Shurtidaan: story of Pakistan’s ‘first’ Eastern classical guitar

Published: May 10, 2019
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KARACHI: A video titled ‘Shurtidaan| First Eastern Classical Guitar of Pakistan’ has been doing rounds in music circles since Thursday evening. Musician Masood Alam has claimed to have invented Pakistan’s first ever Eastern classical guitar which likes to class ‘Shurtidaan’.

The name takes its origin from the concept of Shurti (Microtones) in the Eastern Classical system and by merging it with Daan – the instrument can be easily understood as a container of micro-tones.

The significance of the 22 micro-tones in the Hindustani classical system is a debate for another day but a closer look at his instrument tells us the idea is definitely very brave, unique and innovative, but calling it an ‘invention’ or a first attempt is a bit exaggerated.

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Shurtidaan is a very simple instrument. It’s a cross between a Sarod and a guitar wherein the guitar essentially becomes fretless and an extension is added on the top with sympathetic strings. It has been conceived and ‘invented’ by Alam, crafted by Zafar Sahab and Waseem Abbas is being lauded as the first Shurtidaan player.

The ideology of merging two instruments to modify a third one has been there for quite some time but the most relevant and successful attempt has been the Mohan Veena.  Grammy Award winner Vishwa Mohan Bhatt invented an instrument called the Mohan Veena by merging the Veena and the Hawaiian guitar.

What came out was an instrument well suited to country and bluegrass music as it was to classical ragas – the charm of such an amalgamation is always that you aren’t really able to tell what instrument is playing.

Shurtidaan is no less of a cutting edge attempt. In the video the makers explain the creative process behind crafting a hybrid instrument which was to make the most out of the available melodic and tonal possibilities.

“What started as a journey into impossible realms ended up in a miracle as we saw all our ideas become a reality,” the makers say in the video. The two-minute demo also shows Shurtidaan through various stages of development – from bear sketches to actual pieces of wood being cut out to provide the desired sonic landscape.

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Abbas also gives a very heartwarming demonstration of their instrument towards the second half of the video. He is seen playing a medley of Qasida burda shareef, Lamyati nazeer and Yeh sab tumhara karam hai aaqa and it’s as soulful as the kalaams themselves.

The instrument definitely has a very soothing and rich sound but the real question would be the range of melodic possibilities it provides. You can make a very sharp sounding, dynamic instrument but how convenient it is for the process of music-making is a question that will be answered in due course of time.

The bright aspect of Shurtidaan is that is has brought if not a new, then a fresh approach to music making in Pakistan. Alam who is the man behind the instrument is also a member of the band called Imtezaaj which literally means ‘fusion’ or ‘combination’ in Urdu. They also pride themselves in being a band that makes music out of its own instruments, which is beyond brilliant given they also release some originals in the future.

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Only reason why Shurtidaan might not receive extraordinary acclaim in the music circles is because similar attempts have been made by the late virtuoso Aamir Zaki and guitarist Adnan Afaq. Both of them were rumoured to have crafted their own version of Eastern classical guitars but no one of those instruments were shared with the public. Perhaps they never saw the light of day.

Shurtidaan has arrived in style but the challenge is to stay.

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