From an art of musical instrument making that travels into the third generation – Journal

Sialkot: In this January 25 photo, a worker repairs a component to make a bagpipe set in a bagpipe factory. — AFP

SIALKOT: Umer Farooq’s grandfather and father made bagpipes. Today he is the third generation to take up the tradition in Pakistan, which is thousands of miles from Scotland and yet sells thousands of bagpipes each year.

The fresh smell of wood wafts through the Middle Eastern factory in Sialkot of which Farooq is one of the managers.

The workers are occupied standing or seated on the ground.

Covered with sawdust, they carve and polish the wood. Rosewood or ebony serves as a blowing stick, in which players exhale. Drones – long pipes with a lower tone – go through a similar process.

They are then tied to a bag, and often covered with tartan, a colorful plaid fabric typical of Scotland.

“In my family, all the boys know how to make a bagpipe step by step,” said Farooq.

“When we were seven or eight years old, we would go to the factory. It was like a school, but the teachers were our fathers and our uncles. Sharpening such a craft is not easy.

Pakistan is considered the other great land of the bagpipe

South Asia has for centuries had its pungi, a wind instrument used to charm snakes, and the shehnai, a traditional oboe.

But the bagpipe had to wait until the mid-19th century for British colonialists to bring it to the Indian subcontinent, of which Pakistan was a part before independence and partition in 1947.

Military tradition

“Everywhere the British Army went, they took pipers with them,” says Decker Forrest, professor of Gaelic music at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland.

Locals took hold of the tradition, which remains popular to this day, with dozens of bagpipe groups available for weddings and religious holidays.

“People love the bagpipes,” smiles Yaser Sain, the frontman of a Sialkot trio that plays at least two performances every day, he says.

He proudly shows photos of the group in colorful costumes on his cell phone.

Forrest says Pakistani bands emphasize their appearance rather than musical technique, “which is less important to them.”

At the world bagpipe championship, which takes place each year in Glasgow, they are “the most beautifully dressed,” he says. The kilt is however not de rigueur among Pakistanis.

The Pakistani army, born out of the colonial British Indian army, also still has a soft spot for the instrument.

In 2014, he created a camel bagpipe group attached to a Desert Rangers unit. Camels, draped in scarlet and gold as their musicians swing above them, are especially popular on parades.

But Pakistan’s main affiliation with bagpipes is its mass production, although the quality of the instruments it makes may vary.

Some 2,600 are exported from the Middle East plant each year, primarily to the United States.

Bagpipe Ambassadors

The MH Geoffrey & Co workshop, also in Sialkot, claims to make another 500 a year – but its owner, Zafar Iqbal Geoffrey, estimates that when the contributions of dozens of small and medium-sized businesses in the city are counted, Sialkot can produce a total of 10,000 bagpipes per year.

That’s more than any country other than the UK, according to the people of Sialkot.

“The bagpipes are our traveling ambassadors. This is good not only for the economy, but also for building the image of Pakistan, ”said Waqas Akram Awan, vice president of the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce.

The city’s exports for 2017 – a 15-year record of $ 4 million for thousands of instruments – underscore his comment.

“Our instruments are the same as the Europeans, but they are much cheaper. We make music more accessible, ”says Umar Farooq’s uncle Mohammad Aftab.

Cheap labor means Pakistani bagpipes are cheaper than those made in Scotland, with the Middle East costing around 300 pounds ($ 390) in Britain, compared to 900 pounds ($ 1,170) for instruments. made in Scotland.

But Pakistani bagpipes have a reputation.

“The sound quality is not the same,” says Paul Gardner, manager of a music store in London.

“They are intended for beginners who work on a very low budget,” he explained. “It might get someone started, but that person will be looking to level up quickly.”

Posted in Dawn, March 11, 2019

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