Craftsmanship of manufacturing classic music instruments on edge of extinction in the city of artisans

Adeel Saeed

PESHAWAR, Jan 09 (APP):Passing through the labyrinth of alleyways in historic Peshawar city, one becomes bewitched by beat of traditional Tabla (hand drums) and tune of rabab (guitar) coming out from shops owned by manufacturers having centuries old legacy of making classical musical instruments.

Artisan busy at work of thumping stretched out dry animal hide to adjust beat of hand drums or twisting strings to set tunes of rabab (guitar) takes passerby to nostalgic time swinging to the tunes of classical music.

Sitting in shops located in Mohallah Shah Burhan in the interior city, a couple of shopkeepers are displaying handmade musical instruments for sale including hand drums, rababs and tambourine.

These shopkeepers who also share same lineage and associated with the art of making and repairing of musical instruments from the last one century.

It merits an insertion here that Peshawar’s historic name is `Pesha War’ (Skillful person) which means that the city was recognized in history as `City of Artisans’ due to ample livelihood facilities provided by the generosity of its dwellers to the people of the region.

“Our grandfather, Rahim Buksh, migrated from Gujrawala district of Punjab to Peshawar and started this art as a mean of livelihood. The profession is continued by our father, Rahim Murtaza and we the third generation also inherited it in succession,” informs Ahmad Ali an artisan.

“The knack of preparing classical music instruments in Peshawar is in danger of disappearance because we are the only few skillful persons associated with it and are continuing it till the time we can,” warns Ahmad Ali while talking with APP.

While elaborating his concern, Ahmad Ali told APP that unlike his elders and they themselves, the art is not adopted by their children as a profession due to deep slump in business.

In fact we decided discontinuation of this vocation by our children because of dwindling income due to modernity in melody choice diverting focus of people from classical music to latest DJ (Disc Jockey) style.

“The craftsmanship will not be available in future and classic music lovers in Peshawar will have to face a dead end due to difficulties in finding out perfect instruments manufacturers besides mechanic to repair gadgets already in use,” Ahmad Ali cautioned.

He also claimed that in whole of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and neighboring Afghanistan no other artisan except these few working in Peshawar are involved in this art and making perfect instrument that fit to meet professional demands.

Rahim Mujtaba, another artisan in the same locality, concurred with the concern expressed by Ahmad Ali who is also his younger brother.

Rahim told APP that he is associated with art of manufacturing and repairing of musical instruments for the last 40 to 45 years, but the economic recession they are facing for the last several 12 to 15 years is unprecedented, making it difficult for them to make both of their ends meet.

This skill is very hard because adjustment of hand drums beats through tightening of twine needs a lot of strength and dexterity, Rahim explained.

Furthermore, he went on to say, for improving quality of beat, they have to pound iron by hands to convert it into powder for pasting on dry animal hide by mixing with some chemical. “The process of crushing iron in metal mortar and pestle is very cumbersome exercise which not only consumes time, but also needs a lot of physical strength,” Rahim expressed.

A pair of hand drum takes around 20 to 25 days in preparation while a rabab with perfect tunes takes 10 to 12 days.

About the price of a pair of hand drum, he said, it ranges around Rs. 16,000 to Rs. 25,000. While the price of a wooden hand made rabab is around Rs. 7000 to 10,000.

Rahim Mujtaba said their main source of income is repair of used instruments which is also showing reduction due to change in mood of music buffs.

“I came from Charsadda district to get my hand drums repaired as there is no shop or person in our area to do this job,” said Zarshad, a hand drum beater.

Zarshad said people associated with classical music are facing very tough time because of reduction in demand of people.

Gone were the days when people booked classical singers for merriment on celebration of their happy occasions, Zarshad lament.

Now we get chance of performance once or twice in a month and the earning we get is very less for meeting our household expenses.

“It is a matter of concern because music lovers face a lot of problems in adjustment or tuning of their musical instruments and have to send them to Lahore and other areas,” said Arbab Fazal Rauf, an amateur singer of classical songs in Pashto and Urdu languages.

“Classic music lovers exist in Peshawar and KP, but the problem is scarcity of skilled person who can repair the equipment perfectly,” Rauf told APP.

Talking to APP, Fazle Rauf, who is a banker by profession, shared that rabab technicians are available in Peshawar and KP, but the problem is with hand drums which have only these few and no professional person in the whole region.

Rauf stressed on government to pay attention and protect this art from disappearance because hundreds of people are associated with the profession of playing hand drums during happy occasion and even at literary gatherings.

Holding of music shows by TV Channels, especially regional, have provided a lot of opportunity to music performers and their number increased, but if there is no professional person for tuning of music instruments, people will face a lot of problem, Fazle Rauf continued.

“Culture department is cognizant to the problems being faced by music lovers and artisans associated to manufacturing and repairing of instruments,” said Raiz Ahmad, Assistant Director Culture Department KP.

Talking to APP, Riaz said KP Culture Department launched `Support to Living Human Treasure’ project with the objective of extending financial support to artist community.

Under the project a stipend of Rs. 30,000 was paid to around 500 persons including singers, musicians and Tabla (hand drum) players. The project ended around six months earlier after completing two years of its stipulated period.

He said more projects are also in the pipeline and would also target hand drum manufacturers. “We realizes that the decade long wave of militancy has left very negative impact on earning of music performers and Culture department is working to help and support them through different projects,” Riaz concluded.