Little Ali Lohar—not quite four years old—kept the beat, sang on key, and danced with flair for nearly 100 appreciative Midtown Community Elementary School students in Neptune, New Jersey, on Wednesday morning. His father stood behind him, beaming with pride.
Although his son’s debut venue was a school gymnasium in the U.S. and not a major stadium in Lahore, Arif said the stellar performance was just like his own debut, when he too sang “Katya Kara” for a proud father.
The lyrics of the song translate to:
I always remember you wherever I go
I always see you and send you blessings
It was as if the legendary Alam Lohar, who died in an automobile accident 33 years ago, was present for his grandson’s first public performance.
Hours after the performance, Arif still could not find the words to express his joy. “I feel so much emotion,” he said. “I remember my father.” His voice trembled, and his eyes threatened to tear.
Arif, who remembered being the same age as Ali when he made his debut, had prepared diligently for that moment, and his father knew he was ready. However, no one knew if Ali was ready when he decided to sing at a Caravanserai workshop on week two of the tour. Arif later said he was only 50 percent sure that his son would sing instead of balk before a live audience. He hadn’t prepared little Ali for this particular moment.
But Ali was ready. He practiced during the sound check while members of the ensemble cheered him on. When given the cue—following 80-year-old Allah Ditta’s impressive demonstration of circular breathing while playing the alghoza—the child became a star.
During a Q&A session, a student named Destiny was invited onstage after she asked to touch the instruments. Arif showed her and two other students how to play the chimta, the metal, tong-like instrument that Arif’s father had taught him to play. Destiny, who plays flute in the school band, so impressed Arif with her playing that he gave her one of the Pakistani percussion instruments to share with her classmates.
Following the chimta demonstration, there was time for one more question. A young student asked, “Can the little boy play again?”
Ali gleefully delivered an energetic encore while students danced. That night, before the musicians went to bed, the ensemble celebrated Ali’s debut with a family party.
The next day Ali got ready for “his next concert.” As he left his hotel room, he gently touched his mother’s cheek and asked for a blessing. It wasn’t long before Swimming River Elementary students in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, chanted his name, asked for an encore, and, at the end the show, crowded around him for a chance to shake his hand.
Soon after the family returns to Pakistan, Ali will begin his schooling, making it more difficult for him to go on the road in the near future. However, there is no doubt he will find his way back to the stage. Arif’s first-born son is a natural performer.
Documentary filmmaker Nadya Shah translated Arif’s comments for this story.