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Govt patronage sought to save Chitrali music from going extinct

Govt patronage sought to save Chitrali music from going extinct

CHITRAL: Chitrali music is fast losing its charm due to the loss of a number of musical instruments during the past two decades, and if the government doesn’t take steps urgently to reverse the process, the traditional music would soon be extinct, cautions Sher Wali Khan Aseer, a researcher on the music.

He says that Chitral had a rich musical heritage with indigenous instruments having enchanting and enthralling effect. Such instruments were in use since the time immemorial as evident from the area’s known history.

Enumerating some of the abandoned musical instruments used in Chitral in olden days, he names duff, flute, gharba, chhang, jighikin, ormachi and others whose names, he says, are not known to most people of the new generation.

He says that duff, a disc-shaped instrument made of membrane of sheep or goat skin tied to a circular frame of three to five feet, used to be part and parcel of local music echoing the whole village when beaten in musical concerts.

Mr Aseer says use of wolf skin in making of duff turns it into a superior quality because of the skin’s durability due to its hardness, reverberating far and wide when beaten. “The traditional musical instrument has been replaced by jerry can, otherwise used to carry water, or engine fuel, which produces high-pitched sound when beaten empty.”

Dr Inayatullah Faizi, an intellectual, talking on loss of duff, says drop in cattle farming by the local population is the main reason behind dwindling use of duff as a musical instrument. No sheep or goat skin is easily available while the hunting of wolf is banned by the wildlife department, he adds.

He maintains that artisans who can make the instrument in the far flung areas of the district and Gilgit-Baltistan are in lesser numbers.

About the materials used in the folk musical instruments, Mr Aseer says that most of them are made of membrane and strings of animal skin, wood of certain plants and bones of birds, to make them resonate more.

Flute is yet another musical tool quite common with the people of all ages and gender, and valleys reverberate with its mellow notes in spring season.

He mentions that gharba, one of the dying musical instruments, is the one with a religious touch as local spiritual leaders play it while singing Persian stanzas at ceremonies. Gharba is a guitar-shaped instrument with three to four parallel strings stretched tightly across it, but despite its spiritual touch, it is also losing fast its popularity.

Musical tools like Zhighikin and chhang, which are essentially the Asian in nature had been in use in Baroghil area adjoining Wakhan corridor and Chitral as well, Mr Aseer says. The only instrument, which the people have retained todate is Chitrali sitar (guitar) as it is available in market. However, he says the quality of sitar is on the decline due to less number of its makers.

Former rulers of Chitral, Aseer says, fervently patronised the music in their courts which was the sole source of entertainment available at that time and endowed the artists with agricultural lands or pastures.

He commends the role of Chitral Scouts in promoting and preserving some components of Chitrali music by recruiting the artists in the force while local police have also contributed in this regard.

He says that earnest efforts should be made to preserve the dying music of the mountainous region.

Dr Faizi, who is also a former president of Anjuman Taraqi-i-Khowar (development of Chitrali language), says the Islamabad-based National Institute of Folk Heritage had prepared a documentary about Chitrali sitar in 1983, but discontinued the programme to preserve other musical tools. “Preservation of Chitrali music can be accomplished if the government organisations take up the matter with earnestness,” he hopes.

Although the provincial government has established culture department, it has marginalised the rich cultural diversity of Chitral, he says, asking the government to extend support and patronage to encourage the manufacture of musical tools in the private sector to make their availability at commercial scale.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2015

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