The Aga Khan Music Award for Zarsanga is a welcome recognition of the rich Pakhtun folk music
For three decades, artistes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have suffered on account of an extremist militancy. Successive governments have failed to help them overcome the difficulties. As a result, many of them have been forced to seek asylum in other countries and many have stopped performing.
The news of Aga Khan Music Awards for renowned Pashto folk music Melody Queen, Zarsanga, 82, was received with great joy. It was, in fact, a global recognition of an art deeply rooted in the soil. The Pakhtunkhwa folk music is a rich combination of the arts as practiced in its southern and northern regions. This makes it a unique cultural factor. Most of the artists are poor in financial terms but rich in musical talent. Many are barely literate but wise musically.
The Awami National Party-led KP government had reopened the lone city theatre, Nishtar Hall, and initiated several projects to restore cultural activities in the city plagued by terrorism. A full-fledged cultural policy draft was also prepared but never implemented.
Then came the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf led government. Its chief minister, Pervez Khattak, initiated the project: Saqafat Kay Zinda Ameen. Local artists, including folk singers, instrumentalists, performers, poets and writers were paid Rs 30,000 monthly stipends under the scheme.
Unfortunately, the scheme was discontinued in the second tenure of the PTI government. Artistes in the KP continued to suffer as Covid-19 pandemic added to their miseries. Fewer cultural activities have been held in the provincial metropolis as Nishtar Hall remains closed.
Despite the difficult times and the threat from the militants, folk music has flourished in the KP. Several young music bands are performing in the country and abroad. Khumariyan, one such band, is on a trip to South East Africa. Karan Khan, a folk singer from Swat, is in Australia for musical concerts. Pashto music is absorbing global trends and widening its scope.
Despite difficult times and extremist militancy, folk music has flourished in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and young music bands are performing in the country and abroad. Khumariyan, one such band, is currently on a trip to South East Africa. Karan Khan, a folk singer from Swat, is in Australia for several musical concerts. Pashto music is absorbing global trends and widening its scope.
Gulpanra, Bakhtiar Khattak and Humayoun Khan are taking Pashto music to new heights. Some Afghan musicians have also arrived in Peshawar and the newly merged tribal districts following the Taliban takeover of Kabul. However, Dabgari Bazaar, with its 200-year-old music street, remains deserted as the artists and musicians have shifted to other parts of city following a crackdown during the 2002-7 Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal government.
In Swat, artists have been alarmed recently by reports of a Taliban return to the area. Talking to The News on Sunday, a senior musician said: “Fear is natural. All of us are afraid due to the disturbing news coming from the valley. The authorities have assured us of security. However, we have warned our community, especially women, to limit their movements out of city and keep away from late-night concerts.”
Rashid Ahmad Khan, the Hunari Tolana Welfare Society (HTWS) president, says the province has a rich music legacy. “The artistes set up a welfare society in 2019. Over 2,000 folk singers, instrumentalists and composers registered with the society from across the province. Around 300 of them were Afghan artistes.”
An official of the KP Culture Directorate says that the government has been working to establish a music street in the city to promote folk music.
“A Rs 500 million endowment fund has been approved for the welfare of the artistes. Ailing and deserving folk artists are being taken care of,” the official added.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist. He mostly writes on art, culture, education, youth and minorities. He tweets at @Shinwar-9