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At the Battle of the Bands contest in Lahore last year, two young men from Peshawar sang a soft Pashto song, O Qarara Rasha, and bagged the second position.

Since then, the track has ratcheted up in terms of the hits it received on YouTube. O Qarara Rasha comes from a fusion of western and local musical instruments, coupled with simple lyrics and captivating melody. With the song, lead vocalist Ismail Khan has generated a huge following. Back in Peshawar, coming at the heel of a long hiatus in cultural activities and music scene in the wake of growing militancy and looming threats from militants, O Qarara Rasha has caused quite a stir.

Ismail Khan (vocals) and Junaid Javed (guitar) are classmates and they have been jamming and making music for about three years. It was Ismail who wrote the lyrics of the song which is a tribute to Pashto poets Ghani Khan, Hamza Baba, Khatir Afriday and Ashraf Maftoon. He has not studied Pashto language in school nor read Pashto poetry extensively, yet the depth in his verses speaks of his talent. “If lyrics come to my mind, Junaid brings them to a musical reality on the guitar,” he says.

A self-taught guitarist, Junaid says they are trying alternative music genres such as mild rock and neo-sufi beats in Pashto music. They are mixing western and traditional Pashto music by playing the guitar, rabab and djembi. Ismail and Junaid listen to all kinds of music — from Indian classic to rock metal and Italian songs to Turkish music (which they find closer to Pashto beats).

After their lyrics and music were subjected to piracy, they intend to reserve their copyrights for an upcoming song, Ranra (light).

Ismail Khan is from Charsadda and his father is a landlord there. He did not get any appreciation from him when he came to know that his son was pursuing music. Junaid comes from a multi-cultural background and has luckily had no such problems.

Ismail is adamant to bring about change in Pashtun society that is facing extremism and terrorism through music.

For the last couple of decades, the impact of the war in Afghanistan as left a deep impact on the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas. The young people of this province have grown up witnessing violence. Both Ismail and Junaid now want to promote the finer things in life such as music, poetry and songs. And they are joined in their efforts by another musical band known as Khumaryaan.

Farhan Bogra, Amir Shafiq (guitarist) and Shiraz Khan (drummer) have also been playing music mixing modern instruments with traditional ones to create music that touches everyone’s hearts. They have not learnt music professionally — Farhan Bogra has played the rabab with Ismail and Junaid in O Qarara Rasha. They have performed in India too. The band plays covers from Summer of 69 to the Pashto folk song Naray Baraan with their own improvisations.

Ismail and Junaid are all for versatility and plan to sing in Pashto, English and Urdu, whereas Khumaryaan’s music goes deep down to the heart of those who love music, irrespective of language or country.