https://pakistan.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_pf/features/2020/03/04/feature-01
Society

In photos: traditional rabab music revives as security improves in KP

AFP

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In this picture taken on December 10, a worker makes a traditional rabab musical instrument in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar. [Abdul MAJEED / AFP]

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In this picture taken on December 10, Akhtar Gul (centre left) plays a traditional rabab musical instrument in Peshawar. [Abdul MAJEED / AFP]

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In this picture taken on December 3, workers make traditional rabab musical instruments in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar. [Abdul MAJEED / AFP]

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In this picture taken on December 3, a worker makes a traditional rabab musical instrument in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar. [Abdul MAJEED / AFP]

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In this picture taken on December 10, a worker makes a traditional rabab musical instrument in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar. [Abdul MAJEED / AFP]

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In this picture taken on December 3, a worker checks a traditional rabab musical instrument in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar. [Abdul MAJEED / AFP]

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In this picture taken on December 10, a worker makes a traditional rabab musical instrument in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar. [Abdul MAJEED / AFP]

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In this picture taken on December 10, workers make traditional rabab musical instruments in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar. [Abdul MAJEED / AFP]

PESHAWAR -- For years the distinctive twang of Pashtun music was drowned out by rattling gunfire and deafening explosions as musicians in Pakistan's northwest were targeted by militants.

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

Performances that once took place in secret are returning. Shops selling instruments are open and thriving again, while local broadcasters frequently feature rising Pashtu 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.

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Workers make traditional rabab musical instruments in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar on December 3. [Abdul MAJEED / AFP]

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

Pashtun music is characterised by the rabab, a Central Asian stringed instrument, played to the beat from tablas drums, with songs salted with florid lyrics describing the pain of unrequited love or calls for political revolution.

"For centuries we were a liberal society," said Haider Ali Khan, a rabab player and member of the National Assembly from the Swat Valley.

"We love our religion, but at the same time we love our traditional music."

Extremism threatened musical tradition

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

Beginning in the 1970s, harder-line Islamist movements started gaining influence in the Pashtun areas along the border with Afghanistan, promoting strict interpretations of the religion including dismissive takes toward music.

The shift towards violent extremism intensified with the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Taliban regime of the 1990s.

After the United States in 2001 toppled the Taliban, militancy erupted across the border in Pakistan also. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) movement formed and took control of the country's tribal areas and swathes of KP.

"The extremists were killing artists and singers in the society to create fear," said 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 all but halted as waves of suicide bombers unleashed havoc.

Militants bombed CD markets, destroyed instrument shops, and intimidated or outright targeted musicians.

Singers and musicians fled en masse, while others were gunned down.

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," said Noor Sher from Sufaid Sang village, where his family has been making rababs by hand for 25 years.

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

The Pakistani military began intensifying efforts to push the militants out in 2014, and security has dramatically improved in the years since.

"Now the situation is good, very good. We can play anywhere, whenever people invite us," said 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.

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