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Afghan folk dance atanr gaining wide popularity

May 20, 2013

PESHAWAR, May 19: Traditional Afghan atanr (folk dance) is gaining widespread fame as a Peshawar-based group of young Afghan dancers is invited to perform in even non-Pashto speaking areas, including Punjab and Sindh.

The popular Afghan dance group is led by Bacha Akakhel, a young Afghan nomad who is a master dancer and has been in the field for the last over a decade after his family shifted to Peshawar from Afghanistan in early 80s. Mr Bacha drew inspiration from his father and cousins who used to perform atanr on wedding ceremonies and other happy occasions as amateur performers when he was in his early teens.

Later, he developed a penchant for this traditional dance and made it his career. He trained a few of his friends in the art of atanr five years ago and launched a professional group, which soon gained popularity in and around Peshawar and then they never looked back since Bacha Akakhel atanr performance became a regular feature on wedding functions, festivals and cultural events. It is different from Khattak, Wazir, Masood, Banuchi and other folk atanr of Pashtun tribes.

Mr Bacha, 23, has trained 100 young boys in the art of performing Akakhel atanr. He has 200 exclusive albums of atanr to his credit. “I love atanr since my childhood, in fact it has saved my life once; two years ago I was on my way to Kabul for performing atanr when in Jamrud subdivision of Khyber agency I saw a car chasing us, a bearded person signaled to my driver to stop and asked us to get down from the car. He took us to a roadside. He said that he loves Akakhel atanr and especially when you perform it. But this time I request you to go back to your home and quit it forthwith; Atanr was to be performed for waging jihad and you do it for earning money which is un-Islamic.” After this incident, Mr Bacha said, he and his group members confined to their homes for three months.

In Akakhel atanr a performer is tossing and swirling up and down his head rapidly to the rhythm of drum and flute. “It is too difficult to perform; other kinds of atanr are simple to perform. We cannot perform well to the tune of a song or any other musical instrument because the balance of our steps breaks owing to inaudibility of sound and it results in irregularity of rhythm. In atanr one needs not to show contours of different parts of the body as women dancers do in Pashto movies. It is an art and art does not exhibit vulgarity,” Mr Bacha explained.

He said that he had declined offers on several occasions made by Pashto film makers, adding that he would never perform atanr with a girl attired in inappropriate dress.

“We have performed atanr in Multan, Lahore, Karachi, Hyderabad and Islamabad and in almost every district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. We are on off only during the holy month of Ramazan, while during the weddings season from January to May not a single night goes free. My group consists of six members and we can perform non-stop for two hours without a break. In Punjab and Sindh, people don’t understand Pashto, but they like Afghan atanr as they watch our performance on PTV,” Mr Bacha said.