Nightingales of Swat back in homes and singing

Nightingales of Swat back in homes and singing

By Hasan Khan


MINGORA, Pakistan – After a two-year break from singing, Shabana and her sister Shabnam are back on stage, once again able to entertain their fans.

“People were really crazy, whistling and shouting for long periods of time” as she sang her favourite Pashto song, Shabana told Central Asia Online, choking with emotion.

She was describing the reaction after a performance at a wedding party in Mingora, which had long been under the control of militants, who banned music and destroyed a large number of CD shops in the region.

Shabana, 28, said she entertained the male guests of the wedding party while singing their favourite songs and her sister Shabnam, 18, danced till late at night in the hujra, the traditional Pashtoon guest house.

The melodious voices of these singers and the sounds of all instruments fell silent in the valley when militants gained control. The militants, who believe such pleasures are forbidden in Islam, threatened all entertainers.

Most musicians in the valley not only abandoned their artistic careers, but publically denounced singing and dancing, vowing to follow Shariah, as defined by the militants.

The murder of Shabana (the elder) and the subsequent dragging of her body almost a year ago to Khuni square, so-named because of the blood spilled there, traumatized many performers. Many moved to towns of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and other parts of country to avoid the militants’ wrath. Manyalso turned to other professions.

The fear of militants was so strong that despite their defeat by military, neither Shabana the younger, nor Shabnam wanted to be interviewed. They only agreed to speak when asked to by their father.

“It is not for television or for local paper,” the father said. He requested, however, that his daughters not be asked about the Taliban, as they still fear being targeted if they spoke against them.

Sitting beside Shabnam and her father, Shabana disputed the popular perception in the valley that the Taliban wanted to kill her but mistakenly targeted her namesake, Shabana the elder, who was 31 when she was killed.

“This is ridiculous and nonsense”, she said. “Personally, I never got any threat from Taliban”.

Shabana said that when the Taliban advised her family to give up music her father publically renounced the profession and stopped both sisters from performing.

She recalled people saying the late Shabana attended some music functions despite Taliban orders. “So, I think, she was targeted for defying the Taliban,” Shabana said, shrugging her shoulders.

However, recalling the murder of Shabana, she said the news shook the whole community.

“It was terrible. Unbelievable for everybody,” Shabana said. After the elder Shabana’s death, she said, most musicians burned their instruments.

After the successful military operation in Malakand, the singers and dancers returned home; however, Shabana said, everybody is more vigilant about entertaining guests or accepting invitations for parties.

“We accept only those invitations which come from trusted people or are referred by those whom we know very well”, she said.

“No, it is not like in the past. There is still a feeling of fear”, she said, reflecting on her 10 years of experience. “I don’t know why, but my heart is down and everything seems depressing”.

Shabana and Shabnam said there was a lot of business, both at homes and outdoor concerts, before the Taliban.

Both were optimistic about the future of music in the valley.

“Now everything is in control of the army and there is peace; however, it will take a long time to get normal”, Shabana said. According to the singer, it all depends on peace. “If peace lasts, God willing, music will flourish again”.

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Reader Comments

  • She is very very beautiful and nice singer

    July 9, 2014 @ 10:07:06AM nasarsaeed
  • She is very beautiful singer i like that

    January 2, 2010 @ 02:01:00AM Saad