“Our family has been doing this for 200 years,” says rabab-maker Mushtaq Hussain. “Our fathers and grandfathers taught us this art.”
In a small workshop in Peshawar’s Dabgari bazaar, the son of Pride of Performance winner Samandar Khan toils away at making rababs.
Used by musicians in Afghanistan and Pakistan for decades, the instrument has found a new lease of life with contemporary musicians who are melding it into their pop songs.
A rabab takes 15 days to make and is sold for anywhere between Rs3,000 and Rs8,000, depending on how elaborate the work on it is.
However, while Hussain has not received any threats, he blames the security situation for dwindling sales, and wishes that the government would support him.
“Sales went downhill when fighting in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas began. In Bajaur, Parachinar, Miranshah … there are so many people who use this instrument, and this affected sales. Now that there is peace in Swat, people come from there and buy it, so hopefully when the fighting ends others will come too. We also have customers from Afghanistan.”
Hussain’s own son has chosen not to take up the family profession, and works in Peshawar’s Meena Bazaar instead.
But while Hussain has a tale of dwindling sales to tell (“now someone only comes after a month to buy a rabab”), his nephew Khurram Shahzad, who runs a shop a few steps away, does not quite believe in this tale.
Shahzad says the fighting and instability have had no affect on the business. In fact, he insists that “sales are better than ever”.
His shop supplies to a number of Afghans and Pakistanis who live abroad and he ships the rababs via DHL. At the time of the interview, he was working on an intricate rabab with elaborate designs and beads. “This will be sold for $300,” Shahzad says, who communicates with customers through e-mail. “The younger generation has a lot of love for the rabab and they buy it as well.”
“It is the king of all instruments,” Mushtaq Hussain says. “Its music provides solace to people.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2010.
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