Despite the large Pashto-speaking population in Pakistan, the most promising market for Pashto singers is in Afghanistan, according to musicians Hamayoon Khan and Irfan Khan.
Hamayoon Khan, who has been working formally as a musician since 2004, says modern Pashto music is a “mix of the cultural music but the pace has changed. It was always the tabla, rubab and harmonium, and now it has digital instruments and drums. The quality of music and the software has improved”.
Both singers credit musician Ivan Shafiq for bringing about a change in music, for infusing pop into Pashto music, and Hamayoon credits him as a guru. The two have consistently released albums and videos (“We don’t have enough of a market nationally to make 35mm videos,” Irfan says) but are faced with the same problems musicians in Pakistan have.
The security situation has affected the number of concerts being organised, piracy is rampant, and record labels do not care about artists they deem as ‘regional singers’.
Hamayoon told The Express Tribune, “We spend a lot of money on an album – recording, launching and promoting it. We only get the expenses we have incurred as a return, nothing else.”
“Now we do not have concerts, there are always threats, creativity is affected … but there is always life.”
“The situation is always in the back of my mind, because any negative thing brushes away the good. But musicians like me, Zeeshan Parwez … we’re going to go national, international … there is a lot of potential. We want to portray this place in the right way.”
Musicians have been given red carpet-treatment in Afghanistan (a few of them were invited as state guests by Afghan President Hamid Karzai a few years ago) and hear reports from distributors of high CD sales and requests for concerts in the country.
Hamayoon Khan, who composes and writes most of his music, is receptive to the demands of his entire target market, whether it’s in Afghanistan or Pakistan “When people started listening to us in Afghanistan, I recorded a Farsi song for my album which was very popular there. An Afghan FM channel gave me the ‘singer of the ye ar’ award.”
Irfan Khan tells The Express Tribune that he gets phone calls from Afghanistan and looks at the response on Afghan websites by locals and Afghans settled abroad.
The singer, who was approached by Hadiqa Kiani to sing his hit “Jannan”, uses their collaboration to highlight how big of a market Pashto music has. “That song is Hadiqa Kiani’s biggest hit to date. It has been listened to online millions of times.”
He says he feels happy when other singers dabble in Pashto music, but also points out how Coke Studio does not feature most languages. “They have a Farsi song,” he says. “How many people understand Farsi in this country? Maybe two to three per cent.”
Irfan Khan has also had bitter experiences with record labels. “The Musik said outright that they wouldn’t release my album,” he told The Express Tribune. “On the other hand, Fire Records said they would only release one Pashto song, and that’s it.”
“We need to stop looking at Pashto as a regional language, but as the national language of Afghanistan,” he says.
“I often think that we are more recognised in Afghanistan than we are here. President Zardari doesn’t know who we are. But President Hamid Karzai does.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 27th, 2010.