The light of a star: Music in a time of intolerance

Published: August 27, 2014
Nazir Gul Ustad performing with other musicians. PHOTO: MUHAMMMAD IQBAL/EXPRESS

Nazir Gul Ustad performing with other musicians. PHOTO: MUHAMMMAD IQBAL/EXPRESS


Without drawing too much attention, 20 or so people congregate in a small flat to perform an act frowned upon by many in the city. To some it is a crime, but to the ears of most others, it is simply music. 

“The security situation and people’s low opinion of musicians make it hard for me to name the academy I run or make its location public,” says Nazir Gul Ustad, a renowned musician. He runs the only place aspiring musicians in the city can turn to. There are a fair few studios near Gul’s academy in Khyber Super Market, but many are not serving a discernible cultural purpose. Others who have tried to run music schools have run into trouble with extremist groups, but not Gul.

Nazir Gul Ustad performing with other musicians. PHOTO: MUHAMMMAD IQBAL/EXPRESS

A number of voices have walked through the doors of his academy to become regional icons. These include the late Ghazala Javed and Nazia Iqbal whose Radio Pakistan audition was taken by Gul.  Hashmat Sahar, Zafar Iqrar, Khalid Malik, Wisal Khyal, Aiman Udas and Sarfaraz Khan are other famous pupils.

Previously, anyone who could afford the Rs5,000 monthly fee could join, but now the academy is only open to those with permission from their parents. “I would put in a lot of hard work to train a student, and in turn the parents would accuse me of ruining their child,” he says.

However, Gul is determined to continue teaching and promoting music. He recalls great singers like Haroon Bacha, Gulzar Alam and musician Sabz Ali established music academies, but were forced to close up shop as the environment never really was supportive.

The hand that launched a hundred careers

Having started his own career in 1980, the artiste has since received a number of accolades, including the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz for promoting Pashto music.

Born in 1956, Gul learnt the basics at an early age from his father Khaista Gul Ustad, a famous tablanawaz who migrated from India during Partition and settled in Banamarhi.

Gul later went to Radio Pakistan to learn from Rafique Shinwari and Sher Afgan, both legendary musicians of the time.

He says training from these maestros paved the way for him to write the music for his first song—and first hit—in 1988, Toro jamo ke da nazara na shay, charta najorha da zrha sara na shay. It was sung by Nazia Iqbal as well as Sardar Ali Takar. Both versions raced to the top, taking Gul’s career with him.

He has also written thousands of songs for singers such as Haroon Bacha, Kamran Khan and Sarfaraz.

“I finally received a presidential award for my services to music,” says Gul, clearly happy with the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz he won on August 14, 2013.

Chords can set you free

Gul claims students can pick up the basics in three months, following which he teaches them sandara, rubayi, charbeta, tapa and other types of local music.

“Teaching not only provides a decent income, but allows me to impart my knowledge of music to future generations.”

He stresses unless writers, singers and musicians are properly trained, it will be difficult to improve standards in the music industry which is going through a difficult time. Gul regrets that a large body of work by current singers does not truly represent the culture of Pukhtuns.

Excellent singers like Nazia Iqbal, Sarfaraz and Gul Panra do not get the opportunity to work with equally excellent song writers, says Gul, and the audience loses an opportunity to hear great music.

The focus has changed from quality to quantity, complains the ustad. “Now, singers record entire albums in a matter of days. In the past, a single song would be rehearsed for several days before being recorded,” he observes. Gul adds a majority of singers do not have the skill to perform live, they do not have the musical acumen.

“At my academy, I try not only to impart knowledge, but teach students their moral responsibilities toward society and culture.”

Published in The Express Tribune, August 27th, 2014.

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