Rabab: The king of Pakhto musical instruments
Sher Alam Shinwari
The word Tung in Pakhto means to create a sound from striking at something with a force and Takore means to give a soothing effect with a warm piece of cloth to a body part swelled up owing to acute pain, burnt or hurt due to infection, inflammation, fire or boiling water. No musical instrument creates a sound like rabab and no musical instrument casts such a soothing effect on the listeners. So the onomatopoeic word straightly comes from the playing of rabab only. Rabab, Mungay (pitcher) and tapa go together. Rabab is divided into four parts, namely its head, neck, abdomen and face. The price of rabab varies from Rs5, 000 to Rs100, 000 depending on the quality of Toot (Mulberry) tree. Embroidery work is done just for the sake of decoration,"
Ghulam Sakhi a popular Afghan rabab maestro informed. Ghulam Sakhi was born into a professional music family in 1955 in Kabul. He used to accompany his maternal uncle Ustad Mohammad Umar, a great rabab maestro of his time, who taught him the techniques of rabab playing for 33 years to mould Ghulam Sakhi into a perfect Ustad. He migrated from Afghanistan 18 years ago and settled in Peshawar. Since then he has been teaching rabab playing to his students who come to him from far-flung tribal areas, Charsadda, Mardan, Dir, Buner, Kohat, DI Khan and Swat. Also he fondly remembered Ustad Musa Qasimi and Ustad Muhammad Hussain Khan Sarhang from whom he had benefited a lot. " My two sons Humayun Sakhi and Farid Sakhi are also excellent rabab players. I have trained around 100 rabab players mostly Afghans scattered in different countries of the world who are serving Pakhto music," Ustad Sakhi claimed.
"After Bagh-e-Haram, I do not think there is any worthwhile rabab Ustad in Peshawar. However, there is one real artiste of rabab who lives in Quetta. His name is Sultan Mohammad Chaney (64). He can literally TALK in rabab. It takes 3 to 4 months for a beginner to learn basic tunes of rabab. My booklet can help a great deal those educated rabab lovers who live abroad. I charge Rs500 to Rs1000 per month from my students and if a person cannot afford it I do not charge at all but I stress my students to do at least 4 hours riaz on daily basis without which they would not be able to get command over rabab playing. It has 4 tunes (Purday) and three strings (Taroona) and carries some 20 small additional strings (Seemoona) just to balance its echo. It is associated with Sufi saints but I think it is wrong to say that any one who visits shrine of Rahman Baba will learn rabab. Also it is a wrong notion that rabab can be played well at some particular times. It needs only one's internal urge and his set mood," Sakhi clarified.
Ghulam Sakhi has recently brought out a booklet in Persian language on the history and notations of rabab. In his booklet he has arrived at the conclusion that rabab is a purely Pakhtun musical instrument and might be invented by a Pakhtun. According to a music connoisseur Randy Raine-Reusch, the rabab is the national instrument of Afghanistan used in ancient court music, as well as modern day art and entertainment music. It has three main strings and a number of sympathetic strings over a hollow neck and a goatskin resonator. It has a very deep body making it a bit awkward to hold. Rababs come in different sizes depending on the region they are found. The Afghan rabab is also found in northern India and Pakistan, probably due to the Afghan rule in those regions in the 18th Century. The rabab was the precursor to the Indian sarode, which is regarded as one of India's most important instruments. Now something about its making: It needs a big timber of mulberry brought mostly from Tootaan Dara in Afghanistan, it is kept in the sun for fifteen days to dry up and finally reduced to 2kg in a period of one month.
The decoration materials include ivory, bones of animals (camel) and buffalo's horns, shells and plastic. Its strings are of different thickness. Out of six three are of plastic called zeer, bum and katey (High, Middle, Low). Other three are called Shahatar. The total number of strings counts to fifteen. The striker of strings is called mizraab made of buffalo or camel's bone. The making of rabab is professionally done in Kandhar, Kabul, Herat, Peshawar, Mardan and Swabi. Late Samandar Khan in Peshawar Dabgari Bazaar was awarded the Pride of Performance on March23, 1991 for his excellent rabab making. His legacy is carried on by his son Mushtaq Hussain and grandson Wilayat Khan.
Another source says, " Three equestrians from Afghanistan introduced the rabab to India. Its music was used for soldiers marching to battle. From this as emerged the magnificent sarode. While there was also the Tanseni rabab, the Afghani rabab was played mainly with the right hand. The sursingar, another precursor to the sarode, replaced the catgut with metallic strings. While the latter could be played to produce vilambit alaap of sonorous dignity, the rabab was meant for the marching soldier, which had the percussive punch for rhythm-oriented music. For today's generation, music needs to accommodate both the serene and the fast paced and the sarode - evolving into a sophisticated acoustic instrument under the experiments of late Alauddin Khan and his brother Ayer Ali Khan, acquiring further melodic, richness under ustads like Ali Akbar Khan and others - ended the awkward practice of playing on the sursingar for alaap and the rabab for percussion, in the same concert."
Despite the arrival of many electronic musical instruments, he said rabab would continue to rule over the hearts of Pakhtuns. "In remote areas of Pakhtun dwellings, rabab still occupies its prominent place at their hujras and is played at night to drive away their day-long fatigue," he added. To a query, that some people assume that rabab might actually be the ancestor of the Western European Violin, he replied in negative, also he rejected the notion that rabab is originated and related to thil a Egyptian musical instrument.
"Every time you need to retune rabab because its strings get loosened when it is kept unused, also it is likened to an annoying and stubborn child. Sometimes the audience gets bored with this attitude of their favourite musical instrument but it takes lot of time to tune rabab and get it balanced with other instruments. In Pakhto folk tale 'Adam Khan Durkhanai' some people say Durkhanai fell in love with Adam Khan because he was a great rabab player and one day when he was playing rabab a at wedding ceremony of one of his friend's hujra, Durkhanai heard its soothing sound and scaled her home's wall to have a glimpse of its player who was no one but the young and handsome Adam Khan, May be true or untrue but this thing also contributed a lot to its mass popularity among Pakhtuns," Sakhi observed.
Many solo rabab albums have been sold in Pakistan and in USA, England, Germany, France and India where Ghulam Sakhi's students reside and exhibit their talents. Shamsullah, 14, a student of class 8, said, "I want to become a popular world class rabab player as my father Samand Gul a tablanawaz also wishes me so. Only within a short span of three years I can now play rabab perfectly." Ghulam Yahya, 60, told this scribe proudly, "It had been my greatest desire to learn rabab playing since my early childhood, I am happy now to have caught up with a perfect rabab Ustad like Ghulam Sakhi." The rabab maestro is unhappy with young singers and instrumentalists who have no background knowledge in music. "In my humble view only Khial Mohammad knows the basics of Pakhto music. Haroon Bacha also has been my pupil. The youngsters should get a proper training in classical music. Most young singers are unaware of the enchanting flavour of our traditional music," he regretted.
Two of his sons, Humayun Sakhi and Farid Sakhi have already attained worldwide fame in rabab playing; the former is presently based in USA. "People may do anything to Pakhtun nation but Pakhto tapa and rabab will always keep them alive despite ravages of times," Ghulam Sakhi Ustad concluded interview as he pulled the strings of his rabab and began playing on it a beautiful Pakhto song Moong Yu Da Khyber Zalmee Pukhto Zamoonga Shaan De /Moonga Pukhtana Yu Pa Watan Mo Zaan Qurbaan De. Ghulam Sakhi left for Kabul to sped a month or so over there and is expected to come back in August for resuming his rabab teaching. He sees bright future for Afghan music as the Karzai government encourages cultural activities in the war torn country.