PESHAWAR: Clad in a traditional dress and a thick khakhi shawl, Zainullah Khan Umerzai clutches his Chitrali sitar with pride.
He is touted as one of the finest Chitrali sitar players who are affiliated with traditional Pashto music. He has also been billed as a living legend.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Umerzai said music has a vital role in promoting peace and mutual understanding.
“Music does not need a common language to communicate and can spread the message of love and respect,” he said. “It makes me sad when society shows little respect and appreciation for those who are associated with music. People have to come forward and adopt this instrument.”
He added, “It is necessary to build more training centres, institutions and academies like we have in other parts of the world. As a result, skills will be imparted and the youth will be encouraged to adopt it as a profession.”
According to Umerzai, the Chitrali sitar has always been an integral part of Pashto music for several decades.
Umerzai is one of the artists who has earned his name and represented the province by playing the instrument. His enchanting melodies are part of Pashto music. Any traditional music gathering is usually incomplete without his participation.
A matter of heritage
“The instrument has close similarity in construction to the sitar, but the style of playing it is totally different,” he said. “Our sitar is mostly accompanied by the traditional folk clay percussion instrument of the region and remains a part of Hujra tradition.”
He added the instrument is usually played with shehnai and dhol in Chitral.
“It is also a regular feature of Shandur Polo Festival,” he said. “In our area, the art of playing these instruments is now restricted to few senior artists.”
He added, “In recent times, we have produced no artist to keep this tradition alive, even though everyone loves this instrument.”
“Like other parts of the world, here too the rich melodies of Pashto music are being destroyed as machines have taken place of instruments in the recording studios.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2016.