Composer in Exile to Perform at Pakistani Festival

Sahib Gul playing the rabab, an instrument originating from Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Dan Morrison via Ditmas Park Corner)

Sahib Gul playing the rabab, an instrument originating from Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Dan Morrison via Ditmas Park Corner)

Composer Sahib Gul has lived in exile in Midwood since 2008 after fleeing from the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan. For the first time in more than five years, he will perform in public, taking the stage at the Pakistani Independence Day Mela (festival) on Coney Island Avenue on Aug. 20. Joined by his sons, Gul will play the rabab and harmonium on the main stage at the festival for performances of traditional Pashtun folk music.

Pashtuns are a Muslim ethnic group concentrated in northwestern Pakistan and southeastern Afghanistan.

In an interview with the composer, and journalist and translator Majeed Babar, Ditmas Park Corner’s Carly Miller inquired why he hasn’t played in public all these years. He simply answered that he’s never been asked.

Babar goes into detail about Gul’s musical roots, describing him as a cultural treasure with a strong legacy, writes Miller.

Gul was part of a renowned musical group that featured singer Haroon Bacha. Gul began writing political protests into ballads that had traditionally been purely romantic, after a militant mentality began bleeding over into the Pakistani border, according to Gul. One lyric was a revolutionary sounding call, saying “Wake up Pashtoun youngsters, get revolutionary flags,” according to Babar.

Fearing what would happen if they broadcast such messages, colleagues shunned the musician, prompting him to work in secret. That is, until his music came on the radar of military groups who one day appeared at his home with rifles. Go to Ditmas Park Corner to read what happened next and for the full interview with Sahib Gul, including his comments on being in the city on 9/11, after his last performance at the mela on Aug. 26, 2001.

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