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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa female singers re-emerge
More women are defying militant threats to perform
By Javed Aziz Khan
PESHAWAR – Once silenced by Taliban threats, female singers have again found their voice in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
The leader of the resurgence is Ghazala Javed, whose rise to stardom has lured other women into the KP music industry.
“Ghazala really filled the vacuum of good Pashtu singers,” said Musarrat Mohmand, a Pashtu singer in her mid-20s. “I was also fond of music. That is why I opted to sing despite social barriers, militant threats and restrictions from family. … I have to continue for my love for music as well as to financially support my family.”
Urooj, Musarrat’s younger sister, is following Musarrat’s footsteps, saying Musarrat’s popularity inspired her to sing. “I would definitely select standard lyrics, music and composition to gain durable popularity among the fans,” Urooj told Central Asia Online.
Even Afghan women — including Pashtu singer Sapna Tahir and Naghma — have built a Pakistani fan base with their melodious voices.
Swat has proven to be the most fertile region, producing almost half of the singers, musicians and dancers of KP.
“Swat has produced many legends not only in singing but in acting, composing and other fields related to showbiz,” said Mudassir Zaman, a music lover and singer who hosts various television and radio shows.
Famed Swati performers include Bakht Zameena — a popular singer in Afghanistan purportedly killed by militants — and Rahim Shah, who sings for Indian films. Others are Karan Khan, Ghazala Javed, Shaz Khan, Musarrat and Urooj.
The emperors of Swat promoted music, helping breed a love of the art, Mudassir said.
New Pashtu TV channels and radio stations have opened the door for a number of new singers, both male and female, he added.
Emerging singers are helping their community recover from years of terrorist intimidation. Pashtu music nose-dived when militants shot Shabana, a popular dancer and singer from Swat Valley, and displayed her corpse in “Slaughter Square,” now called Farooq Shaheed Square, to convey the message that music was prohibited in the region. That was the breaking point for many Swat performers, who left the region.
But “the situation in Swat is normal now. Almost all the singers and their families who had migrated to other places have returned home,” Qazi Jamilur Rahman, the police chief of Malakand division, told Central Asia Online. “They are playing music and holding functions as they were doing before the militancy in the area.”
But the revival of Pashtu music is not without its problems.
Ihtishamul Haq Toru, president of the Cultural Journalists and Artists’ Association of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, criticised substandard songs and low quality CDs — some even put out by non-Pashtuns.
“Some Pashtu TV stations and cheap CDs played a key role in ruining the Pashtu music industry. We need to take collective measures to restore the old glory of Pashtu songs,” said Toru, who wants to establish a musical academy.
The government, promoters and others concerned by substandard music, poetry and dances need to preserve the integrity of Pashtu music, Nisar Mahmood, a senior journalist covering music and cultural events for The News, said. “We lack the quality music of the old days, when classical music would sweeten the environment,” Nisar said.
But the biggest threat to music was and remains the militancy.
“Terrorism has destroyed a number of music shops as well as our musical assets,” said Abaseen Yousafzai, chairman of the Pashtu Department of Islamia College University. “It is the duty of the culture department and other government offices to preserve music so that it remains in the same shape for our coming generations.”
He praised all singers who withstood Taliban threats to keep the art alive.
Women singers still face risk, even with the Taliban out of power. Some families do not let their female members sing professionally.
One tragic case is Ayman Udas, a budding Pashtu singer and poet, who was shot to death — allegedly by her brothers, who subsequently fled —in Peshawar last year. Some said it was because her family opposed her singing.