Launched on Cassette Store Day 2014, Volume 1 of Pirate Modernity’s Music Against Militancy series features the most sublime recordings to emerge from the world’s most fraught musical region. From the passionate cassette cultures of Afghanistan and North-Western Pakistan we bring you a selection of synthesized dhol-wallahs, autotune anthems, and stirring elegies to the Pashtunwali; the ethical code of the Pathan people.
“If there need be any evidence that music is as vital and powerful today than it’s ever been, spreading hope in the face of adversity, this tape is it.” – The Quietus
The majority of the music on this release was distributed in Pakistan’s Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). Due to the instability of much of Eastern Afghanistan these cassettes were produced in Peshawar, the cultural heartland of North-Western Pakistan, with whom many Afghans share the Pashto language and the Pashtunwali, the largely pre-Islamic ethical code followed by the Pathans. Years of instability, militancy, and the recurrent presence of the Taliban and Taliban-inspired groups have largely dissipated the cultural landscape of a once vibrant region. Abroad, the pervading opinion on Peshawar and Afghanistan is one of backwardness, fear, and rigid Islamic conservatism. Yet, the departing cassette cultures of Peshawar and Kabul, and the towns and villages in between testify to a musical tradition steeped in resilience, dissent, and a pervasive love of the ways and traditions of the land.
Gul Khan’s Laili is typical of this continuation of traditional values through a tense, taut-as-a drum melody. Farzana’s Satr Kai Rava Rai Wa Khmar Woray is a banging digital-dhol anthem to the warrior spirit of the fighting couple, complete with the call and response refrain that sustained female workers in the fields. After the withdrawal of the Soviet forces, civil war broke out in Afghanistan until the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in 1996. Great music teachers, singers, composers, producers and businessmen either abandoned their profession or migrated to other countries. During this time the debilitated cassette market of Peshawar provided support to artists and musicians. After 9/11, US forces ousted the Taliban and many sought took refuge in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. With the rising influence of the Taliban in FATA the overall socio-cultural fabric was torn apart. Abdulla Muqarui’s track which closes the release mourns this period of cultural, political, and economic plunder:
In Kabul the girl’s veils have fallen
Sisters jumped from high buildings
And their Brothers took the rings from their martyred fingers.
Since 2008, 18 people have been reportedly killed because of their direct involvement in music, two thirds of which were women. Besides the murders and attempted murders of female professional singers and dancers, ordinary women are also targeted and killed for listening and dancing to music. Perhaps responding to the malevolent environment, the famous Pashto singer Nazia Iqbal announced her retirement from singing, later suggesting that she had faced threats that her two children would be kidnapped if she didn’t quit singing. Her utterly sublime 13-minute Jirga Tapey Misrey, pulsating like a sub-continental reincarnation of Joy Division’s Atmosphere, tells the story of the nervous meeting of a young girl and her boyfriend’s mother. When their engagement is confirmed, she reacts with joy and delight. Her love, like her musical calling, was ordained by God and the haunting final words evoke the pain of Iqbal’s departure from the musical scene: “If I were to be married to someone else my funeral would be on the same day”