Baluchistan is a unique cultural crossroad, where not only the music of the Indian subcontinent and Iran intersect, but also influences from Africa and Arabia, thanks to sea routes. Geographically, Baluchistan lies on the border of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. The national instrument is the benju, a zither fitted with mechanical keys, a principle related to the Swedish nyckelharpa or medieval hurdy-gurdy. Among the oldest living masters is Noor Bakhsh, until recently known only from local recordings and film documentaries. Pakistani musicologist Daniyal Ahmed travelled 1,000 km to track down Bakhsh, whose address was unknown. Ustad Noor Bakhsh plays traditional melodies, love ghazals, trance rhythms and Bollywood hits. In the ornaments of his solos we hear echoes of Ali Farka Toure and the blues of the Sahara, and last year he was one of the stars of Europe's most progressive festival, Le Guess Who. This year, Noor Bakhsh is invited to the Roskilde festival.
Despite its name, the benju is not related to the banjo, and it is a relatively new instrument. The benju first appeared in Baluchistan in the early 20th century. It was inspired by the Japanese children’s instrument taishokoto, which local musicians perfected into a very refined form. In Europe, the benju was first made famous by Abdulrahman Surizehi. Born in the Baluchistan region of Iran, he settled in Norway 40 years ago, where he and his compatriots founded the group. It was his father, Joma Surizehi, who was responsible for perfecting the instrument and anchoring it in local tradition. As with the electronic bands from the Congo, the benju’s technological shift set in motion a historic change that has transformed the musical tradition into a new form. Ustad Noor Bakhsh belongs to an older generation than Surizehi, yet he plays an electric benju with a pickup and a small Phillips amplifier. Although Bakhsh is a newly discovered star in the global context and only released his first album Jhingol last year, he has accompanied local artists for decades and has earned the status of a musical master in the region, which in Pakistan corresponds to the title Ustad.