Mesmerised by the siren song of the alghoza

ISLAMABAD: Akbar Khamisu Khan has been playing the alghoza flutes since 1995 and learned the trade from his father, the late Ustaad Khamisu Khan who was a world renowned alghoza artist.

Alghoza is a pair of wooden flutes, with one being longer than the other.

The instrument came to Pakistan through Iran as a single flute, and gained popularity in Sindh and Balochistan. The second flute was added by musicians in Sindh.

Akbar Khan showcased his skill on the second day of the Social Sciences Expo 2016, held at the Pak-China Friendship Centre.

Mr Khan explained that the word alghoza is Arabic and means nar (male) and maada (female). “The bigger flute is the male and the smaller, more melodious flute is the female,” he said.

The flutes are played together with the bigger one playing a continuous note while varying notes are played on the shorter one.

The adornments for the flutes, which Mr Khan referred to as ‘dresses for the alghoza’ are called jhallan or jhappan and are woven by Sindhi women. The body of the instrument is made from Shamshan wood.

Mr Khan said that to play the instrument, one has to breathe in through the nose and then regulate air flow to the mouth, so that they never run out of breath. Otherwise, it is impossible to play a the continuous note on the bigger flute.

Explaining the history of the instrument, he said: “Long before the British took over; it was tradition for maharajas to get artists to play the alghoza to welcome foreign dignitaries”.

“Misri Khan married young and would listen to his wife play the alghoza. She was really good at both making and playing the instrument. His wife could not play the instrument in front of other people because of cultural reasons, Jamali decided to learn the alghoza from her and went on to be famous, especially on radio,” he said.

Mr Khan’s late father, Ustaad Khamisu Khan, started playing from Karachi and introduced a further two flutes to the ‘jori’ and would play on four flutes at the same time. Three of these flutes are joined by the same mouthpiece or ‘fipple’ and the fourth is played separately.

The late Ustaad Khamisu Khan was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II and awarded the Pride of Pakistan award and the Sitara-i-Imtiaz. Akbar Khan was also awarded the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz.Alghoza melodies go well with Sufi poetry, though Mr Khan said there is no music in the world that will not play well on the alghoza.

He then proceeded to play Pashtu, Balochi, Sindhi, Punjabi, Egyptian and even very upbeat Bollywood tunes on the flutes, which sounded really good.

“The alghoza’s sound is one that cannot yet be reproduced electronically”, he added.

After playing alaap and dhun, the artist played lehra tunes which, he said, are usually used to summon djinns. The tune was very upbeat and evoked a visceral response.

“It is important to promote the alghoza because it is so much part of our culture, and I am very happy to see young people attend this workshop” he said.

People across the world want to learn playing the alghoza, Mr Khan added and that he has students in France and the US as well whom he teaches via Skype and Facebook.

“Outside of Pakistan, people are researching these flutes and you can see researchers coming to stay in Sindh as part of their work,” he said.

Mr Khan said he was working on a book that will be titled ‘The Art of Alghoza’ which will also focus on the artists that make the instrument.

He said there are not many alghoza makers left and said the government should do something about reviving the art of alghoza-making.

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2016

You can find the link to the story here

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