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LIVING COLOURS: ‘Pakistan must progress beyond oral tradition of teaching music’

LIVING COLOURS: ‘Pakistan must progress beyond oral tradition of teaching music’

Arif Jafri has played the flute all his life. Ustad Fateh Ali Khan took him under his wing at a young age, and Mr Jafri’s passion for music took him as far as Romania, where he specialised in Western music under a scholarship programme offered by Unesco.

However, Mr Jafri has expressed disappointment with the lack of state patronage of folk and classical musicians. His services were only recently hired by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA), where he is also part of the Halqa Ahbab-i-Moseequi. Held once a month, the initiative offers music lovers a change to listen to some of the rarest compositions of old masters. The PNCA has pulled out some 2,000 old records from its archives and borrowed from private collectors. Dawn caught up with Mr Jafri in Islamabad and talked about the state of Pakistani music.

Q: What’s missing in Pakistan’s music scene?

A: “Musicians are thirsty for recognition, especially from the most responsible department: the government. This is necessary to keep both folk and classical music alive, as well as the traditional instruments that hardly anyone plays today.

Can you imagine that there are only four, maybe five, sarangi players left in the entire country today? No other instrument imitates human voice better than a sarangi. Artists deserve so much more but the state doesn’t recognize them and the entertainment industry does not own them. Even labourers have access to state-sponsored services and facilities, but not musicians. How is an artist to ever grow when he realizes his music means nothing? Musicians prefer regular jobs for children and no longer pass on knowledge and skills handed down for generations.”

Q: How do you feel about fusion music?

A: “Fusion music can never be successful because you cannot enjoy either. Western music is more than simply downloading lessons from the Internet, which is what most aspiring musicians are doing today.

Western music is solid and complex and unless music is taught to children in nurseries, whether it’s Western or Eastern, like it is taught in many other countries, it is not going to be easy to get a grasp of. That is exactly what is missing here.

Pakistan must progress from the oral tradition of teaching music – from father to son – and make it part of basic education in schools to develop a better sense of it and improve it. Take the example of Sajjad Ali. Not only does he come from a family of artists but has studied music too, which is why he sings both classical and pop songs with perfection and appeals to both young and old listeners.”

Q: How does the PNCA plan to contribute to the music scene in the future?

A: “It is important that youngsters learn the true sur [melody] and ley [rhythm]. The new PNCA director general, Jamal Shah, has approved music programmes starting next month where traditional instruments like tabla, the flute as well as the violin will be taught. At the same time we would like to request the state to intervene, become responsible and prevent classical music from disappearing. PTV was and probably still is the only channel that promotes classical music. We would like to ask Pakistan Radio to resurrect its traditional music programmes that would take up 50pc of airtime just like in the past.

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2016

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