KARACHI: After fleeing from the Taliban’s custody and struggling for more than five years as a helper in a tyre showroom at Purana Maripur, Rehman Shah Betani, a young Pashto singer has finally succeeded in releasing his second album Palwashay in Karachi.
Like most Pashto singers and artists, the love and passion for ethnic music combined with the fear of being killed by the Taliban compelled Betani, 29, to migrate from his home town Jandola Tank — an area on the boarder of South Waziristan. “Due to the Taliban in the area, it was impossible for artists and singers to survive there,” says Betani.
Six years back, Betani was kidnapped twice (and later released) by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), for singing, as the Taliban believe music to be immoral and unIslamic. “They tortured me, beat me severely for two weeks and forced me to take an oath that I would give up singing,” said Betani.
“My uncle (who was also a Talib) asked the Taliban to kidnap me and force me to stop singing,” said the Pashto singer, claiming that he is the first and the only singer of Betani tribe. Hence, due to constant threats by the Taliban, Betani was forced to leave his hometown and migrate to Karachi. He did not even go back to attend his mother’s funeral prayers. “I gave them my word that I won’t sing anymore on that land. When my mother passed away, I could not go see her face because the Taliban were waiting for me and would have definitely killed me.”
According to Betani, Talibanisation has affected upcoming singers and artists the most, “I had earned a name in my area and had released a few audio albums in Jandola, but after migrating, I had to start from scratch and struggle to enter the market,” he said, while adding that he had to work as a labourer to pay his house rent and meet his needs. As a result, he was left with very little money to spare for making music.
Although Betani is becoming popular among the Pashtoon community of the city, he still misses his hometown and is waiting for the day when he would be singing amongst the people of his tribe. “I want to sing amongst my own tribe people and make them realise that singing is not immoral,” says the singer.
Signs of life
However, ever since the restoration of peace in some areas, particularly in Swat, singers and artists have started returning home. Salman Gulzar, a young singer from Swat, who spent three years in Karachi during insurgency, returned to his hometown a year ago. “When I left Swat, the condition of Peshawar was also pretty bad; artists and singers were constantly being attacked and CD shops were blown up so Karachi was the only option,” said Gulzar. He added that the situation is much better in Swat now and artists are allowed to pursue their interests.
Meanwhile, Pashto singer and poet Amjad Shahzad, who is also the Art Director at the Pakhtoonkhwa Arts and Culture Project (PACP) told The Express Tribune that their organisation is working to mend the damage caused by the Taliban by holding seminars, workshops, painting competitions and musical shows is the war-hit areas.
Shahzad, who was the first singer to hold a first musical show in Swat after the security forces took control, spoke about the difficulty of doing the same in Fata, “It’s really difficult to hold musical shows in Fata and its neighbouring areas. However, we are inviting the singers of these areas to perform in our show and participate in our programmes. We’re also helping them with their audio albums.”
Shahzad is of the opinion that loss to the militancy has eradicated the culture of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), “When you stop an artist from pursuing his passion, you are actually killing him — he becomes an ordinary man.” It’s this appreciation for art that is making people like Shahzad work towards restoring culture in the area; whether they will be successful or not is another question altogether.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2012.
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