Photos: A slow fade-in for traditional Pashtun music in Pakistan

After years of suppression of the distinctive twang of Pashtun music by rattling gunfire and deafening explosions, a centuries-old tribal tradition is staging a comeback. Performances that once took place in secret are returning. Shops selling instruments are open and thriving again, while local broadcasters frequently feature rising Pashto pop singers in their programming. The Pakistani military began intensifying efforts to push the militants out in 2014, and security has dramatically improved in the years since. Many still remain cautious in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, however, fearing the gains are tenuous at best.

UPDATED ON FEB 19, 2020 04:15 PM IST 7 Photos
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A worker makes a traditional rabab musical instrument in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan. For years, the distinctive twang of Pashtun music was drowned out by rattling gunfire and deafening explosions as musicians in Pakistan's northwest were targeted by militants. But, as security improves, a centuries-old tribal tradition is staging a comeback. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

A worker makes a traditional rabab musical instrument in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan. For years, the distinctive twang of Pashtun music was drowned out by rattling gunfire and deafening explosions as musicians in Pakistan's northwest were targeted by militants. But, as security improves, a centuries-old tribal tradition is staging a comeback. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 19, 2020 04:15 PM IST
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Performances that once took place in secret are returning. Shops selling instruments are open and thriving again, while local broadcasters frequently feature rising Pashto pop singers in their programming. And new, up and coming bands like Peshawar’s Khumariyaan have reached rare, nationwide acclaim after appearing on the popular Coke Studios broadcast, where they fused traditional sounds with modern tastes—spreading Pashtun music far from its native homeland. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

Performances that once took place in secret are returning. Shops selling instruments are open and thriving again, while local broadcasters frequently feature rising Pashto pop singers in their programming. And new, up and coming bands like Peshawar’s Khumariyaan have reached rare, nationwide acclaim after appearing on the popular Coke Studios broadcast, where they fused traditional sounds with modern tastes—spreading Pashtun music far from its native homeland. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 19, 2020 04:15 PM IST
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Pashtun music is characterised by the rabab, a Central Asian stringed instrument, played to the beat from tabla drums, with songs salted with florid lyrics describing the pain of unrequited love or calls for political revolution. “For centuries we were a liberal society,” rabab player and member of the National Assembly Haider Ali Khan from Pakistan’s Swat Valley explained to AFP. “We love our religion but at the same time we love our traditional music.” (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

Pashtun music is characterised by the rabab, a Central Asian stringed instrument, played to the beat from tabla drums, with songs salted with florid lyrics describing the pain of unrequited love or calls for political revolution. “For centuries we were a liberal society,” rabab player and member of the National Assembly Haider Ali Khan from Pakistan’s Swat Valley explained to AFP. “We love our religion but at the same time we love our traditional music.” (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 19, 2020 04:15 PM IST
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Akhtar Gul plays a traditional rabab musical instrument in Peshawar. In 2014, the Pakistani military began intensifying efforts to drive away militants from the country. Security has dramatically improved in the years since. “Now the situation is good, very good. We can play anywhere, whenever people invite us,” said rabab player Akhtar Gul during a performance at a hujra—a traditional Pashtun community space. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

Akhtar Gul plays a traditional rabab musical instrument in Peshawar. In 2014, the Pakistani military began intensifying efforts to drive away militants from the country. Security has dramatically improved in the years since. “Now the situation is good, very good. We can play anywhere, whenever people invite us,” said rabab player Akhtar Gul during a performance at a hujra—a traditional Pashtun community space. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 19, 2020 04:15 PM IST
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The slow creep of extremism started threatening traditional music in the 1970s as more hardline Islamist movements started gaining influence in the Pashtun areas along the border with Afghanistan, promoting strict interpretations of the religion including dismissive takes toward music. The shift towards violent extremism intensified with the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the later Taliban regime of the 1990s. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

The slow creep of extremism started threatening traditional music in the 1970s as more hardline Islamist movements started gaining influence in the Pashtun areas along the border with Afghanistan, promoting strict interpretations of the religion including dismissive takes toward music. The shift towards violent extremism intensified with the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the later Taliban regime of the 1990s. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 19, 2020 04:15 PM IST
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After the US invasion of 2001 toppled the Taliban, militancy erupted across the border in Pakistan also. A Pakistani Taliban formed and took control of the country’s tribal areas and swathes of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “The extremists were killing artists and singers in the society to create fear,” explained singer Gulzar Alam, who was attacked three separate times and later left Pakistan, fearing for his life. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

After the US invasion of 2001 toppled the Taliban, militancy erupted across the border in Pakistan also. A Pakistani Taliban formed and took control of the country’s tribal areas and swathes of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. “The extremists were killing artists and singers in the society to create fear,” explained singer Gulzar Alam, who was attacked three separate times and later left Pakistan, fearing for his life. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 19, 2020 04:15 PM IST
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A worker checks a traditional rabab musical instrument in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar. As music has returned to its traditional settings in the country’s northwest, slick broadcasts like Coke Studio have helped introduce Pashtun acts to millions of music fans across South Asia. Many still remain cautious in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, however, fearing the gains are tenuous at best. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

A worker checks a traditional rabab musical instrument in a workplace on the outskirts of Peshawar. As music has returned to its traditional settings in the country’s northwest, slick broadcasts like Coke Studio have helped introduce Pashtun acts to millions of music fans across South Asia. Many still remain cautious in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, however, fearing the gains are tenuous at best. (Abdul Majeed / AFP)

UPDATED ON FEB 19, 2020 04:15 PM IST
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