Music Freedom Day where musicians are persecuted persistently

12 March 2014


Music Freedom Day

March 3rd 2014

“The Right to Freedom of Artistic and Creative Expression”


Organized by: Pakhtunkhwa Cultural Foundation (PCF), Peshawar, Pakistan
Venue: Achieves and Library Hall, Peshawar
Report by: Muhammad Rome, ED, PCF, Peshawar


PCF observed Music Freedom Day in one of the most volatile region of the world in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, where the artists, instrumental players, performers and musicians are persecuted persistently. The prevailing circumstances, spreading over decades, have endangered the very art of music.

The seminar of the event affectively voiced the persecution of the artists and the threat posed to the music industry.

Opening the seminar session Amjad Shahzad, a singer and poet, highlighted the challenges face today by music. “Not only the artists are in danger but the very art itself is in threat of extinction. Sarenda, once a popular musical instrument has only one player left. With his death the art will die with him”, he lamented. “Today most of the songs recordings are limited to one electronic key board only that has caused great loss to Pashto music,” said Amjad Shahzad.

Nazir Gul, a famous musician elaborated the rug tag life of the artists and musicians. “Due to the prevailing circumstances new artists are not coming to the industry. Concerts and music in weddings have drastically reduced and the artists are struggling with their survival”. In a far cry he appealed to the government officials to create conducive environment for music or else the industry will die.

In her comments, Wagma, a popular folk singer, said “Our only source of earning livelihood is our art but it is on the track of fast decline. Sensing our miserable live youngsters are shying away from coming into music industry.”

Akber Hussain with his melodious voice revoked the old good days. The audience was full of applause for him.

Gulab Khan, a well-known rabab player, in his comments lamented that we cannot survive by the art we perform. However he was optimistic that many newcomers are joining to learn rabab and will hopefully the art of playing rabab will make progress.



Dr Khadim Hussain, Managing Director of Bacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation, analyzed the factors behind the targeting of culture. The onslaught on Pakhtun Culture spread over many decades. Culture and music are the essence and soul of a nation. If you want to enslave them destroy and capture their culture. When the soul is captured the body is enslaved. “That is why all public gathering places are targeted and a social and cultural disconnect has been created. Music being the powerful and effective tool to connect the people is purposefully targeted in spreading cultural chaos,” he said. However he was optimistic that holding such events is a sign and a ray of hope. He stressed on developing strategy, networking and fund raising mechanism to carry on with the good work. Failing so will result in stoppage of such useful activities.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, ex Information and Culture Provincial Minister and cultural activist right from his student life, elaborated his ministry initiatives for culture and music. He lamented that the sitting government has abandoned all those programmes and whatever environment was made for the revival of music and culture has once again pushed the society back into suffocation. “They [the current government] have not even specified funds in the budget for culture and music, leave apart the promotional initiative,” Mr Hussain stated.



  1. Developing strategy, networking and fund raising mechanism
  2. Need to organize artists, performers, instrumental players and musicians
  3. Establishing art academies
  4.  Introducing music in schools and Fine Arts departments


It was agreed to call upon a meeting soon to work out on the recommendations. At the end of the seminar session a documentary of 14 minutes about Pashto music was aired. After a break, live music concert was conducted. Seven singers performed with two songs each. The event was called off with thanks and a commitment to work in their own capacity to protect and promote music and the people associated to it.


» The 14-minute documentary film ‘Music cannot be silenced’ on



Senior musicians and singers attended the occasion. Concerned government officials were invited to the occasion but they did not turn up.

Earlier the event was proposed to be held in Peshawar Press Club but due conceived threats and in emergency the event was shifted to Archives Hall, Peshawar.

Due to the shifting of venue and the prevailing uncertain circumstances the audience did not turn up in throngs.

Lots of encouragement was received by PCF on holding the event.


Media links










Start Time

End Time


Introduction and welcome speech Muhammad Rome ED PCF 17:00 17:05


Pashto Music today Amjad Shahzad Art Director PCF 17:06 17:20


Stage Conductor Amjad Shahzad Singer and Anchor Continued  


Artists Today Nazir Gul Musician 17:21 17:30


Comments Wagma Singer 17:31 17:36


Voice Melody Performance Akber Hussain Senior singer 17:36 17:41


Comments Gulab Famous Rubab Player    


Extremism and Culture Dr.Khadim Hussain MD BKTEF 17:43 18:00


Speech Mian Iftikhar Hussain Ex Information and Culture Minister 18:01 18:16


Documentary Playing PCF Team Technical Staff 18:17 18:31




Recommendations From the Gathering Invitees 18:32 18:40


Music Concert Seven Singers Singers 19:10 20:30


Farewell and End Muhammad Rome ED PCF

2 Minutes


» This report is also available as an A4-size PDF document – for print or download

The Pashto music backdrop

The following is a description of the backdrop to the annual Music Freedom Day celebration in Peshawar. It provides an insight into the role which such an event plays to musicians and artists in Peshawar and the Pakhtun society where shrinking spaces not only endanger the artists, but threaten the survival of century-old local music traditions on both sides of the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

By Muhammad Rome

The music of a nation is a living image of their social life, attitudes, culture and way of life. Folk music is the soul of music. It is usually simple and in easy notes, equally appreciated and enjoyed by all members of a society. If a degree of classical music is added to the folk music it becomes more fascinating.

Music is so embedded in the cultural set up of Pakhtun society that at least a Tapa – a popular Pashto folk poetry meant to be sung – is remembered by each individual of the society. The social strength has kept Pashto music alive and made progress with the passage of time.

In 1893 when the Durand Line was drawn between Afghanistan and India, present day Pakistan, a challenge of social and cultural survival was faced by Pakhtuns of this side of the Durand Line. The annexed territory was used as a buffer zone by the British. Proxy wars were fought on both sides of the Line. The region has witnessed many upheavals in the past century. Today the region is one of the most dangerous zones of the world. In these harsh circumstances Pashto music was able to carry on its journey.

Pashto with Western beats
In the third quarter of last century Western music permeated into Indian music. But they have adopted it and made some very standard compositions. However, this influence is limited to theatre and film music of Bollywood. Through the film music of India, Western music gradually entered into neighboring countries. Thus Pashto music has also been affected.

Due to turbulence in Afghanistan artists and musicians sought refuge in Western countries. The assimilation has resulted in composition of high standard music in Pashto with Western and European beats and musical instruments. This experiment was successful in the context of Afghanistan because the artists and musicians there have good understanding of classical music. On the other side of Durand Line, the north west of Pakistan the Western influence has bad effects on Pashto music due to its peculiar circumstances.

The famous Ghazi Amanullah Khan gave patronage to music. He sent musicians to India for learning classical music and thus introducing classical music in Afghanistan. He himself was a good player of piano and harmonium. Academies were opened to educate youngsters in music. This official patronage started long before him and survived after him.

To the Pakistani side of Durand line there has never been state patronage. Therefore the Western music was not assimilated in the way Afghani artists have done. Sardar Ali Takkar was the first to experiment with Western and classical music. Takkar, a great artist, was successful in this experiment. After him, with exception of a few, the trend has never been successful.

Onslaught against culture
The so-called media revolution in Pakistan poses new threat to Pashto music. AVT Khyber TV, the only Pashto tv-channel in Pakistan, did more damage than service to Pashto music. Without proper compositions, new songs with Western beats were started being aired. Those who could afford recordings became singers overnight.

The current onslaught against culture and Pashto music is traced back to the then Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan. Radical Islam was introduced in both sides of Durand Line, region inhabited by Pakhtuns, to effectively restrain and defeat Soviet troops. During the period cinema halls were frequently targeted, once the most powerful artistic expression of the society has been gradually made worthless. In the process Pashto music has made great loss. As the intolerance and extremism grew spaces for cultural expression shrank.

The appearance of Taliban in 1990s, the offshoot of Mujahideen, was the beginning of dark period for Pashto music. After 9/11 when Taliban sought refuge in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa all means were deployed to discourage cultural gatherings and expressions.

The extremists capitalized upon the public understanding of music as something against the religion. This view has been propagated since 1980s through various mediums. And thus there was little resistance on the onslaught of singers, performers, artists and musicians.

Dead or exiled
On the other side of Durrand line, in Afghanistan, the decades-long and unending civil war, anarchy and turbulence has caused the decline of all fine arts. The reigns of Jihadi war-lords and Taliban were particularly suppressive and destructive for all arts and artists in Afghanistan. In past, Kabul and Kandahar were big centres of music. Singers and musicians in these cities were either murdered or forced to quit music under threats of death. Many were forced to leave their country. The consequences of all this for music were, to say the least, destructive.

A great teacher of classical music from Kandahar, Rahmani Sahib, is teaching music at a university in Denmark. Nashanas Ustaz lives in London. Other Afghan singers and musicians are scattered in the United States, Germany, India and other countries.

Insecurity and fear
The circumstances under which Pukhto music is surviving since last few years have inflicted a great damage to Pukhto music. In these years, many a singers and artists were murdered. Shabana and Ghazala Javeed of Swat and Anwar Gul of Peshawar are recent instances of killed artists.

A number of leading Pukhto singers and musicians – like Sardar Ali Takkar, Haroon Bacha and Sahib Gul Ustaz – were forced to leave the country and leave in exile. Those who couldn’t make it to free lands had no option but to quit music altogether and are now leading miserable lives. And those remaining Pukhto singers and musicians who refused to end their attachment to music are living under a continuous sense of insecurity and fear.

Need of the day: advocacy
In this backdrop there is a need of civil society to stand with art and its industry. Advocacy at all levels is the need of the day. The shrinking spaces not only endanger the artists but there is a threat to the art itself. There is now one master of sarenda, a traditional musical instrument, player left. With him the art will die.

Music Freedom Day provides a tremendous opportunity in bringing to light the importance of music within a society and discussing and sharing ideas locally and at world stage.

Creative and free expression is a key to progress. Long lasting peace can only be achieved if pluralism is duly respected and valued.

“Protect my white pigeon from the gun fire
Believe me,
the music of Rabaab will bring back peace.”

Poetry by Amjad Shahzad

Muhammad Rome is a writer and ED, Pakhtunkhwa Cultural Foundation, Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. E-mail: and

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