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The sound of the Sarangi instrument from the Mughal era fades away in Pakistan MIGMG News

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In the shadow of the centuries-old Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Zaheeb Hassan slams the strings of the sarangi, filling the streets with a melodious, screaming sound.

Due to its resemblance to the human voice, the classical instrument is beginning to fade from the Pakistani music scene – with the exception of a few instrumentalists dedicated to maintaining its place.

Difficult to master, expensive to repair, and with little financial reward for professionals, Hassan told AFP it was difficult to halt the decline of the Serengeti.

“We are trying to preserve the instrument, not taking into account our miserable financial condition,” he said.

Over the course of seven generations, his family has perfected the short-necked curved instrument, and Hassan is well respected across Pakistan for his abilities, appearing regularly on television, radio, and at private parties.

“My family’s insanity for the instrument forced me to pursue a career as a saranji player, and left my education incomplete,” he said.

“I live side by side as the majority of directors arrange music programs with the latest orchestras and pop groups.”

Traditional musical instruments compete with R&B and the burgeoning pop music scene in a country where more than 60 percent of the population is under the age of 30.

Sarah Zaman, a classical music teacher at the National Council of Arts in Lahore, said other traditional instruments such as the sitar, santaur and tanpura are also being worn out along with the sarangi.

“Platforms have been given to other disciplines such as pop music, but they are missing in the case of classical music,” she said.

“The Sarangi, being a very difficult instrument, has not been given due importance and attention in Pakistan which has led to its gradual demise.”

“My heart strings”

Sarangi gained prominence in Indian classical music in the 17th century, during the Mughal era in the Indian subcontinent.

Hand carved from a single block of cedar wood native to parts of Pakistan, Sarangi’s primary threads are made from goat intestines while the seventeen sympathetic threads are of steel. Photo: Agence France-Presse

Its decline began in the 1980s after the death of many of the country’s top classical artists and singers, said Khawaja Najm al-Hassan, a television director who created an archive of Pakistan’s prominent musicians.

“The instrument was close to the hearts of the great, internationally acclaimed male and female classical singers, but it began to fade after their death,” he said.

Ustadullah Rakha, one of the most famous and internationally acclaimed Pakistani Sarangi players, passed away in 2015 after a career with orchestras around the world.

Players now say they struggle to survive on performance fees alone, often much lower than those paid to modern guitarists, pianists or violinists.

Hand carved from a single block of cedar wood native to parts of Pakistan, Sarangi’s core strings are made of goat innards while the seventeen sympathetic strings – a common feature of folk instruments on the subcontinent – are made of steel.

The device costs around 120,000 rupees ($625) and most of its parts are imported from neighboring India, where it is still a major part of the law.

“The price has gone up due to the ban on imports from India,” said Muhammad Tahir, owner of only one of two repair shops in Lahore.

Pakistan downgraded diplomatic relations and suspended bilateral trade with India over New Delhi’s decision in 2019 to strip the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region of its semi-autonomous status.

Tahir, who has spent about two months carefully restoring a single piece of worn syringe, said no one in Pakistan makes the special steel threads due to a lack of demand.

“There is no admiration for the Sarangi players and the few people who repair this wonderful instrument,” said Professor Ziauddin, owner of another repair shop in Lahore, which has been around in some form for 200 years.

Efforts to adapt to the modern music scene have shown promising pockets.

“We have invented new ways of playing, including making the sarangi semi-electric to improve the sound during performances using modern musical instruments,” said Hassan of the academy he runs in Lahore.

He’s now run a few times with the modified machine, and says reception has been positive.

One of the few students is 14-year-old musician Mohsen Mudasir, who eschewed instruments such as the guitar to take on sarangi.

“I am learning this instrument because it plays my heart strings,” he said.

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