On the northern outskirts of Rawalpindi and bleeding into the newer residential zones of Islambad lies an area called Pirwadahi. It is a gritty industrial section dominated by small workshops specialising in metal work, auto repair and the wholesale trade of plumbing supplies. Pirwadahi is also the home of an enormous long distance bus terminus. Huge, garishly decorated Bedford buses from all across Punjab, North-West Frontier Province and the Northern Areas grind their gears, belch their exhaust and exercise their whistling air horns as they move in and out of Pirwadahi 24/7.

If you visited, as I did many times in the 1980s and '90s, the music you would hear booming out over the mechanical racket was nine times out of ten that of Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi. From every bus, Suzuki and taxi, from every garam hamam (hot bath), barbershop and tea stall, indeed from the very smoky sky itself, the spirited, passionate voice of Esakhelvi kept everything moving and warm.

Singing in Seraiki, the dialect of Punjabi that dominates western and southern Punjab, his searing impassioned songs caught on like wildfire almost from the moment he recorded his first session for Radio Pakistan Bahawalpur in the mid 1970s. The first tape I had of his was a locally produced one. The cover was a photocopy of a photocopy of a blurred picture with grossly misaligned artwork. But the music was raw and real.

For years, Esakhelvi reigned supreme and unchallenged, in an universe that existed parallel to the cultured music salons of the elite. This was the world of the working classes of Pakistan, especially it seems the truck and long distance bus drivers. His songs were not classically derived, and his ghazals and folk songs were rendered somehow differently. Before Esakhelvi's arrival on the scene there really was nothing like him. If there was, it was the versatile and freewheeling nautanki performers like Arif Lohar. But Esakhelvi was definitely not a vaudeville artist. He was a serious singer, even a bit of a racy one. For the labouring men around Pirwadahi, Esakhelvi was their Elvis Presley. His music was as liberating, relevant and vital as rock 'n roll was to American kids three decades earlier.

To select just a handful of videos of this magnificent south Asian performer is a hard task, but here are a few.

Balo Batiyaan Way Mahi

Esakhelvi with his natural and original audience: working-class men uninhibited by the niceties of social decorum. Cat whistles, hand claps and whoops of joy accompany each climatic line and add another percussive layer to the very lively country dholak, harmonium, flute and tabla accompanying quartet. With knowing references to Multan, Lahore, Khushab and his own Mianwali, Esakhelvi connects with the itinerant truck driving brotherhood who crisscross Punjab on a daily basis.

Idhar Zindagi ka Janaza Uthe Ga

One of his most popular songs. Esakhelvi is never one to shy away from high sentiment: Ishq ko dard-e-sar kahene walo suno/kuch bhi ho ham ne yeh dard-e-sar leliya (Listen all you who claim love is just a headache/ come what may, I’ve taken up this headache); woh nighaon se bach kar kahan jayenge/ab to unke muhalle mein ghar leliya  (Where can I go to escape her glances?/ I’ve taken a house in her very neighbourhood)

Indeed, it is open-voiced singing of the heartache of love that originally made him so popular. Unlike the received wisdom that stipulated love songs should be conveyed with obscure Persianised vocabulary and finely controlled performances, Esakhelvi burst from the blocks like Bob Dylan at Newport 1965, singing with his heart fully planted on his sleeve and damning all torpedoes.

Chimta Taan Wajda

A rousing Punjabi folk number that speaks of the joy of flirtation, love and the glories of spring time.  All of these clips, from Esakhelvi's golden period (the mid 80s to the early 90s), reveal a truly natural artist. He sings with a complete lack of artifice and with a feeling of such pure pleasure and naturalness it is impossible not to be attracted to his music, and like the audience in this clip, break into spontaneous and repeated shouts of enthusiasm. Although, he was yet to be completely embraced by the musical mainstream these performances are far more artful and bursting with humanity than his later ‘gala’ shows and finely (overly?) produced videos of the early 21st century.

Mat Poocho Kya Hal Huwa

A lovely tribute and acknowledgement of his musical forebear, Mohammad Tufail Niazi, opens this Urdu ghazal that is delivered in a fashion and with a passion that has come to be so identified with the man from Mianwali. Esakhelvi’s voice is a rare wonder. He sang Rafi songs as a young boy and that man’s dramatic inflections can be heard in his own voice. But he is no impressionist. There is a warmth to his voice that matches the hot soil of the barren Issakhel district but also, and most importantly, a high register keening that says, "Here I am folks, I’m laying everything on the line.’ A genuine everyday vulnerability uncluttered by too much polish or behind the scenes mentoring.

Pyaar Naal

Forty years after he began his musical journey (running away from home at 18 to sing, against the will of his family) Attaullah Khan Esakhelvi has achieved the status of national cultural treasure. A frequent performer on Coke Studio, his music may have been globalised with mandolins and a slightly Mediterranean-calypso touch, but his themes and especially his delivery are as consistent as ever.