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March 7, 2020

‘Siren Song’ launched at PNCA

Islamabad

March 7, 2020

Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) in collaboration with Asian Study Group Islamabad held book launch of Fawzia Afzal-Khan's Siren Song, published by Oxford University Press, at the PNCA.

Minister of National History and Literary Heritage Division Shafqat Mahmood, Chief guest for the occasion, started with the wit that he had not yet read the book. He wished all the best to Fawzia for being a woman and undertaking this challenging research and literary assignment on understanding Pakistan through its women singers.

A well-made slick, short and well-edited documentary film was unspooled presenting several artists who have been included in Siren Song. Roshan Ara Begum, Noorjehan, Iqbal Bano, Abida Parveen and Tahira Saeed are only some of them. Here we see them performing and talking to us about the upheavals they went through in life and made sacrifice to enter and sustain in this profession. Classical music suffered most because it was associated with Hindu community, notwithstanding the fact that Amir Khusro and most of the ‘gharanas’ were great patrons of this art.

Fawzia Afzal-Khan spoke on the need and reason for writing this book on women and why it was necessary to bring out the career of women singers who took to music despite the hurdles with clearly written on- the- wall social and moral stigma. True, some of the women were associated with music from the beginning but even a case in point Noorjehan, had no easy going to survive in this uphill battle to live on her own terms. The boundaries imposed by religion for women in our society and the curse imposed with force by rulers and their regime did not make the passage any easier. And if that was not enough, a strong wave of extremism blew in with 9/11.

Fawzia, settled in the United States for long, had to keep her connection with Pakistan. In a way, she became a cultural Ambassador of the country to cut down on stereotypes both here and in the U.S. On the documentary film screened, she admits that she is an author (and a singer!) but not a filmmaker. Things have been changing for women in music but we need more. Corporate Sector and private television networks should be credited for opening doors for women in music today. Women from middle class can be heard but there are grey areas as well. Women still have to prove on creative ideology.

Fouzia Saeed, Director General Pakistan National Council of the Arts in her brief editorial note remarked that it was sad how women lived with a perception, all their life. They acted what they were not. The theater here has the real and false faces (the asli and naqli).

Fouzia Saeed credited the author for undertaking the challenging assignment and bringing out how creativity of women singers is stigmatized. We do need to understand this country through our women singers.

The [email protected] Session began lively calling for one and the same education system to raise and bring up youngsters on one level. Author Fawzia said that in the West , music is part of education . Students not only know and love music but most of them can play at least one musical instrument. Understanding basics of humanity is important and to be a capable human being, you should know music. On women and music, she said if society keeps women away from music, not only music and women would suffer but it would be a severe setback and blow for human progress as well. We need to address human needs.

Fawzia, introduced the last chapter of Siren Song "Sufi Pop Divas" where she talks about Corporate Sector funding and sponsoring music concerts. Due to terrorism and security concerns, music has suffered nationwide. What emperors and nawabs did in the past, should now be undertaken by State and Corporate Sector. They need to do what they are not doing. Finally, on question about national identity, Fawzia called for trans-national identity.

With chill and downpour on Thursday evening in Islamabad, chances seemed grim for participation. This notion was dismissed by the audiences with warm housefull and enthusiastic capacity crowd reception, many of us were sitting in the aisle.