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Sur Gali’s artisans turn to repairing modern instruments

July 21, 2019

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A wide selection of guitars on display at a shop in Sur Gali.
A wide selection of guitars on display at a shop in Sur Gali.

As tastes shift from classical to pop music, shops on Sur Gali are also shifting from making traditional instruments to repairing modern ones.

Artisans on the kilometre-long stretch of Shah Allah Ditta Road used to make tablas, sitars, rababs and harmoniums, but with the art of making such instruments dying they have learned how to work with newer and western instruments, such as guitars and drums.

Dozens of shops on Sur Gali now provide all kinds of instruments, from old to new. During a visit to the market, shoppers can be seen moving from one store to another, looking for instruments and accessories and bargaining for better deals.

Shahmir Raza, a university student, came to the market from Islamabad in search of a guitar.

“We came from Islamabad to repair an old guitar and to look for a new one. We have formed a musical group at university to perform at events and release music,” he told Dawn.

Sitars, a traditional South Asian instrument, are made and repaired at shops in the market.
Sitars, a traditional South Asian instrument, are made and repaired at shops in the market.

Awais Ali from Attock said he wanted to learn how to play guitar, and his teacher told him to buy one from the market in Rawalpindi.

“Learning and playing music is a productive pastime. [My friends and I] do not spend time roaming here and there, we pay attention to music,” he said.

Most of the shopkeepers bring in various instruments from Lahore and Karachi, but the strings for instruments such as guitars are knotted by their own craftsmen, who also manufacture and carry out repairs at their stores.

With the music market mushrooming, craftsmen also see this as an opportunity for them to revive classical music.

Craftsman Zain Ali adjusts the strings of a guitar.
Craftsman Zain Ali adjusts the strings of a guitar.

Classical musical instrument makers are vanishing from the market, as the guitar and piano replace the sitar and harmonium, Ustad Allah Rakha, a professional musician, said.

Zain Ali, who owns a musical instrument shop that he has run for 21 years, said that craftsmen for classical instruments are vanishing as modern music replaces classical music.

He said there is more work for guitars and other such instruments, but the art of making traditional instruments needs to be protected.

A shop worker prepares a harmonium.
A shop worker prepares a harmonium.

“Sarangi is rarely seen in the market these days, and neither are the makers,” he remarked.

He explained that craftsmen must know music to be able to make instruments and repair them, or they would not be able to adjust guitar strings or work on pianos and harmoniums.

Mr Ali said the government should set up an academy for the revival of the music industry, whether classical or pop.

Pianos on display at a shop that specialises in manufacturing and repairing modern instruments. — Photos by Mohammad Asim
Pianos on display at a shop that specialises in manufacturing and repairing modern instruments. — Photos by Mohammad Asim

“At present, Christians are keeping the industry alive because they use musical instruments as part of their worship in church,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019