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Wasi Khan Khalil shows soft image of Pashtuns to the world

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By Muhammad Nadeem-Wasi Khan Khalil, a young Pashtun singer and director, is out to show bright image of Pashtuns to the world. He lives in Peshawar. Wasi was 10-year old when joined Radio Pakistan as anchor in 1998.  He is the first Pashtun rock-star in Pakistan committed to bring positive changes in music to promote “Pashtun Culture” in the world.  Certainly he is different from other Pashtun singers as he wants to highlight peace loving aspect of Pashtuns and tell the world that they are not extremists.

In an interview with Afghanistan Times he talked about the changing face of Pashto music and how he envisions things in the near future. Following are excerpts of the interview.

Afghanistan Times:  Why you joined Radio Pakistan as anchor instead of becoming a singer?

Wasi Khan Khalil: I wanted to meet with different musician and learn from them that is why I joined the radio as anchor in 1998. I met with well-known Pashtun singers such as Khayal Muhammad, Gulzar Alam and Shakeela Naz and studied their life. I learned too much from them about music. I hosted music programs for children both in Pashto and Urdu, “Batoor” and “Shaheen”. In December 2002, I joined FM 101.

AT:  When you started singing and what problems you have faced?

WKK: In 2002, I first bought a guitar. I was criticized by family members and others but later my father, who is also a writer, supported me on the condition that I would complete my studies. People in our society love to listen music but do not want to welcome a singer. This is indeed a big challenge for every Pashtun singer.

AT:  Can you name some well-known singers with whom you met?

WKK: I met with Ali Azmat, Atif Aslam, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Gulzar Alam, Khayal Muhammad, Mahjabeen, Zeek Afridi, Humayun Khan and Bakhtyar Khattak.

AT: Who influenced you the most?

WKK: From 1998 to 2002 I met with many singers including Gulzar Tabassum, Gulzar Alam and Khayal Muhammad, but few had encouraged me, especially Khayal Muhammad.

Khayal Muhammad supported me much. I am obliged to him. Once he asked me that who is your favorite singer. I replied Rickey Martin. He smiled and said you would become a successful singer if you do not copy singers but only listen to them. I did as he advised me.

AT: What was title of your first song and how many songs you have directed?

WKK:  My first song was in Urdu and directed many songs. I also directed the promotional video of Bakhtyar Khattak’s song “Tapoos”.

AT: Why you sung your first song in Urdu?

WKK: My first song was in Urdu because my seniors advised me so. I wanted to get entry in the field. Being a Pashtun it is difficult to get a chance in Pakistan as media is dominated by other ethnic groups who do not want to give space and time to Pashto songs.

AT: Tell us about your educational background?

WKK: Though from 1998 I wanted to become a singer, but my father is a man of character. He made me to complete my studies.  In first year of college life due to friendship with professional singers like Atif Aslam, my studies were disturbed. In that period I was more focused on music than education. I quit job in FM to focus on studies. Now, I have double master degrees. My first master was in Mass Communication.

AT: Form whom you learnt music?

WKK: I learned basic music from Raheem Saranjam Khan, from 2006 to 2009. He is a prominent musician. He was my first teacher. I also learned playing guitar from him.

AT: What are the main hurdles for Pashtun singers?

WKK: Those who want to become singers should learn from seniors, as mostly people take this profession lightly.  Seniors should give chance to new comers and would have to embrace changes because the young generation has new ideas.

For example Farhad Darya brought changes to keep pace with the age. He brought changes according to the need of the hour. This has no harm as we do not change our culture, because music has no frontier.

One can see that Punjabi, Arabic or Urdu songs are sung during concerts in Europe but when we talk about Pashto we still to see our singers live in these concerts. We can promote our culture through music.

We should show to the world that Pashtuns are peace-loving and broad minded people. We accept positive changes. Guns are not part of our culture. We want to live in peace and harmony.

AT: To what extent vulgar Pashto songs are damaging reputation of Pashtuns?

WKK: Due to absence of active sensor and copyright boards in Pakistan, these vulgar songs are catastrophic for Pashtun culture because people now have a negative perception about us. People in other parts of the world even in Pakistan and Afghanistan think that we could do anything for money and obscenity is part of our culture. We have to change this misperception.

Music is not an industry in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), as an industry has a sensor board and special committees to promote culture and stop vulgarity. However, we do not see such a board in KP, though people say it is industry in order to save their nose.

Vulgar shows in Dubai had left negative impression about Pashtun culture and had much harm. First, it is a charming way to plunder poor Pashtuns in the United Arab Emirates. Secondly, it shows to world that we are uncivilized.

AT: How can we change this misperception?

WKK: Pashtun singers living on both sides of the Durand Line should work together to present our real culture to the world. Singers from both sides should hold concerts together in Europe, the United States and Middle East.

We could reduce the impact of vulgar shows. If we produce quality songs according to needs of our culture, even families could come to the music shows. Indeed it would increase income as compared to the vulgar stage performance.

AT:  To what extent copyright is an issue for you?

WKK: Copyright is a big issue for any Pashtun singer in Pakistan, because one song could be sung by many people without obtaining permission of the original singer.  A singer cannot take legal action against those singers. Apart from that we see that many singers want to earn money in less time; therefore, they in the name of remix are ignoring the copyright issue.

AT: What is the easiest way to become a singer?

WKK: People use different tactics to get entry into showbiz. Almost all singers use 60 percent approach and 40 percent talent. Reference and corruption is common both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

AT:  What problems are faced by new comers?

WKK: Mostly, new comers are discouraged because they had to invest a lot of money to establish themselves as singers. In addition to that mostly auditions are held in Karachi or Lahore in Pakistan while in Afghanistan people have to go to Kabul. No doubt, this is a big problem for us. So access for Pashtun singers should be made easy in the two countries.

Another important problem for Pashtun singers in Pakistan is that they had no music channel. Channels in Pakistan are airing Punjabi, Urdu and other songs, except Pashto. They play songs of those who are their own for instance take song of Hadiqa Qayani “Jannan”.

When I was directing song of Bakhtyar Khatak “Tapos”; I used my references so the music channels will broadcast the song.

AT: Would you like to sing in Afghanistan?

WKK: Of course, I will love to sing there because Afghanistan is my ancestral land. I am an Afghan by blood, no matter where I go or live. But, I will promote only Afghan culture.

AT: Who supported you much in your family?

WKK: I got three sisters and one brother.  My elder sister supported me wholeheartedly.

AT: What is your future plan?

WKK: I am working on a Pashto and English mix song. This is a step of a singer towards peace. I have many problems but I will tell the world that Pashtuns are not terrorists. Ajmal Yousufzai, an Afghan poet who is living in Norway, wrote Pashto lyrics while I composed English lyrics. This song is dedicated to Pashtuns. The song gives message to the world that we are not extremists.

This song has fusion of Afghan and western music instruments.  So my future plan is clear. I want to promote soft image of Pashtuns.