Centuries-old tribal Pashtun music finds its way back amid the chaos - GulfToday

Centuries-old tribal Pashtun music finds its way back amid the chaos


Workers make traditional rabab musical instruments in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar.

For many years Pashtun music that was practised in secret, in fear of being attacked, has finally found a way out into the open.


The sound of rattling gunfire and deafening explosions didn’t let the beauty of the music to be heard.


A worker crafts a musical instrument.


But, as security improves, a centuries-old tribal tradition is staging a comeback.


Shops selling instruments are open and thriving again, while local broadcasters frequently feature rising Pashto pop singers in their programming.

And new, up and coming bands like Peshawar's Khumariyaan have reached rare, nationwide acclaim after appearing on the popular Coke Studios broadcast, where they fused traditional sounds with modern tastes -- spreading Pashtun music far from its native homeland.


Akhtar Gul (C) plays a traditional rabab musical instrument in Peshawar. 




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"Music is the spice of life... it has been a part of our culture from time immemorial," says Farman Ali Shah, a village elder and Pashto poet in Warsak village near Pakistan's tribal areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.


Yet the slow creep of extremism had been threatening that tradition for decades.


Many workers still remain cautious in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,

"The extremists were killing artists and singers in the society to create fear," explains singer Gulzar Alam, who was attacked three separate times and later left Pakistan, fearing for his life.

"If you remove the culture from a community, tribe, or ethnic group the community will be eliminated."

Public performances were all but halted as waves of suicide bombers unleashed havoc.


Despite threats from militants over music, a worker carries on with his work.

A brave few continued to invite musicians to play in private shows at hujras and weddings, albeit without large sound systems that could possibly attract militants.

"They were asking people to stop music but villagers never accepted them," says Noor Sher from Sufaid Sang village, where his family has been making rababs by hand for 25 years.


A worker fine-tunes an instrument.


Amid the chaos the art form was also maintained thanks to increasing numbers of Afghan musicians also fleeing violence in their own country who resettled in places like Peshawar, opening music schools that kept the tradition alive.

Roots of violence

"Now the situation is good, very good. We can play anywhere, whenever people invite us," says rabab player Akhtar Gul during a performance at a hujra -- a traditional Pashtun community space.

As music has returned to its traditional settings in the country's northwest, slick broadcasts like Coke Studio have helped introduce Pashtun acts to millions of music fans across South Asia.

Many still remain cautious in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, however, fearing the gains are tenuous at best.




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