Islamabad, Pakistan – When 36-year-old Wahab Bugti had his big break in January performing in Pakistan’s popular music program Coke Studio, it was like a dream come true for him.
“Every singer has a dream that I perform in a big studio. And if you succeed, nothing can beat this happiness,” he had said at the time in a “behind the scenes” video promo.
Fast forward eight months and the man who became a household name with his song Kana Yaari, over 36 million views on YouTube and 7.7 million plays on Spotify, Bugti is back in the news – but this time as a face of tragedy , instead of joy.
He is one of millions of people in Pakistan’s largest but most impoverished province, Balochistan, who have been forced to flee their homes as a result of torrential rains and massive floods that have devastated the South Asian country.
More than 33 million people have been displaced and more than 1,100 have died as a result of flood-related incidents, according to data from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
At least 244 people have died in Balochistan alone. More than 500,000 head of livestock were lost and at least 61,000 homes damaged across the province, with hundreds of thousands of acres of land submerged by impending flooding.
‘Rained non-stop for six days’
While speaking to Al Jazeera by phone, Bugti recalled the week when it rained non-stop for six days in his village of Goth Muhammed Umar, a few miles from the capital, Dera Murad Jamali.
“From August 12, it started raining in our village. I didn’t pay much attention to it before, but my father kept warning that these rains look unusual, and we should plan to leave,” he said.
But after six days of constant rain, his mud house collapsed on August 19, leaving Bugti and his entire family homeless. The rain caused significant damage in the neighboring towns of Jafarabad, Sohbatpur and his own village.
“My father was right. But by then it was too late and we were surrounded by water coming down from hills and rain. Our house has been destroyed,” he says.
Bugti, a father of eight, managed to move his family including his parents to his friend’s house in Dera Murad Jamali.
When floods hit his village, the photo of the singer wearing shalwar kameez (the traditional loose-fitting outfit worn by people in the Pakistan/Afghanistan region) and his child stuck in front of a collapsed house went viral.
Help poured in when Kaifi Khalil, his fellow singer, shared his friend’s plight on Instagram. This was followed by a call from Coke Studio producer Zulfiqar “Xulfi” Jabbar Khan as well.
“Fortunately, friends from Coke Studio have been very kind and have continued to offer money and help all the time. Money is not a problem,” Bugti said. He added that the Balochistan government also reached out and issued guidelines to help him and his village.
“Everywhere is so bad. But I’ve been lucky enough to have given so much by people, so I’m trying to do my part to help those affected here as much as possible,” 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 high school, and he encouraged me to come to his music academy because he liked my voice,” he recalls.
Sharing his journey as a singer, Bugti said he often accompanied his teacher to perform at weddings in his village and neighboring areas. But later, with the advent of the internet, he created a Facebook page and with the help of friends, he was able to build a small studio to record his music.
“When we got the internet a few years ago, I would often record music and just post it on Facebook, hoping people would notice and call me to perform at their functions and events,” he said.
Bugti recalls his surprise when he received a phone call from Coke Studio producer Xulfi late last year.
“Of course I never imagined that. 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 had to sign a nondisclosure agreement. But when the song came out, it was a shock to my family and friends. My phone didn’t stop for days!” Bugti recalled with a laugh.
His actual source of income is his farmland where he grows rice, but music remains Bugti’s passion. However, circumstances have forced him to stop both.
“We had to rush because of the flooding and I left my damboora [traditional stringed Baloch musical instrument] behind. I just picked up my kids and left with what I was wearing.
“Of course I miss music very much, but I don’t want to play it anymore. There is so much misery around. How can I think about it?” he says.