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Making inroads: Young women help revive folk music in G-B

GILGIT (AwesomePakistan): A new wave of youngsters in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) has been trying to revive folk music in the region. In this regard, some young singers have managed to achieve two things: draw out a record number of listeners and make a foray into the field which had been traditionally a bastion for men.

The region has a strong tradition of folk music. But it had fizzled out a decade ago when sectarian extremism squeezed out traditional singers.

But with the situation improving over the past few years, music has returned to the valley. Almas Iman, from the Gulkin town in the Hunza valley of G-B, has

managed to do just that.

In 2015, her melodious voice drew hordes of fans and made ripples in a field hitherto dominated exclusively by traditional male singers.

Her first album released, in December 2015, smashed all previous records in G-B. With social media making fast and deep inroads into the mountainous region where the population is otherwise scattered and remote, her music was widely viewed and heard on YouTube and other online social media platforms.

Singing in the region’s widely spoken Shina language, her song “Jak Gah Bilik Bai” soon became a favourite. Her duets with Salman Paras, another young and famous folk singer of G-B, seemingly breathed new life into some dying folk songs of the region.

The three duets she did with Paras brought them acclaim.

“Music is my passion,” Iman told The Express Tribune in an interview recently.

Iman has sung around 10 songs in the Shina language so far. Interestingly, she can’t speak Shina since the language spoken in the Hunza valley is Burushaski and Wakhi.

She added that her journey was not easy. “I started singing despite severe opposition from the society,“ Iman said.

Even though she was born in Hunza, she spent most of her life outside G-B, living with her grandparents who had settled in Islamabad-Rawalpindi.

“To be a singer from G-B is not an easy job and, of course, I too faced some tense moments in my career,” said Iman who has a black belt in martial arts and frequently advises other women on self-defense.

Her appearance on the musical scene is considered to bring with it a major shift in traditional folk songs.

“To me what is more satisfying is now more and more female singers are coming to this field,” said Iman who is currently completing her Masters from the National Defense University Islamabad.

“Women have potential in every field and I want them to come forward to assert themselves in the society,” she said.

While Iman may be optimistic about the status of women in G-B, she doesn’t plan to adopt music as her profession owing to a lack of financial incentives.

“Though I love singing, I will end up being a policymaker,” she foretells.

But the revival of folk music is largely attributed to Zafar Taj, a noted poet and writer hailing from a literary family in Gilgit. He introduced new trends in the local music scene apart from providing the youth with a platform to perform – the internet took care of the rest.
Published in The Express Tribune