The sarangi is a dying musical instrument in Pakistan as only four of five musicians are left in Lahore keeping the tunes in shape. The patronage of the remaining masters of the traditional music instrument by cultural institutions is overdue, Zohaib Hassan, one of the last masters of the sarangi, said in an interview with Dawn.
Hassan was awarded Governor Award for his services for the promotion of classical music on Feb 18.
The maestro instrumentalist says that his family has been into sarangi playing for the last three centuries.
“I belong to Amartsari Gharana which has been into sarangi playing for over 300 years,” said Hassan. Mentioning that his mother wanted to see him a doctor but fate put his hands on the sarangi to keep alive his family tradition of playing this particular instrument.
Zohaib learned the sarangi from the late Ustad Khawar Hussian at the age of 16. It took him lots of effort to master the instrument; it was in 2006 that he started playing the instrument independently.
The word ‘sarangi’ is derived from Sau–Rangi. It is considered a sad music instrument because of 50 per cent of its surs or sad musical tunes but they also have sounds of happiness and mirth. He said he drew inspiration to learn the sarangi playing from renowned musicians such as Ustad Hussain Baksh Amritsar (grandfather), Ustad Nathoo Khan and Ustad Peero Khan. He said in the current times the keyboard music could produce sounds of all musical instruments, such as the sitar, the guitar, the tabla, the dholak, the sarood and so on but the impact of such sounds could never be original. People are not into learning or playing classical instruments as new technology has perhaps replaced originality.
Hassan has performed internationally in countries like India, the US, Europe and Poland.
He said the situation in India was better than Pakistan in terms of the count of sarangi players. Each Indian state, he claimed, had eight to 10 sarangi players but in Pakistan there were only four to five musicians.
Though the sarangi is a difficult musical instrument to learn and it costs Rs70,000, it is one of the classical instruments which has 100 colours of music, he said.
In Pakistan, classical music instruments such as the sitar and sarangi are not in much demand, so there is only one manufacturer of these instruments. There is a small shop in Lahore’s Gawalmandi area where sarangis are produced on order whereas in India there are 10 to 12 brands that are producing the sarangi of a different calibre.
Ustad Ziauddin and his son Kashan Zia are the only manufacturers in Pakistan who craft the sarangi and sitar. To Hassan, official patronage is needed for the promotion of classical music through different cultural institutions.
Hassan teaches the sarangi privately and also imparts lessons at Alhamra Academy of Performing Arts. To him, Alhamra is a blessed place where these classical music instruments are being taught. “Young souls should come forward to learn classical music instruments,” he says, adding “otherwise, there will be no one to play certain musical instruments, such as the sarangi, the sitar and the sarood in the coming times.”
Originally published in Dawn, February 21st, 2022