SHAHPUR CHAKAR, SINDH: In a small southern town steeped in history, hundreds of men from across Pakistan gathered last week for the love of old music, huddled all night in blankets and holding mugs of warm tea as they swayed to records spinning on antique gramophones.
Their host was Ghulam Nabi Julhan, a 60-year old master tailor who keeps a rare and expensive hobby: collecting antique records. The event, which he has been hosting for 14 years, is a simple game of disc jockeying.
Everybody in the audience gets a turn to DJ four songs of their choice in any language from the available records. And no matter what their choice is, it is met with thunderous applause when the music ends. The event carries on until the morning.
“This is an obsession. I am obsessed,” 70-year-old Atta Muhammad Jamali from the nearby town of Sakrand, told Arab News.
Sakrand has been collecting gramophone records since 1971, he said, after the passion for old Urdu and Sindhi records was passed down to him from his father.
“The hobby is expensive. But all the participants here have come because they too are obsessed,” he said.
Pinned to the tent, a banner read the words ‘sangeet sammelan,’ or ‘musical conference,’ and the audience sat on the floor among black-and-white lifesize cutouts of some of the region’s most beloved musical legends, from Muhammad Rafi to Lata Mangeshkar.
This year, roughly 200 music lovers arrived in the small town of Shahpur Chakar from across Pakistan.
According to Nabi, the event also presents an opportunity for hobbyists to exchange gramophone records that are otherwise hard to find. Nabi’s oldest record-- of Gohar Sultana-- dates as far back as 1902. He also owns a 1932 gramophone that runs on a mechanical key-- but the piece cannot be restored to its former glory because of the unavailability of spare parts.
Nabi said he owns three gramophones and roughly 10,000 records in Bengali, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi and Guajarati languages.
As temperatures dropped inside the tent, the voices of the greats-- Jiweni Bai, Master Kanwal Ram, Zarina Baloch, Master Chander, Misri Faqeer, Dhol Faqeer and Lata Mangeshkar-- rose clearly from the old vinyl discs packed with nostalgia.
“This is a very expensive hobby as these records are not commonly available,” Abdul Mannan, a visitor and record enthusiast who had traveled over 500 miles from Quetta to Shahpur Chakar, told Arab News.
Mannan has been a regular attendee of the event for the last 14 years.
“We order these records from India,” he continued. “In Pakistan we search for people who have such records through the Internet and social media, like Facebook and Whatsapp.”
Ghulam Mustafa Leghari, another music enthusiast, traveled the length of the country and arrived from Islamabad, over a thousand km away.
“Anybody who has these records, he fixes prices above Rs10,000 ($62). After many requests, he sells,” Leghari told Arab News.
But instruments that can actually play the old records are getting harder and harder to come by in a usable condition-- leaving thousands of Nabi’s records in jeopardy of being relegated to silence.
“If a gramophone is broken, we can only do a small level of maintenance manually,” Nabi told Arab News.
“However, since no spare parts are coming, these gramophones become of no use.”