Pashto Music Comes to New York

Khumariyaan lead guitarist Sparlay Rawail claps during their performance on Sunday. (Photo by Mohsin Zaheer)

Khumariyaan lead guitarist Sparlay Rawail claps during their performance on Sunday. (Photo by Mohsin Zaheer for Voices of NY)

Sparlay Rawail, a lead guitarist and percussion player for the Pashtun musical group “Khumariyaan,” believes that music is a universal language. He said that he, along with his other band members have not only had a good experience in communicating with American audiences through music but also believe that they have left a good impression about the Pashtun culture.

Khumariyaan, which translates into English as “The Intoxicators” introduced themselves as a musical band born in the city of Peshawar close to Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. Their popularity has coincided with the rise of the Taliban, and the expansion of sectarian violence in recent years.

Other members of Khumariyaan visiting the U.S. are Farhan Bogra who plays the rubab, a lute-like musical instrument, Aamer Shafiq, rhythm guitarist and Shiraz Khan who is a percussionist and plays the zerbaghali, a goblet-shaped hand drum.

Khumariyaan’s tour to the U.S. is sponsored by Center Stage, a cultural exchange program of the State Department.

Khumariyaan perform at the Asia Society on Sunday, October 12. (Photo by Mohsin Zaheer)

Khumariyaan perform at the Asia Society on Sunday, Oct. 12. (Photo by Mohsin Zaheer)

Khumariyaan performed at the Asia Society in New York on Oct. 12, their fourth concert during their U.S. tour. Their powerful instrumental performance brought the audience to their feet.

When asked what impressions they got during their visit, Aamer Shafiq responded, “Like at the Asia Society in New York, wherever we have been to, the response by the American audience was tremendous.”

“We are so pleased the way the American audience welcomed and encouraged us,” said Rawail, adding: “This visit provided us the opportunity to promote and to evolve the traditional music of rubab, which is the centerpiece of our band.”

“We got orders for the rubab too,” Bogra said, indicating that audience members want to purchase it.

Khumariyaan developed their own music style by combining the local folk rubab with modern and traditional instruments.

The city of Peshawar, the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and many regions in the tribal areas of Pakistan have suffered from Taliban terrorism in recent years.

Extremists and suicide bombers have targeted not only civilians and law enforcement officers but also musicians and artists. In areas where they have exercised a strong presence in the past, the Taliban burned down CD, DVD and music stores.

“We used to face a difficult time off and on in Pakistan,” Rawail acknowledged and added, “It is a fact that opponents of music and arts exist everywhere, you may even find some in the U.S., but the majority of the people in Pakistan want to listen and enjoy music. They want to dance, most of them love arts and culture.”

“During our concerts in the U.S. people enjoyed our music and danced to the melding of traditional folk and modern music, and they gave us standing ovations. Music is something which helps you build a bridge between nations and communities,” Rawail concluded.

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