Pakistan: Music breaks chains in North West Pakistan



Music breaks chains in North West Pakistan

The melody of Pashto music has been in chains for the last five years. The former government of a six-party religious alliance imposed curbs on music in public and a consequent wave of militancy targeted singers, musicians and music shops all over the province. Today the Pashto melody has found a way to break the chains and to bless the hearts of its admirers with a renewed zeal and life.

By Shaheen Buneri
– Freemuse’s correspondent reporting from Peshawar

On a short notice a large number of music and heritage lovers throng Sethi House that evening. They were as thrilled as they have found a very precious thing that they had lost five years back.

The serene courtyard of historic ‘Sethi House’, built in 1882 by Haji Ahmad Gul Sethi at the centre of the old walled city, was glistening with lights while the guests were sitting around a fountain to enjoy popular Pashto music tunes. Their faces were glowing with hope and inspiration.

While militancy is in full swing in Pakistan tribal areas and bombing of music shops has become a daily routine, a network of Pashto music lovers and heritage experts arranged a colourful musical evening at the heart of the historic walled city of Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.

             The Pashtun musicians enthralled their audience in Peshawar

A ‘spiritual delight’
Prominent personalities from different walks of life like Feryal Ali Gauhar, Begum Nasim Rauf Khan, Begum Fareeda Nishtar, Raza Kuli Khan Khattak, Gen (R) Anwar Sher Khan, Begum Ulfat Samad, Dr Gulalai Wali Khan, Maureen Lines, Fauzia Babar, Mian Liaquat Shah, Architect Prof Samita Ahmed, Prof M. Zaki, M. Rafi, Artist Jehanzeb Malik, representatives of Iranian and Afghan Consul and Defence Attaché of Saudi Arabia were specially invited to the evening to share with them the rich musical and cultural heritage of the region that is marred by violence and instability for the last few years.

Khurshid, a civil society worker from the conflict-ridden Swat valley of Pakistan, told Freemuse that over the last two years militants had put an end to music functions and recreational activities in the idyllic valley:

“The people are yearning for the old good days when Rabab and Mangai (Pashto traditional musical instruments) were an integral part of every Hujra (A traditional Pashtun social club). Today I feel a rare bliss of spiritual delight, I don’t care those people who say music is against religion, I don’t believe in this,” he remarked.

A powerful medium
The event was an effort to highlight the new image of North West Frontier Province that has been in news for terrorist incidents, violence and military operations since 2001. The organisers successfully communicated their message of peace and love in the form of popular tunes of Pashto music and pulled the depressed audience out of the prevailing despondency that has currently engulfed the region.

Zahor Durrani, a prominent tour operator, said: “Pashto music is a powerful medium. The world wrongly believes that Pashtun is a jingoistic race. Pashtuns have a very romantic heart; they love music and sing songs in the lap of high and snow capped mountains, while working in their fields. Music is a reality in their every day life and no curbs and censorship can deprive them from the reality of their existence.”

Enliven things up
“I came to know during my research that unless we go back and explore our cultural roots we wouldn’t be able to develop a sense of history and awareness to preserve our identity,” said eminent artist and UN goodwill ambassador Faryal Ali Gauhar, who is also writing a PhD thesis on conservation.

According to Faryal Ali Gauhar, music and cultural heritage provide the very basis of existence to a nation. Irrespective of any narrow religious interpretation music played a pivotal role in the emotional maturity and spiritual evolution of the people of this region – right from Peshawar valley up to the lush green valleys of central Asian states.

Maureen Lines, an Englishwoman who works in the Kalash areas and based in Peshawar, shared her impressions of the evening:

“This was the most convivial gathering I have been to in a long time. This is what we were missing in our town which had made it so dull lately. We really have to enliven things up and let’s hope this is just the beginning.”

Plans for musical festival
Since the United States attack on Taliban government in Afghanistan in 2001, the area witnessed an aggressive campaign against the musical traditions and historical values of Pashtuns on both sides of the Durand Line (Pak-Afghan border). The so-called war against terror resulted into militancy, and militancy threatened the centuries old cultural heritage in different parts of North West Frontier Province, especially in Swat valley where historic Buddhist statues and Stupas were brutally exploded by militants. They also did not spare music and musicians.

Azam Khan, managing director of Sarhad Toursim Corporation and the living spirit behind cultural activities in the province, argued that it was high time to defeat terrorism with tourism:

“Very soon we are planning to arrange a grand folk musical festival in North West Frontier Province in which singers from all the Pashtun tribes will participate with their songs, music and traditional dances,” he said.

The lively musical gathering that enthralled audience for few hours ended with a message of hope and peace for the region and the whole world.

Photos by the author

Faryal Ali Gauhar

North West Frontier Province of Pakistan

Latest news from the area

Google News – continously updated:

Search: ‘North West Frontier Province’

Update from Shaheen Buneri – 24 June 2008:

‘Gunshots muffle Pashtu music in Pakistan’s Swat valley’

Earlier reports about the new situation

Reuters – 16 March 2008:

‘Musicians in Pakistan’s northwest long for better times’

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