Audio interview with the popular Pashtun singer Gulzar Alam who escaped an attack on his life on 16 October 2008.
Freemuse talked to Gulzar Alam about the incident and his feeling as a singer when Taliban militants bombed hundreds of music shops in the restive north-western Pakistan.
The interview was conducted and translated by Shaheen Buneri, Freemuse’s correspondent in north-west Pakistan. For translation, see below.
Gulzar Alam — CD cover photo
Duration: 6:45 minutes.
With his innumerous artistic performances both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Gulzar Alam has worked tirelessly for positive change in the Pashtun society during more than two decades, and he has been awarded by various governmental and non-governmental organisations for his services to Pashto music and language.
In 2004, in the wake of religious groups’ instenfied campaign against music, Gulzar Alam migrated with his family to Quetta — a Balochistan province of Pakistan close to the border to Iran. When in 2008 the secular government of Awami National Party replaced the previous religious government in North West Frontier Province, Gulzar Alam returned to Peshawar — only to find that the sitaution had not changed at all, and that the enemies of musical and liberal expressions were still bent upon to punish Gulzar Alam for his practicing of the “un-Islamic act”… singing.
On 16 October 2008 Gulzar escaped on his life when two armed men attacked his car on Warsak Road in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.
Translation of the audio interview
Dear audience! Today we have with us Gulzar Alam who is one of the most popular Pashtun singers of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We would like to discuss with him how he feels as a singer in this region (North Western Pakistan, ed.) and what are the main problems he is confronted with.
Would you please tell us about your professional career and your services to Pashto music and language?
I started my career in 1982 as a singer by recording a song for Pakistan Television Peshawar Centre. And then I performed at different concert venues, and have been singing Pashto songs for the last 25 years.
Could you inform us about total number of music volumes (CD-albums)?
Media reports say that you are confronted with serious problems due to Taliban threats, and last week you also escaped an attempt on your life in Peshawar. What are the details of this incident?
Let me tell you that this attack is the continuation of the prejudiced attitude of certain elements who for a very long time have tried to silence my voice. I still recall that when in 1987 I composed a revolutionary song…
high in your hands, come!
This land cries for revolution,
the revolution that can ensure freedom for all’
…I was persecuted and threatened for raising a voice for change.
In different periods, different people harrassed and threatened me. During the previous religious government of Mutahida Majlas-e-Amal, a conglomeration of six religious groups, the famouse music street at Dabgari Peshawar was closed down and the musicians and singers, including me, were ordered to leave the area. Musical performances in Nishtar Hall, the sole cultural centre of the provincial metropolis were also banned.
This time, in October 2008, I had been visiting the school of my children to pay their monthly fees. I entered the school office and requested them that I may be allowed to pay the fees in instalment, as these days I am working in a private organisation and cannot afford depositing the school fees as a whole (28,000 rupees).
(Gulzar Alam deserted his music profession due to continues threats and attacks on him and is presently working for a private organisation as a low paid staff member, ed.).
They accepted my request and said that I should pay the fees in two instalments. It was 9:30 in the morning, so after resolving the matter, I came out of the school and hired a taxi to go back to my home.
When I reached the graveyard on Warsak Road in Peshawar, the road is delipidated, so usually the vehicles slow down when they reach this point. When the car slowed down I saw a few persons with Kalashnikov machine guns in their hands. I was alarmed, and changed my position in the back seat of the car, trying to open the door.
When they were coming close to my car, I dropped myself on the road. They fired on me, but missed their target. The taxi driver was terrified and fled, I was lying on the road for some time. Soon people driving in other cars behind me reached the spot, and when the attackers saw the people, they ran away.
In view of the current horrible situation, have you ever thought of relocating to another safer place or safer country?
I am convinced that my melodious voice is a sacred trust of my nation and land, and I have to honour it whenever my people need it. In the past I got opportunities to visit Europe, the United States, and Middle Eastern countries, but I never thought that I should stay there, because I have to perform my duty as a singer for my nation. But now the situation is totally changed. I am always concerned about my family. Every morning when my children head off for school, I can’t accompagny them, I let them go on the road to the school, and I am wait for them at the corner of the street. I fear that if someone see me with my children they could hurt them because of my identity as a singer.
I seldom go outside of my house. When the life of singers and artists are in danger, and they cannot perform in public, then it doesn’t make any sense to be staying in such a place.
The situation has come to such a horrible level where I regularly receive threatening messages on my cell phone. The militants are warning me that since I performed my religious duty of visiting holy places in Saudi Arabia, I should not sing any more. I never paid attention to these threats, but after the recent attack I am planning to find a way out. I have small children, and my family members are frightened. I have contacted the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to support me to relocate to another country where I can continue with my career as a singer and a musician.
A revolutionary song by Gulzar Alam on YouTube.com: