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June 10, 2018


Musicians Ustad Amanullah, rubab player Fazlur Rehman, Shireen Sado and others | Photos by the writer
Musicians Ustad Amanullah, rubab player Fazlur Rehman, Shireen Sado and others | Photos by the writer

Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) may not be a priority region in terms of governance and social development, but a group of socially-conscious and culture-sensitive people have experimented with the integration of folk music in the school curriculum for the first time in the region. The Pakistan Mountain Folk Music School Integration Project was launched in Hunza in May and is an initiative of Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT), a Swat-based organisation. Implemented in three districts of GB, it’s special focus is on reviving and popularising musical instruments on the verge of dying out.

“Music plays an important role in overall personality development,” says Aziz Ali Dad, a Gilgit-based social scientist, writer and columnist. 

Highlighting the importance of music in harmonising different dimensions of human personality, along with its soothing effects on emotions, Ali Dad quotes the German philosopher Nietzsche, “Life without music is a mistake.” He explains, “A well-rounded personality incorporates the appreciation and understanding of music and art. While other initiatives for the region are still in the planning phase, the integration of music in academics should help students develop their cognitive faculties and reduce cultural alienation among the youth.”

To conserve the indigenous music of Gilgit-Baltistan, a project has been launched to integrate music in school curriculum

In order to harmonise diversity within the holistic framework and social contract, it is indispensible to invest in liberal arts, Ali Dad suggests. Unfortunately because of skewed policies of the government, misplaced priorities and misperception of society, education in liberal arts is lacking in the system. He hopes that the initiative is an attempt to fill in that lacuna.

“Gilgit-Baltistan is a cradle of rich, indigenous cultural and linguistic diversity and home to a kaleidoscope of about half-a-dozen endangered languages such as Shina, Burushaski, Wakhi, Balti, Khowar and Domaaki. It also presents a beautiful tapestry of folk music, indigenous knowledge and biodiversity,” says Zubair Torwali, a Swat-based researcher, columnist and language activist.

A student plays the ghazek, an indigenous string instrument
A student plays the ghazek, an indigenous string instrument

According to Torwali, GB, the land of high peaks, pastures, glaciers and three great mountain ranges is among the most diverse regions in the world. However, the locals see cultural diversity fading away in the wake of modernity and global media onslaught.

Noorima Beenish, 14, has a beautiful voice and sings in both Wakhi and Urdu. She has always been interested in music but there was no institution or platform from where she could learn music. For her, it was a dream come true when an organisation introduced a music course in Nasir-i-Khisraw Model School, a community-run institute in Ghulkin village in upper Hunza, where she is an eighth grader.

“I started singing when I was 11 years old,” she says. Her school is one of the six schools where the Pakistan Mountain Folk Music School Integration Programme has been initiated.

Students perform at a school in Aliabad, Hunza
Students perform at a school in Aliabad, Hunza

Beenish enjoys playing the rabab and ghazek, both of which are string instruments. “I am really excited as now I am learning the basics of music in theory, as well as practising on various musical instruments,” she adds.

 “We were not in favour of her learning music but seeing her passion and interest we decided to support her,” says Beenish’s mother, Nasima Rehan. “Initially, we had decided to take her to Aliabad, Hunza, for music classes since our village doesn’t have a music institute. But now we are grateful that music education has been included in her school curriculum and our daughter is able to learn music in her own village.”  

After doing her intermediate, Beenish plans to take admission in National College of Arts (NCA).  

A student from Ghulkin village plays the ghazek
A student from Ghulkin village plays the ghazek

“I want to learn music properly and to be able to perform in public just like my favourite aritstes Aima Baig, Momina Mustehsin and Atif Aslam,” says Beenish, thrilled and grateful that her parents are supportive and encouraging. Her music teacher Rehmatullah Baig, 75, a noted ghazek player belongs to the same village as Beenish and teaches her to play the Pamiri rabab and ghazek.

The project is based on the concept of integrating folk music of Shina, Wakhi, Burushaski and Khowar communities in Gahkooch, Gilgit, Ghulkin, Passu, Chapurson and Shimshal valleys of Hunza, Ghizer and Gilgit districts while prominent musicians of the region such as Amanullah Baig, Fazlur Rehman, Shireen Sado, Habib Madik and Sifat Karim appreciate that the schools are willing to make music a part of their curriculum.

For Madik, music runs in the blood as his great-grandfather Muhammad Saeed was one of the best rabab players and perhaps the only ghazek player in Gojal. His grandfather Wali Baig was a renowned rabab, sitar and ghazek player. Madik’s uncle D.W. Baig, a well-known songwriter, singer and music composer from the region, is developing a music curriculum to be introduced in schools. While Baig’s organisation, the Initiative for Promotion of Pamiri Art and Culture (IPPAC) is working as a local implementing partner and providing support by selecting schools and students, as well as providing training to music teachers, Madik has been engaged as a music teacher to train students in rabab and ghazek at Shimshal and Passu schools.

 “Young people these days are influenced by pop music but in GB, we have seen a positive trend that our youth have developed an interest in the local folk music which is dying out because of neglect from state institutions and media,” says Baig.

Published in Dawn, EOS, June 10th, 2018