Pakistan’s mainstream music industry is thriving, there is an influx of new talent and fresh sounds. Musicians are experimenting with beats and rhythms, creating something extraordinary out of the ordinary. However, for folk musicians and artists, the picture is quite bleak.
Pakistan’s folk artists are dying a slow death. Sounds that represent our culture and heritage are now fading away. Most of us are not even aware of whether these sounds exist or not. The melodies of Sarangi, Siroz, Rubab have somehow been buried amongst the new noises. In our pursuit to become modern, we have somehow lost our own legacy and identity.
However, the hope isn’t completely dead yet. Some organizations are religiously working towards reintroducing and rediscovering these indigenous instruments and making an effort to save them from extinction. The Art Residency Program for musicians – a collaborated venture of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) and Foundation for Arts, Culture, and Education (FACE) is an example of one such effort.
PPAF and FACE launched Pakistan’s first music residency program, Heritage Live which shall help the vulnerable musicians to generate sustainable income and play a pivotal role in preserving the endangered local culture.
20 indigenous musicians comprising 10 maestros and 10 apprentices selected for the program are going through an extensive training program by four mentors and finish with each pair recording a song. These musicians have been selected from across the country and represent marginalized communities.
They play some of the rarest instruments including Sarinda, Burindo, Raanti, and Chardah, the sounds of which have long been forgotten.
Participants of the residency program
The 10 maestros who are part of the program are
- Bujla Bugti (Nur Sur Player ) – Balochistan,
- Sattar Jogi (Murlee/Been Player) – Sindh,
- Zulfiqar Faqeer (Borindo Player) – Sindh,
- Ejaz Sarhadi (Sarinda Player) – KP,
- Rozi Khan (Ishpoin player) – Kalasha KP,
- Ajmal Laal Bheel (Raanti Player) – Punjab,
- Attaullah Chambal (Naqqara player) – Punjab,
- Gulshan Jahan (Vocalist) – Punjab,
- Wahid Allan Faqir (Sindh)
- Gulbaz Karim (Chardah) – GB
Sustainable livelihood for the artist community
The Art Residency is a unique extension of PPAF’s mandate of poverty alleviation and sustainable livelihood. Through the program, PPAF will be able to test a systematic approach for graduating poor musicians out of poverty by leveraging their skills in art more effectively and equipping them in a way that would help them preserve these instruments.
Although these musicians are blessed with immense talent yet their inability to market their music has proven to be a big economic hurdle for them. The musicians belong to far-flung areas of Pakistan and their exposure to modern-day practices is close to minimal.
In such a situation the need of the hour was to equip them with new skills so they could become self-sufficient, PPAF timely identified this need and in collaboration with FACE, designed a program which focused on music skills training, marketing, and technological training. Local folk musicians were taught how to effectively embrace technological platforms for them to excel in their field.
Preserving dying culture
Another commendable cause associated with the program is the preservation of local culture and heritage. The musicians who are part of this program play some of the rarest instruments of our times. Rozi Khan, a shepherd by profession and a musician, is one of the few remaining maestros of the Ishpoin, informally known as the “kalasha flute.” He has been playing the Ishpoin since he was 15 and lives in a mountain house built with stones in the Bamburet valley of Kalash.
Another participant, Ajmal Laal Bheel is the successor of the recently deceased maestro Krishan Laal Bheel, he is a highly influential musician and performer amongst the Hindu community of Cholistan and is a renowned Raanti player. Today in Pakistan, there are hardly any Raanti players left and the beats of this instrument are dying a slow death. Unfortunately, the problems only seem to multiply for these talented artists.
Fighting many battles
Folk musicians are fighting many battles at their end, on one hand, they are trying to preserve these dying sounds and on the other hand, they are fighting abject poverty.
Music is their first love thus despite limited earnings they never stopped playing these instruments. Ijaz Sarhadi, who is the last patron from a family of Sarinda players, has faced similar economic problems in the past but he did not leave the profession because there is no one after him who would be able to continue the decades-old legacy.
Another artist, Fakir Zulfiqar Ali from KT, District Tharparkar, Sindh plays an instrument called Borindo, the literal meaning of which is a ball with a whole. This instrument was played by Zulfiqar’s father and grandfather. His father Ustad Mir Mohammad was considered to be a true maestro.
Today Zulfiqar is the only person in the area who plays this instrument. Borindo is an instrument that dates back to 5,000 years and was originally played by people from the Mohenjo-Daro civilization.
The situation has become even more difficult for musicians post corona as shows and festivals have come to a halt. The residency program is a breath of fresh air for these musicians. It has not only increased their exposure but has made them aware of online platforms through which they can explore new opportunities.
PPAF initiated this program to empower the musicians so they could have a sustainable living and pursue their art as well. The residency program could prove to be transformational for these musicians as it would expose them to the digital world, allowing them to reach millions of new people which could perhaps give them a chance of a stronger survival.