovered in his childhood as a future epic singer
Affiliation: Oriental University of Naples
Balochistan (a country now divided among Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan), has a rich oral tradition comprising of prose and poetry. Among other poetic genres, Balochi (language of the Baloch) has a rich stock of “verse narrative”, called shayr (a word with the general meaning of “poem, poetry” in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Turkish and several other languages of the region but with the strict meaning of “verse narrative” in Balochi). Shayrs are composition of poets who were employed at courts or tribes to record the history of their respective tribes in verse narrative. These were then taught to wandering minstrels through a rote memorization who would sing them in public with the accompaniment of two stringed instruments. While the composer of a shayr could come from any social background, the singer or minstrel came from the low social class of Luri, supposedly of Indian origin but related to the Baloch since the time immemorial as their artists and artisans. Though the art of minstrelsy was limited to this particular social class, it needed a lot of studentship before a singer could qualify to perform in public. It often took about 20 to 30 years of studentship and attachment to a qualified minstrel before a person could claim having mastered the art of minstrelsy. This was because the singing involved memorization of a good number of shayrs or episodes of epic cycles to be able to engage an audience for a full night, or for several nights in sequence, as well as to master the most complicated musical modes involved in an epic singing in Balochistan. A good minstrel was the one who would never fall short of poems or confuse musical modes at different stages of a singing. On many occasions, two minstrels would perform in competition each one singing an episode from a particular epic cycle and a minstrel with a poor repertoire would not be able to compete with someone with a richer one. So, before one landed in the field of minstrelsy he was to equip himself properly.

In this presentation, we will discuss the contents of an interview I took of a famous minstrel during the 1990s. Our minstrel comes from the Luri family background of famous musicians and singers who call themselves “Daudi” (claiming direct descent from the Biblical prophet David, who, according to the Muslim popular belief, was the best singer ever existed on earth). Now in his late 70s, he recounted to me how he was discovered as a future singer in his very early age by a village chief where he was staying as a guest along with other kids of his family and sang during the night to ward off nasty mosquitoes causing them sleeplessness. He recounted to me how pointing out of him as a future singer in his early boyhood changed his life and how he went straight away to a famous minstrel to learn the art of minstrelsy and memorize poems from some famous epic cycles which are must for any minstrel in Balochistan. We will further discuss his case comparing it with stories recounted by other minstrels from Balochistan and elsewhere.