Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), Peshawar station has established the first ever digital archive library in its building to preserve old audio, video tapes and rare still photographs of artists, singers and literary figures of high repute of the yore days.

The digital library contains audio tapes of veteran politician and first station head of PBC Mohammad Aslam Khan Khattak, Mollie Ellis and first ever Urdu national song sung by Peshawar Khan in 1947 and many more voices of legendary figures.

The contents of the digital library will be put online for research purposes and avid fans of old melodies.

According to officials of Radio Pakistan Peshawar, the archive library is first of its kind. The digitalising of all relevant data collected since the station's inception in 1935 was completed within a year. Around 8,000 files were preserved, including 12,000 hours of interviews, feature dramas, radio talks, folk songs and still photographs of great artists, historians, religious scholars, poets and writers behind the microphone.

Noted Pashto poet and regional director of PBC Laiqzada Laiq told this scribe that Dr Shaukat A Bangash, son of a former official of Radio Peshawar, sponsored the project as a tribute to his late father Yaqoob Bangash, who had served at the radio station as director from 1982 to 1986.

He said that PBC Peshawar had launched a Pashto music show titled Tair Hair Awazoona (The Forgotten Voices) way back in 2000 with an objective to revive old Pashto folk music that proved a huge success and continued till then twice a week.

Mr Laiq said that around 4,500 spools gifted to radio by listeners across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during the last 18 years were digitalised and were available in soft form.

“This digital library is the first of its kind. It will help researchers to know about the evolution of Pashto folk music,” he said.

Haji Mohammad Aslam Khan, senior presenter of Tair Hair Awazoona radio show, said when he had aired the first show there were only a few spools of Pashto folk songs with PBC, Peshawar but a request was made asking listeners to gift out any spool to radio so that it could be preserved.

He said music lovers from across the province began pouring in to Peshawar with rare spools of Pashto folk singers.

“I also went out in search of such old discs and visited almost every nook and cranny of KP and tribal districts. I authored a book titled ‘Tair Hair Awazoona’ profiling over 100 folk singers of the yore days.

The first ever Pashto song recorded in London in 1902 sung by Begum Gauhar Jan was followed by recording companies in undivided India and according to music charts released by various music production companies, the copies of which I have in my possession, the number of spools ran up to around 12,000. Unfortunately, less than half of those have reached us till now,” he said.

Mr Khan told this scribe that he had recently been to Swat and Shangla from where he retrieved rare spools of Sikko Ram, a Hindu Pashto folk singer, resident of Badhber; Wazir Chand, another Hindu singer from Bannu; Abdul Karim Andaleeb; Gul Meer Ustad, and spool of Bibi Haneefa released in 1918.

He said that the digital library would prove a great milestone in discovering various dimensions of Pashto folk music.

Farhad Anwar Yousafzai, who produced the radio show over a period of time, hoped that such efforts would not only benefit researchers but would also help music buffs to know how Pashto folk music journeyed through various stages.

“New singers will learn a lot when they will listen to old Pashto melodies. The radio show still on air for the last 18 years showed love of the audience for the rich old Pashto folk music,” he added.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2018