The artist never dies: Folk maestro’s demise leaves vacuum in Pashto music industry

Recordings of Khan Tehsil valuable learning resource for new singers

Hidayat Khan March 10, 2016
Khan Tehsil. PHOTO: FILE


Well-known Pashto folk singer Khan Tehsil who has received numerous accolades during his decades-long service to Pashto music and culture died at the age of 80. He was laid to rest in a graveyard in Risalpur, Nowshera on Monday.

His death leaves a great void in the Pashto music industry.


According to famous Pashto poet and author of Fankar na mri (artist never dies) Laiq Zada Laiq, “Tehsil was a very senior artist with a unique style which set him apart from all other singers of K-P.”

Tehsil had also worked with Laiq when the latter was head of Radio Pakistan. Laiq said Tehsil sang some of his most famous songs with Zalobai alias Zarsanga, also known as Bulbl-e-Sarhad.

Zarsanga’s husband, Zala Jan, a cousin of Tehsil, composed a great deal of music for him and his wife. “Together, they gave the world all-time hits,” Laiq said. “Zee pa lwarho ghrunoo Laila – one of the most famous songs of Tehsil is still popular among Pukhtuns.”

He added Tehsil’s art and his desire to embody Pukhtun traditions made him a representative globally. “He was given the presidential award as well as an award from Afghan King Zahir Shah in 1970,” Laiq said.

“His death is a great loss to Pukhtun culture, especially at a time when Pashto music desperately needs more experienced singers,” he said.

He added if new singers wish to serve Pashto music in its true sense, they must learn from the maestro’s work.

Southern kings

Noor Muhammad Khan Ustad, father of the deceased, was an eminent tabla and rabab player. And so Tehsil was initiated into the world of music early in life.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Tehsil’s son, Gulbahar, said his father also formally learned Pashto music from famous musician Sher Afghan Ustad and gradually rose to fame in the south of the province. “When the late Rasheed Ali Dehqan, a producer, was in search of new voices for the airwaves, my father offered his work to Radio Pakistan in 1955,” he said.


According to Gulbahar, Tehsil was from Mama Khel village in Lakki Marwat but due to some enmity in the area, he moved with his family around K-P.

“People often considered us nomads, but initially we just wandered before settling in Nowshera permanently a few years ago,” he said. Tehsil is also buried there. Gulbahar said weather was another factor that caused them to move around. “In summer, we would go to  Malakand while in winter, we would move to the plain areas of the province.”

He told The Express Tribune, “People also think we are from Kochi tribe, which is not true.”

Tehsil was suffering from a kidney disease for the last several years and in one of his earlier interviews with The Express Tribune even asked the government to help him with his treatment financially.

“When he was admitted to Hayatabad Medical Complex, he did not have the resources for a proper treatment,” his son said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2016.


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