Pani da Bulbula represents original Pakistani rap. A wondrous and catchy rhythm that can plant itself inside your head and keep playing on and on forever.Even when you want it to stop!
I do not know if it was his original creation or not, but for years the song has been synonymous with Yaqoob Atif. In fact, Yaqoob Atif has been synonymous with the song. So much so that his named changed to “Yaqoob Atif Bulbula.” (See: Cover of his 1979 LP from EMI Pakistan).
I realized that this was not a simple affectation when – sometimes in the mid-1980s – I was introduced to Mr. Yaqoob at Lahore’s PTV station (where he had become a bit of a fixture) as “Bulbula Sahib.” Both the person introducting him and Bulbula Sahib himself took this to be the perfectly appropraite and natural introduction. By then, that was his name. It was not a laqab, not a cheR, not an affection. That is what he was. He was his song. That is what this song meant to him and his life. It was his life. Here, indeed, was a one song wonder.
The song, of course, evolved as did its ever smiling and ever mischevous Bulbula Sahib. That was part of its charm. That is the charm of so much ‘rap.’ The song morphed to the audience it was played to and to the times it was played in. The words changed, the examples evolved, but the simple rhythm and beat remained the same. And it was that beat which was combined to make the song the wonder that it was.
But the sheen of one song wonders lasts only that long. And so too with this song. So many remember it. And, yet, so many have forgotten it too, until they are reminded of it. It did, however, get a major revival back in the early 1980s, when it was featured in an episode of the blockbuster Waris series. The look on young Firdous Jamal’s face is one that expresses the song well – you start by asking yourself in slight disdain “What is this?” and then move on in admiration to “What is this!” At least I do (not, again, the variation in the words):
Like others, I to lost touch with the song. Yaqoob Atif Bulbula, of course, did not. He kept it, even trying – in what seems to be a more recent recording – to come up with an English version of Pani Da Bulbula. The recoding is rather bad – and at some levels the song is rather sad – but its worth a look… and maybe a smile. That, I think, is all that Bulbula sahib really wanted to invoke. A smile:
P.S. ATP has written about this song before in the story of one inspirational Pakistani who also defines himself with this song. And you may also enjoy Khalid Abbas Dar’s amazing rendition of another form of Pakistani Rap!