There's something heartbreaking and fragile about 'Sheenai', Khumariyaan's tribute to Gilgit-Baltistan

Published 16 Jun, 2022 11:35am

The band collaborated with Shandana Anwar for vocals on the song.

After playing up a storm at the Lahooti Melo in Karachi, the Peshawar-Islamabad based instrumental act Khumariyaan is back with several brand-new releases.

As a musical outfit, although their music is steeped in traditional and folk Pashto music, they’re usually able to bypass language and cultural barriers by being a completely instrumental act. If you don’t have lyrics that need translating, you can just go with the flow of the music and interpret it any way you like.

The band consists of percussionist Shiraz Khan on the zerbaghali (hand-held percussion instrument), guitarists Aamer Shafiq and Sparlay Rawail and Farhan ‘Bogey’ Bogra on the rabab. While all of the members are equal and contribute equally and all that jazz… Bogey is an absolute magician on the rabab. And it’s his strumming that leads you into Sheenai, one of the band’s latest releases, before Shiraz accompanies the rabab on the zerbaghali, playing a light, rhythmic percussion that sets an easy pace to the song.

In 'Sheenai', the band is featuring the vocal talents of Shandana Anwar. The band posted this message with the song: “[This is] our tribute to the folk music of Gilgit-Baltistan and its green-eyed people and stepped green valleys. The word ‘sheen’ means green in Pashto and is apt for the beauty of the region. This new Pashto song has been a while in the making, and is the next chapter in our rolling vocalist series.”

Instrumental band Khumariyaan features Shandana Anwar’s vocals on 'Sheenai' — their tribute to Gilgit-Baltistan

This is the first time the band has officially used a vocalist in their otherwise normally instrumental compositions. Shandana’s voice has a deep, rich, tonal quality that lends itself perfectly to the song. Her vocal sections are there to support the song, but do not take over it. This is still very much a Khumariyaan track, and the instrumental section is dominant in it.

The lyrics, in Pashto, and their English translation are:

Ya’ad che shi khabaray sta/ Khwagay khwagay attaray sta/ Dub de kram pa stargo ke/ Stargay de jawaray sta [When I remember your words/ Your sweet uttering/ You have drowned me in your eyes/ Your eyes have great depth]

Dak krama jamuna kha/ Che laar sham maykhanay ta za/ Haer na shi sta da rukhsar/ Sumra um che khumar shama za [I fill my cup to the brim/ When I go to the tavern/ I can’t forget your face/ No matter how intoxicated I get]

Although the music is upbeat and celebratory, there’s something heart-breaking and fragile about the composition. Much like the mountains they are celebrating — stunning, majestic and yet unpredictable, and its people victims to a rapidly-changing climate. In Sheenai, the band is celebrating both the beauty and fragility of life, albeit masked as a love song. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to get up and dance, even if the world around you is falling apart.

Originally published in Dawn, ICON, June 12th, 2022