Folk Music School Integration Program in Gilgit-Baltistan

Project launched in six schools of three districts of Gilgit-Baltistan

Nafees Ahmad
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Art, literature and music contribute to the personal growth of an individual by stimulating emotions, intellect, and enhancing creativity. But music being a universal language is very powerful medium to bring people from diverse backgrounds together to share their feelings, joys and sorrows.

According to Confucius, “Music produces a kind of pleasure human nature cannot do without.”

A report published in the journal Neuroscience of Behavior and Physiology music improves productivity by enhancing a person’s ability to recognize visual images, including letters and numbers faster when music is being played in the background.

In civilized societies, music has been made an integral part of the curriculum and implemented by the government but in countries like ours where education is the most neglected sector on the agenda of development in terms of budget allocation, integrating music in the curriculum is barely thinkable.

For the rulers in Islamabad, Gilgit-Baltistan is the least important region in terms of governance, social development.

Music teachers employed by the initiative playing different instruments–Photo by Nafees Ahmad

In this situation, however, there are a few socially-conscious people like Aziz Ali Dad and Zubair Torwali, who think about the wretched of the earth and the marginalized communities, their culture and language.

They have teamed up to experiment the integration of music in the school curriculum for the first time in the mountainous region of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The Pakistan Mountain Folk Music School Integration Project was launched at a ceremony in the picturesque valley of Hunza on May 12.

An initiative of Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT) or Institute for Education and Development, a Swat-based organization, the project is being implemented in three districts of Gilgit-Baltistan to integrate folk music in the school curriculum.

“Music plays an important role in the overall development of human personality,” Aziz Ali Dad, a noted scholar and columnist said while speaking at the launching ceremony of the initiative.

Aziz Ali Dad addressing the event..Photo by Nafees Ahmad

Mr Aziz, a social scientist and a scholar of the London School of Economics highlighted the importance of music in soothing effects on human emotion. He quoted German philosopher Nietzsche as saying “Life without music is a mistake.”

Elaborating the point further he said that a well-rounded personality incorporates the appreciation and understanding of music and art.

Mr Aziz, who is secretary of the board of institute, further shared that IBT has now entered Gilgit-Baltistan with this unique and important project but it would not be limited to this single initiative only. A number of other initiatives by the Institute for the region are also in the planning phase, he announced.

Mr Ali said that folk music has the potential to deeply entertain the audience. He said that this music can help the students develop their cognitive development. “This project by IBT will reduce the cultural alienation in Gilgit-Baltistan which has been so visibly seen among the youth”, Aziz said.

The Institute’s Executive Director, Zubair Torwali, presented a detailed overview of IBT and the project funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Small Grants and Ambassador Fund Program.

Students of Elysian School Gilgit performing–Photo by Nafees Ahmad

Mr Torwali, a researcher, language activist and writer, said: “Gilgit-Baltistan is a cradle of rich indigenous cultural and linguistic diversity. It is home to kaleidoscope of some endangered languages such as Shina, Burushaski, Wakhi, Balti, Khowar and Domaaki languages and presents a beautiful tapestry of folk music, indigenous knowledge and biodiversity”.

Gilgit-Baltistan is counted among the most diverse regions in the world, he said. However, the locals see fading of this cultural diversity in the wake of modernity. This loss of the beautiful diversity in the land of high peaks, pastures, glaciers and the knot of three vast mountain ranges will be a tremendous loss of indigenous knowledge, identity and of the cultural richness of Pakistan.

Noreena, a student of DJ School Passu sings a song in Wakhi–Photo by Nafees Ahmad

Realizing this IBT, which is working for the mountainous communities of northern Pakistan, has undertaken this project with the financial support of American people through the US Agency for International Development in the region, he said.

The project is based on the concept of integrating the folk music of Shina, Wakhi, Burushaski and Khowar communities in schools in areas like Gahkooch, Gilgit, Ghulkin, Passu, Chapurson and Shimshal covering Gilgit, Hunza and Ghizer districts of Gilgit-Baltistan.

Mr Torwali presented an outline of the project saying that its duration is currently for six months wherein local folk musicians and singers will teach the rich folk music at six secondary and high schools in the target areas.

Group photo of the students, teachers and artists–Photo by Nafees Ahmad

The musicians are well trained and experienced in their job whereas the schools are willing to have music a part of their curriculum.

He said that in addition to the teaching of the folk music at the selected schools the project also aims at producing a curriculum for music to be incorporated in the schools.

He said that the project has one audio-video album of six folk songs of the six languages — Shina, Burushaski, Wakhi, Balti, Khowar and Domaaki.

Noted artist and poet of Burushaski language Sherbaz Ali Khan who was the chief guest appreciated the initiative and termed it a unique opportunity for the local music aficionados to preserve, promote the folk music and pass on to next generation.

Mr Torwali said that they were getting more requests from the management of other schools to start similar projects at their institutes. He assured them saying that this initiative is just piloting and they will certainly add more projects for the schools and around culture.

A large number of women participated while schoolchildren from different private community schools of the three districts played folk music and sang songs in the local languages and in Urdu. The music teachers employed with the project also presented their music.

A large number of locals attended the launching ceremony and applauded the initiative and hoped for such other initiatives in future.

Participants at the launching event–Photo by Nafees Ahmad

Doulat Wali Baig, a renowned folk musician, song writer and singer, who is employed by IBT to look after the project, moderated the ceremony.

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