From fame to oblivion: A suppressed rhythm resonates at Sardaryab

Pashto folk musicians in Charsadda turn to picnic spot to eke out living

Nasir Khan and Sareer Khan play folk music at a picnic spot in Charsadda. PHOTOS: MUREEB MIOHMAND/EXPRESS

SHABQADAR: Nasir Khan has been mostly short-changed by his passion for folk music. Every day, he and his colleague, Sareer Khan, visit Sardaryab, a picnic spot in Charsadda, to entertain people with their music to scrape together a living.

Like many others, both men carry their drums and harmoniums through the park and serenade the summer days with soul-stirring music. However, stripped of any control over their future, the folk musicians cannot march to the beat of their own drums which now only resonate through the picnic spot. For many years, Nasir has remained on the fringes as Pashto folk music has gradually fallen out of favour.

Memories on the move

Speaking to The Express Tribune, he recalls a time when he owned his own dheera (music shop) in Charsadda Bazaar.

“Music lovers regularly visited our shop,” he says. “We would perform at weddings and other occasions. Back then, we used to go to people’s house to perform. No one stopped us from performing in front of women as well.”

According to Nasir, his family’s musical lineage had earned them a position of respect.

“We were considered kasabgar (professionals),” he explains. “No one discriminated between us and people from our professions. Sometimes, landowners would give us a share of their earnings from their agricultural crop. But things are different now.”

Nasir believes Pashto folk music was edged out of the mainstream after a conservative mindset took hold. This has left most musicians from Charsadda Bazaar with limited prospects.

“I was forced to close down my shop as I can’t pay rent,” Nasir says. “There are now very few music shops in the bazaar and not many people visit them. That’s why you’ll find many musicians at Sardaryab who are trying to earn a living.”

According to Nasir, many of them have also faced threats from robbers. “Transgender dancers who perform with us are frequently attacked,” he adds.

Momentary reprieve

For Nasir and his colleagues, Sardaryab is an oasis that shields them from the hostilities they face on a daily basis. However, it cannot offer them with a permanent solution to their plight.

“We don’t earn too much,” Nasir says. “Visitors only come to the picnic spot during holidays. Some of them don’t appreciate our music.”

The day the music died

Gul Khan, a percussionist who plays the dhol, also performs at the picnic spot. He tells The Express Tribune his family does not approve of his love for music.

“They consider it a curse,” he says. “But I have no other way of earning a living other than playing the dhol.”

According to Gul, his family and friends have lost respect for him because of his profession.

Fading traditions

When contacted, Pashto novelist Painda Muhammad Khan tells The Express Tribune there are many reasons why Pashto folk music has lost its sheen.

“There is considerable lack of knowledge about the past,” he explains. “In the past, percussionists were asked to play at weddings and [there were drums played] even during holy wars.”

According to the novelist, professional folk musicians were once treated with respect.

“However, now they don’t receive support from the government or locals,” he says. “As a result, many of them have no choice but to entertain people to earn their bread and butter.”

Painda adds technology and the internet exposed the new generation to other avenues of entertainment.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2015.

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