Swat: The emergence of new Pashto singers has once again diverted the focus of local to Banr, the area of Swat famous for musicians and artists. The musical and cultural activities restarted in Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and several new singers released their new Pashto songs albums for Eidul Adha. One of them is Muskan Zafar-17 who is the niece of slain famous Pashto singer Ghazala Javeed.

“Ghazala Javeed was my favorite personality, she was very kind and I am following her,” Muskan told while talking to Truth Tracker at her home in Swat.

Banr area of Swat district was once a famous part for musicians, singers and dancers, but Taliban stripped music from the valley as the performers were considered sinners and music was considered un-Islamic.

According to a study report of Pakhtunkhwa Cultural Foundation named ‘ study on effects of war and repression of musicians, performers and the public of Swat, Pakistan’ published on March 3, 2016, around 40 per cent of population of Banr has been reduced after the years of militancy.

The report stated that as compared to the period of militancy, now the population has increased—reached to about 80 per cent of its former strength—and musical activities have recommenced in the area. Visitors are also reportedly dropping by the area to attend musical functions or meet the singers.

The Pakhtunkhwa Cultural Foundation report further stated that in 1994 Tehreeki Nifazi Shariat (TNSM), a movement for the implementation of Islamic law in Swat began, and dealt great damage to socio-cultural life. From 2002 to 2007, the government of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) proved fatal for cultural life in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in general.

Swat was worse hit by MMA. Music was discouraged and banned even in public transports. By 2007, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had taken over the Swat valley. During the active militancy period (2007- 2009) when the social and cultural fabric was broken down completely, the music industry bore the worst brunt. The Taliban severely punished people related to the music industry, CD/DVD shops were bombed and there was a complete ban on listening to music. It was during this period that 80 per cent of the singers, performers and musicians fled their areas and settled in different parts of the country.

Muskan family was also among those who fled the area and relocated to Peshawar. “We cannot stay long in Peshawar due to high costs of rental homes and other expenditures and we plan to get back to our village when the situation became normal,” she shared.

Muskan’s father Zafar is a famous musician and a harmonium player. He supervises teaching vocals and harmonium to her young daughter. He told Truth Tracker that while she continues with her education, Muskan also sings and recently sang for Pashto movies released on Eid Ul Adha.

Singer Sadia Shah : Photo by News Lens Pakistan

Sadia Shah, 18, is also one of the rising singers in the Banr area of Swat. She is hopeful for the success of her new song released for Eid Ul Adha. She told Truth Tracker that the situation of Banr area has improved for singers but the numbers of tourists are still very little.

She said that she had heard tales from their elders of the scores of people who visited her region to attend musical programs but now the people fear and hesitate to visit the areas.

Sadia said that Banr has had a glorious history of producing popular singers who have earned a name for their region and the country. However these people are still facing hardships because these are professional musicians and cannot earn their living any other way. She said that local people are Pashto music admirers and give a lot of love and respect to the musicians and singers. She criticized Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for not supporting the musicians and singers of Swat district who greatly suffered from militancy.

Study on the Effects of War and Repression on Musicians, Performers and, Public of Swat, Pakistan, was a research released last year. It reveals that the total number of musicians ‘households in Banr was 85 in the 1980’s—with at least 2 female performers/dancers from each house and it had 25 master musicians and 60 professional singers. Currently the number of these households has fallen to 40 with, on average, two female dancers from each house and only 7 families practicing the traditional professional art. There are now 5 harmonium players, two tabla players, and five female singers only.

The study disclosed that by 2016 over half of the professional families had left the profession, some having adopted other professions as a source of earning. Yet the role of traditional music families is key for the continuation of the Banr community.

Report shows that in the absence of formal institutions of music and art these families teach music and train youngsters. Now there is only one harmonium and tabla teacher left. Acoustic instruments have been replaced by recorded sequence music. This recorded music is played when female dancers perform for the audience and visitors to their houses. These performing sessions are now become more sensual than artistic. This degeneration comes at the cost of losing the public’s respect and straying from valuing one’s cultural heritage.

A famous musician and tabla player, Shahnawaz Ustad told Truth Tracker that people of Swat are very brave because they have seen very ups and down but stayed steadfast. He said that the music professional of Banr were once discouraged, with artists threatened, killed and many displaced.

He said that artists were not only psychologically affected during militancy but they have also endured hefty financial losses. “A singer and dancer Shabana was killed and a stage was set for killing a female singers by Taliban in Swat, which greatly discouraged the old and coming singers” Ustad shared.

The elders of the music community demand that the PTI provincial government support this most militancy-effected community and prepare a plan for the musicians of Swat so that once again artists of this area are encouraged to keep the centuries old tradition of Pashto music alive. Ustad said that the incumbent government had announced special packages for artists but they ignored the artists of Swat, which created disturbance in their community people.

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