Islamabad, Pakistan – When 36-year-old Wahab Bugti got his big break this January by appearing on Pakistan’s Coke Studio, the popular music programme, it was like a dream come true for him.
“Every singer has a dream that I perform in a big studio. And when you manage it, there is nothing that can top this happiness,” he had said back then in a “behind the scenes” video promo.
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Fast forward eight months and the man who became a household name with his song Kana Yaari, which has been watched more than 36 million times on YouTube and played 7.7 million times on Spotify, Bugti is back in news – but this time as a face of tragedy, instead of joy.
He is among the millions of people in Pakistan’s largest but most impoverished province, Balochistan, who were forced to leave their homes due to the torrential rains and massive floods which have wrought havoc in the South Asian country.
More than 33 million people have been displaced and more than 1,100 people have died due to flood-related incidents, according to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) data.
In Balochistan alone, at least 244 people have died. More than 500,000 livestock were lost and at least 61,000 houses were damaged across the province, with hundred of thousands of acres of land submerged by the menacing floods.
‘Rained non-stop for six days’
Speaking to Al Jazeera by phone, Bugti recalled the week when it rained non-stop for six days in his village Goth Muhammed Umar, a few kilometres from the main town of Dera Murad Jamali.
“Rains started in our village from August 12. I earlier did not pay much heed, but my father kept warning that these rains look unusual, and we must plan to leave,” he said.
However, after six days of constant rain, his mud house collapsed on August 19, leaving Bugti and his entire family homeless. The rains caused significant damage in the neighbouring towns of Jafarabad, Sohbatpur and his own village.
“My father was right. But by that time, it was too late, and we were surrounded by water coming down from hills as well as rain. Our house was destroyed,” he said.
Bugti, a father of eight, managed to move his family, including his parents, to his friend’s house in Dera Murad Jamali.
When the floods struck his village, the singer’s photo wearing shalwar kameez (the traditional loose-fitting outfit worn by people in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region) and holding his child in front of a collapsed house went viral.
Aid poured in as Kaifi Khalil, his fellow singer, shared the plight of his friend on Instagram. This was followed by an appeal by the Coke Studio producer Zulfiqar “Xulfi” Jabbar Khan as well.
“Thankfully, friends from Coke Studio have been very kind and constantly kept providing with money and aid. Money is not a problem,” Bugti said. He added that the Balochistan government also reached out and issued directives to help him and his village.
“Things are so bad everywhere. But I have been lucky that I have so much given by people so I am trying to do my bit to help those affected here as much as I can,” he says.
Interest in music
Bugti’s interest in music developed when he was a child. “I had a music teacher when I was in middle school, and he encouraged me to come to his music academy because he liked my voice,” he recalled.
Sharing his journey as a singer, Bugti said he would often join his teacher to perform at weddings in his village and adjoining areas. But later, with the advent of the internet, he made a Facebook page and with the help of friends, was able to build a small studio to record his music.
“When we got internet a few years ago, I would often record music and just post it on Facebook, hoping people will notice and call me to perform in their functions and events,” he said.
Bugti recalls his astonishment when he received a call from Xulfi, the Coke Studio producer late last year.
“I obviously had never imagined it. Who doesn’t want to play in front of a lot of people but this was beyond even my dreams!” he said.
His performance at Coke Studio surprised those who know him. “We were made to sign a confidentiality agreement. But when the song came out, it was a shock for my family and friends. My phone did not stop ringing for days!” Bugti recalled while laughing.
His actual source of income is his agricultural land where he farms rice, but music remains Bugti’s passion. However, circumstances have compelled him to stop both.
“We had to rush due to the floods and I left my damboora [traditional stringed Baloch musical instrument] behind. I just picked up my children and left with what I was wearing.
“Of course, I miss music a lot, but I also do not want to play it any more. There is so much misery around. How can I think about it?” he says.