In the worst of times, K-P sang along

An insight into Khyber-Pahtunkhwa’s burgeoning music industry on Music Freedom Day.

Rafay Mahmood March 02, 2012


If you’re not from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) and you still know Haroon Bacha, Sardar Ali Takkar and Nazia Iqbal then clap your hands. These names may be something new to someone who isn’t from that region, but for the people residing in the purported war-torn region, they are the epitome of Pashto music. However, much to the dismay of Pashto art lovers, these stalwarts have halted their musical journey after receiving death threats from terrorists.

One still wonders how the situation got from bad to worse, and whether the contemporary musicians of K-P face the same problems or not? On the Music Freedom Day, we look at the despondency behind the moth-eaten image of K-P.

What is the Music Freedom Day?

On March 3, the annual Music Freedom Day is marked all over the world with events, seminars, exhibitions, film shows and radio programmes on the subject of freedom of expression for musicians. This time around, music forum Freemuse has gathered eight special Music Freedom Reports which offer a unique insight into current music censorship issues in countries such as West Papua, Azerbaijan and Pakistan.

‘War on Music’

Out of the eight reports shortlisted for the Music Freedom Day, a report published by Pakistani journalist Javed Aziz Khan Taliban Losing Their War on Music, has highlighted the damper that has been put on the Pakistani Pashtun music industry by the Talibans. The study reveals some intriguing facts about music shop owners who have changed their profession just to avoid harassment.

“I used to run a cassette and CD shop, but I had to change my business in 2007 when two shops in the vicinity were bombed and others were threatened that they would face the same fate if they continued,” states Gul Nawaz, a shopkeeper now selling flour in Kakshal town of Peshawar.

Similarly Mubarak Ali, a fresh fruit juice shop owner, had to face similar consequences. “I owned a CD shop in Darra Adam Khel but it was bombed in 2007. My family was petrified after that incident and I had to shift my business altogether.”

Even three musical giants Bacha, Takkar and Iqbal took drastic measures to escape the wrath of the Taliban. Iqbal has stopped singing, Bacha has sought political asylum in the US and though the case of Takkar is debatable as to why he actually left Pakistan, he now works for the Voice of America Pashto service.

Young musicians’ perspective

Despite the chaotic past, contemporary musicians of K-P aren’t scared of the consequences. “Things have improved with time. If someone wants to pick up the guitar, he or she does face criticism but not as much as they used to a few years ago,” says Zeeshan Pervaiz, the frontman of the Peshawar-based band Sajid & Zeeshan.

K-P artists believe that technology has opened new doors of expression for them. “YouTube has changed everything for us so violence against musicians doesn’t affect us anymore,” says Jawad Iqbal, a member of the band Yasir & Jawad band of K-P. “Only 30 per cent of our listeners are in K-P and the rest are from other parts of Pakistan,” he says. “The reason why we are threat-proof is because we sing about generic subjects and don’t really cover controversial topics in our songs. And also because our music is mainly promoted via the internet and there is no internet access in terrorism infested areas.”

Naseer & Shahab, a Pashto rock band, believes that things have gotten worse but the musicians have become more tenacious. “We are getting recognition on national platform which gives us motivation to make better music,” said Naseer Afridi the vocalist who comes from Khyber Agency. “Pashtuns love the music, but hate the musicians,” the singer concludes.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2012.


Zarlasht | 9 years ago | Reply

This is supposed to be a light-hearted article about music! Not a page where we should allow others to dump their mendacious propaganda. I would highly recommend the ET moderators/editors to not publish comments of cyber warriors and trolls, especially when their posts are screaming of agenda and are clearly off-topic, as is the case with some of the comments here. Such comments are off-putting, and really leave a bad taste in mouth.

And yes, please don't let others blackmail you when they order "ET publish this if you believe in..." and invoke "free speech" or "freedom of expression" yada yada yada. This appears to be a cherished manipulative tactic that trolls here employ so as to trick you into posting their drivel. But remember that even 'free speech' is not completely unconditional and a newspaper has its integrity and reputation to protect too. There is a reason why profanity, below the belt humor, and other obnoxious and off-topic comments are not tolerated. And really, ET owes absolutely nothing to trolls/agenda-driven netizens, so it should not feel obligated to appease them by publishing their propaganda.

azadpashtun | 9 years ago | Reply

You are talking about an important topic here. Pashtuns have never been free in Pakistan. First, they were not given the real right of self-determination. They were given only two choice before independence of India: join Pakistan or India. The Khudai Khidmathgars boycotted that rigged referendum. They wanted a third choice. Join Afghanistan which the British denied to them. As soon as Pak was made, Pashtun leaders were arrested. Their organizations were banned. Bach Khan's schools (Azad Schools) were closed. Khan Abdul Samad Khan spent years in jail as did Bacha Khan and several others. Pashto magazines and newspapers were banned. Pashto was not taught in schools. One Unit was created to deny the minorities their rights in United Paksitan. Ghani Khan, Ajmal Khattak and Wali Khan all fought for autonomy within this country but never got it. Pashtuns joined Pakistan because they were promised an autonomous state within this country but Pakistan kept them divided in different regions from Balochistan, FATA, Frontier Regions and NWFP. Pashtuns have always fought for unification within this country but to no avail. Even FATA has been kept under the brutal law called Frontier Crimes Regulation for more than a century now. The Pakistani establishment resists abolition of the law because FATA has provided them a free zone to play all their international games while keeping the people illiterate and deprived of their due human rights. Note that the people of FATA did not get their right to vote until the late 90's. Surprised? I hope you will follow through these comments and explore for yourself. Pashtuns are simply not free in Pakistan. They have never been free in Pakistan. ET publish this if you believe in free speech. Besides everything I have said here is on record. Thanks.

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