Cultural vacuum: When the music died in Khyber Agency -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Cultural vacuum: When the music died in Khyber Agency

Pakistan Press Foundation

PESHAWAR: Khyber Agency lost its music in 2006; when the sound of mortar shells drowned the music from the rabab, and singers were forced to leave their homes.

Wazir Afridi, 32, once an aspiring musician now works in a factory in the city. He is one of the many singers who had to abandon both his passion and his home because of security threats. “I was very fond of music since childhood and would listen to Khyber Radio daily. That’s why I chose to be a singer, although there were family restrictions.”

When security conditions deteriorated in Bara in 2006, militants from banned outfit Lashkar-e-Islam kidnapped Wazir and kept him in their private jail. Wazir was released a few days later, with a ‘fine’ of Rs1 million and a warning to quit singing.

“I am very fond of singing and it was very difficult for me to quit music, so I migrated,” he says.

Five months later, he was kidnapped again and abductors demanded a heavier ransom. “This time, I did not have a penny to pay to them, but my relatives pooled in the ransom amount for my release.” Wazir left five years ago and has not returned to his hometown since then.

Another famous singer from Khyber Agency, Hanif Afridi, is now a taxi driver and lives in Peshawar. Hanif was kidnapped by militants and he too, was kept in a private jail. After being kept in custody for a month, he was given three options for his release: pay Rs50,000, go on tableegh for four months or leave the area.

“I belong to a poor family, I was not in a position to pay such an amount so I took the only option I had and left my house,” he says.

Hanif and Wazir are not the only ones who have left Bara, most musicians and singers from Khyber Agency have either fled the area or bid farewell to their profession. “My other friends, Sadam Afridi and Latif Khan Afridi, have also moved out because of security threats from the Taliban,” Hanif says, adding that both these men were famous musicians of the agency.

“There was once a time when we performed at weddings and other functions and people were interested in our shows. But now because of fear of militants people do not even keep songs in their mobile phones,” he added. “I am a taxi driver now, not a singer. The taxi doesn’t belong to me; I have to pay the car owner too … I only earn Rs300 a day, which does not meet my family’s expenses.”

Hanif has not visited his village in the past five and a half years. He now lives in a two-room house near the provincial capital with his seven-member family and dreams about going back to his hometown, Bara.

A popular rabab player from the agency, Mohabat Khan Afridi, said: “Pukhtun culture has suffered the most. Bara used to be the hub of music activities, but now it’s all deserted.”

Mohabat fled the area to take shelter in Peshawar and now lives in Sarband. “In the past, we used to have concerts in public places, now people only have small gatherings in private. Bomb blasts can occur anywhere and people are frightened. Many singers, artists and musicians have quit their jobs,” he says.

Khyber Agency was once the only place in the tribal belt where anyone could pursue a career as a singer or musician. Even now, when militants have been driven out, musicians and singers still feel their lives are not secure and the prohibition on music has led to long-term damage on the agency’s culture. These artists now live in rented houses and reminiscence their days of freedom.

Source: The Express Tribune

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