Archiving Music and History

14 May, 2018

.. by A.M. Khan

For a couple of weeks the Promotion, Preservation and Protection (3Ps) of Kho culture has been a topic of hot debate in Chitral on social media. The apologists and critics were, primarily, divided on a thin line, their approaches were different but their end-3Ps was common. The cultureof Chitral has both tangible and non-tangible facets like other areas or places. The visageof Kho culture is still unique, having been influenced from different past encounters, ranging from invasions, missions, expansions and containment policies.Chitral, having been on the confluenceof these different cultural encounters, shaped so differently from other cultures over a course of time.

Chitral has the peculiarity of being a place to showcase inter-faith harmony, fellow-feeling and peaceful coexistence, with an exceptional incident, since three and half decades before. The indoctrination in the country after 1980s, however, had repercussions on peaceful and harmonious life in Chitral.Notwithstanding, the topographic and scenic beauty is something natural endowment, while the temperament of these mountainous people is ‘naturalistic’ and peace-loving. It manifests from the way they respond to a situation where human bondage and love underscoreselse.

Having been abode of indigenous Kalash, Sunni and Ismaili community, Chitral provides a semblance of peace and harmony. This culture has taken a long course ofinter-faith-and-clan relationships, showsthe history of family system that was flexible, diverse culturally, adaptive to both ecology and economy.Also different events, festivals and gatherings which continue to tie them together with passing days a conscience of co-existence fed from it. Societal dynamics continued with this way to inevitable transformation and the people of Chitral maintained, so far, a pride on thislong heritage.

This year Qaqlasht festival, its history yet unknown, prompted apologists’ moved counter to the decision of district administration on the issue of organizing cultural segment, brought two things into light. One was the popularity of ‘studioizedmusic’ and a regime which couldprovide satisfactory services during any exhibition. The second important aspect of this event was to show how an event is managed, getting things done, and importantly, bringing a dormant conscience of a circle from slumber of being permanent local savior. This issue sustained on social media for a couple of days, within a week cultural gatherings started in which a Mushaira, handing out appreciation souvenir to a classical artist, and cultural seminar was held in Chitral, respectively. The ‘nudge’ for taking all of these initiatives aroused whenQaqlasht festival’s cultural segment, according to apologists,given to unrepresentative body. On the perspective of Richard Thaler’s ‘Nudge Theory’ boycotting Qaqlasht festival was an ‘easiest than wisest decision’ of cultural groups. For them and district administration it happened to be a ‘positive reinforcement’ and ‘indirect suggestion’ as ways to influence the decision making regarding culture and music in Chitral. It may generate more ideas for long term initiatives, rather than short-term impulses.

It is, from this perspective, stillhazy and confusing that how and what type of 3Ps framework plan cultural groups have developed?Is it fulfills 3Ps to protect culture? Does handing over souvenirto a single artist, indeed famous, tantamount to appreciate others also? Does a seminar, indeed learned speakers addressed, can cover up history, culture and genre of Kho music and culture? Answer of all these questions, indeed, would be a big No!

It was not only Baba Fateh Uddin- a famous and veteran classical singer, with him was Chairman Shaukat Ali, Muhammad Wali and group members made it all possible. Chairman Shaukat Ali , perhaps after Ali Zahoor, Charvelu of Meragram, BajaniLal, is not only famous for his art of playing sitar but also a famous poet (unmatched elegy writer ) and lyricist. One can easily be convinced listening his solo full cassette songs collection, a unique ‘way between classical and ghazal genre’ in Khowar music. His elegy on late Amir Gul Amir, Benazir Bhutto, and ShahzadaFarhad Aziz Beghash are the testimony of his art of distinguished Khowar elegy writer. Same is the case with Muhammad Wali, giving a variety to percussion from a metal oil container (Jerikan) during the mahfils.

Can we forget Nazir, owner of NazirMusic center? I still remember his phone No, a man recorded all these Mahfils in audio cassettes so beautifully.  Can we ignore Sultan Ghani,LothoroBrar, ShujaUlhaq, ShafiShifa, and other artists taking classical genre of music a vibrating heartbeat of every music lover?

Can we forget Mubarak Khan Mubarak, Amir Gul Amir, Gul Nawaz Khaki, Muhammad Hassan, Qadeer Khan, Haider Ali, Mirza Ali Jan; and versatile personalities like Iqbal Uddin Sahar-an evergreen poet-sitarist-lyricist-singer?Can we forget famous poet-cum-humorist Dul Mama, MaulaNigahNigah,HabibUllah Shad, Durani and MehboobHaqi, and many others? Not at all.

Can we set aside the contribution of Mansoor Ali Shabab, AftabAlam, and group, giving a new color to khowar music by introducingKhowar Ghazal?Can we forget sufi poet Baba Siyar, Zerak, Mohd Nadir Khan, CharnoLal, Amir Gul Amir, S. Fakhrulmulk, Iqbal Uddin Sahar ,and poets of modern age like Amin UrrehmanChughtai, Bulbul Khan, FazlulRehmanShahid, Saadat Hussain Makhfi, MusaratBaig, Ghulam RasoolBeqarar, and ever-green-sufi genre of Afzal Ullah Afzal?

And now, can we turn back to the ‘studioized musical’ production, which has downsized such a long past within two years journey, and has left little space for other songs in every disk in mobile shops, USB used  in vehicles, and Memory card in mobile phones.  Indeed not, we can’t.

This is how time has nudged so strong to the root forreviving and reasserting the music and a long history attached with it in Chitral. This history has been and now continuesto be our heritage of past, present and future which needs promotion, preservation and protection.

The first step, our cultural organizations, seriously concern about this heritage need to collect remaining resources of audio cassettes available with Nazir Music center, and other people. These collections, with the support of studios, should be recorded using modern technology. Once past recordings are collected some important songs can be re-recorded from living classical, neo-classical, modern and pop-artists in Chitral. These audio-visual recordings of songs could be a rich source for establishing an audio library in Chitral. This library could be a resource center for researchers on Kho music in Chitral.

The Oral History Society, Chitral has become a must organization to be established recording the history of thedifferentareas, languages, customs, festivals, classical songs, and other developments which have their roots in far past of Chitral.

The apologetic narrative does not work unless it takes a way to a healthy debate for developing a regime and framework for the promotion, protectionand preservation of past and present for future. .. A.M. Khan, Chitral 14 May 2018

The writer is independent researcher based in Chitral. He can be reached at alhajmuhammadkhan@yahoo.com