The artisans crafting traditional musical instruments in Mohalla Shah Burhan adjacent to Chitrali Bazaar have shown concern over lack of official patronage as their art had been fast fading away over the last few decades posing a threat to folk music.

Experts feared if the art of crafting musical instruments was not preserved and promoted, it would cause a serious threat to traditional folk music.

Ahsan Murtaza, 28, one of the three artisans of his family told this scribe that business of selling hand crafted musical instruments had dwindled to a dismal 80 per cent due to several reasons, one being non-patronage of their art and others included switching over to computer music and a deep slump in the market for sale of handmade musical tools.

Mr Murtaza said he and his two uncles had inherited the art but had stopped to transfer it to their children as they saw no future and with it traditional folk music might face a final ciao, adding that if once the art of crafting faded away, how could folk music survive. He said he had learnt the basics of crafting rabab, tabla, dholak, daf, zerbaghli, harmonium and guitar from his late father, Ustad Rahim Murtaza.

The artisan said it ran in the 12th generation of Dhonkal family which had shifted from Punjab and settled in Peshawar to pioneer the crafting business of musical instruments in pre-Partition era and buyers used to come from parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, tribal districts and even Afghanistan. “My grandfather, ustad Rahim Bakhsh was a master in crafting tabla and could also make and repair other musical instruments. Repair of a tabla costs Rs1,500 to 2,000 while a new tabla may cost from Rs5,000 to 25,000. It requires hard work and skill,” he maintained.

Popular tabla player, Maas Khan, told that there were many players of traditional musical instruments but the number of craftsmen had been declining fast because steps were not being taken by the bodies concerned to support and preserve the art and it would ultimately lead to death of the traditional folk music.

“We have lost a number of musical instruments in less than a century because the art of crafting them was not promoted. If the trend continues, we would lose even the available instruments. The KP government had earlier planned an artisan village but then seemed to have dropped the idea,” he regretted.

When contacted, an official in the KP culture directorate told Dawn that the idea of setting up an artisan village and art gallery was floated in December, 2018, with the an aim to revive the dying art and an amount to the tune of Rs200 million was also announced but later it was cut down to an art gallery to be set up in Peshawar.

“The KP government has no such plan on cards right now. We understand that all kinds of art should be revived, preserved and promoted. We should not let any art, language or culture die because all forms and expressions of our art make up our national identity,” the official remarked.

Originally published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2019

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