Transfixing, hyper-folk jams with rich and deep Pushtoon roots
With its propulsive, furious sound, Khumariyaan "The Intoxicators" has reawakened the live music scene in Peshawar, the ancient crossroads through the Khyber Pass whose contemporary culture is under attack from within and by outside factions. The lute-like Pashtoon rubab, is the meeting point for this instrumental jam quartet. It intertwines with the djembe-like zerbaghali (clay or wooden goblet drum) and Pushtoon sitar (long-necked lute). Underpinning these instruments with driving acoustic guitars, Khumariyaan’s rolling pulse and richly layered sound builds to frenzied intensity. It’s an addictive and accessible pleasure that’s ushering in a new era for an eclipsed music.
u.s. debut with center stage
Washington, DC - September 14-17
- Khumariyaan lands in Washington, DC to kick off their Center Stage tour. While in town they will have an orientation and welcome at the State Department and participate in a Google Hangout and various other press interviews.
- They make their U.S. debut with a performance on September 16th at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage along with Ribab Fusion in a shared program. Information here.
Blacksburg & Richmond, VA - September 18-21
- The band will participate in a variety of artist to artist exchange activities with the Boston Boys while in Virginia including a house jam, shared performance at 130 Jackson Street (information here), a student workshop, and a panel discussion workshop at the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech (information here).
- They will also participate in a two day jam and recording session with the Boston Boys at Montrose Recording.
St. Joseph, MN - September 22-27
- Khumariyaan will be hosted for a 5 day residency at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University which will include classroom visits, workshops, informal socializing with students and faculty and the community and a performance on Saturday, September 27th at Stephen B. Humphrey Theater -- information here.
Dayton, OH - September 29-October 3
- The band will participate in another 5 day residency -- this time at the University of Dayton, hosted by the performing arts series. They will perform on Thursday, October 2nd -- information here.
Boston, MA - October 4-7
- Khumariyaan will perform twice at Wellesley College, hosted by the college's Concert Series. Information for the October 4th performance is here, information for the afternoon October 5th performance is here.
New London, CT - October 8-11
- Rob Richter, Director of Arts Programming, at OnStage at Connecticut College traveled to Pakistan with Center Stage last spring (read his blog post here). He will host the band for a four day residency which includes a performance on October 11th (information here) as well as classroom visits, meet up with local musicians, and a live radio interview.
New York, NY - October 12-13
- Khumaryiaan will perform at Asia Society on Sunday, October 12th -- information here.
Portland, ME - October 14-16
- The band finishes their Center Stage tour in Portland, Maine with a short residency hosted by Portland Ovations. They will perform on October 16th at Hannaford Hall, University of Southern Maine -- information here.
program notes and bios
On tour as part of Center Stage
Farhan Bogra rubab and Pushtoon sitar
Aamer Shafiq rhythm guitar
Shiraz Khan percussion (Zerbaghali)
Sparlay Rawail lead guitar and Ghungro percussion
About the Band
With its propulsive and hypnotic hyper-folk sound, Khumariyaan ("The Intoxicators") has reawakened the live music scene in Peshawar, the ancient crossroads through the Khyber Pass whose contemporary culture is under attack from within and by outside factions.
Originating as a trio in 2008, and finding its final form as a quartet in 2009, Khumariyaan “was born in the age of Talibanisation, sectarian violence, military operations and neo-imperialist expansions,” says rubab player Farhan Bogra. Khumariyaan’s mission is to enlighten Pakistan’s youth with all encompassing aesthetics and through its music. “We are group of individuals that have come together as one soul to experience and share the trance that is live acoustic music. To us, music is the best sublimated form of art. In our journey, we hope to entice musical ‘goose bumps’, and become a moving philosophical experience.”
Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and its regional capital, Peshawar has a very different cultural legacy than the rest of Pakistan, one with roots in both Persian and Central Asian cultures though with significant South Asian influences. Pushtoons, the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan, are the largest minority people in Pakistan, with their own language, arts, and customs. They are often misunderstood, even in their own country. “When I went to university in Lahore,” recalls rhythm guitarist Aamer Shafiq, “everyone asked me if we wore jeans in Peshawar, or said how surprising it was that we knew English. But we are just like everyone else.”
Music, especially instrumental music, felt like the perfect means to exchange stereotypes for first-hand interaction and profound enjoyment. “We decided to introduce people to our ethnic music,” Bogra states. “To give people what we really are."
“In our country and particularly in our region, playing music, or indeed anything that is art, is a form of resistance, a resistance that many have paid for with their lives, yet the Pushtoons love their music,” says lead guitarist Sparlay Rawail. “By introducing Western and local instruments in one line up, we hope to remove the stereotypes from our culture, and bring back a love for music, and indeed, more importantly, a love for the musician. We are very lucky in regard to the support we have in our homeland from the public.”
Making their U.S. debut under the auspices of Center Stage, from September 16 to October 17 Khumariyaan tours to The Kennedy Center, to Blacksburg and Richmond, VA (with The Boston Boys), the College of St. Benedict & St. John’s University (MN), University of Dayton (OH), Wellesley College (MA), Connecticut College, Asia Society (NYC) and Portland Ovations (ME).
Farhan Bogra A rubab virtuoso, Farhan is a cultural activist deeply engaged in cultural preservation. As the provincial coordinator of Institute for the Preservation of Art and Culture in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK)he represents Pushtoon music and culture all over Pakistan and across the border into Afghanistan. With the desire to show his native music to the world, and break the norms existing about art and thought in the region, he is the light from which the band draws strength.
Shiraz Khan Shiraz provides the percussive backbone to all the tunes that the band comes up with, using a native instrument that nearly faced extinction -- the Zerbaghali, similar in shape to the more well known djembe. Holding a bachelor’s degree, Shiraz met with Farhan at their university and the duo got together with Aamer Shafiq to form Khumariyaan’s initial trio.
Aamer Shafiq Aamer met the Farhan and Shirz while at university, and discovered that the solo notes of the rubab were complemented by the rhythm of the guitar almost as if it were instinctual. A well known guitar player in his own right, Aamer gladly took up the role of being the fusion and western element in the band, all three of them understanding that music, if played in harmony, is sublime, no matter the instrument.
Sparlay Rawail A lecturer at the National College of Arts, Sparlay met the three band members at a concert and joined them in an impromptu jam session about a year after the trio got together. During the first half minute, it became clear to them all that the urgency, dynamics and repetitive grooves of Rawail’s lead guitar not only fit, but upped the vibrancy, resonance, gravity and energy of the band. Khumariyaan, with its propulsive, furious sound hasn’t looked back.
Khumariyaan Center Stage Tour Staff
Pat Kirby Company Manager
Robert W. Henderson, Jr. Technical & Production Coordinator
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Khumariyaan: The Intoxicating Sound of a Pushtoon Musical Renaissance
It all started with a smashed lute.
A friend of the Peshawar-based ensemble Khumariyaan’s founder Farhan Bogra had brought the rubab, a traditional Pushtoon (Pashto) instrument, home, only to meet with serious paternal disapproval. The instrument was soon in pieces, to be replaced by a more respectable guitar. That got Bogra thinking: If the instrument sparked such potent passion, what might the plucky long-bodied lute be able to say?
“‘Leave the rubab,’ they told him,” remembers Bogra. “‘It’s for the people who are uneducated.’ Then I realized why it was threatening.”
Bogra, like the rest of his young band mates in Khumariyaan (“The Intoxicators”), went on to teach himself a traditional instrument, in Bogra’s case the much neglected and maligned rubab, one of the mainstays of Pakistani Pushtoon music. Not content to merely learn for himself, he then went onto record a series of videos so others could learn to play. In this act of personal rebellion and with the determined hope to bring Pushtoon music and culture into the regional and international mainstream, the instrumental quartet began taking the sound of home jam sessions to the stage.
With addictive passion and trancelike instrumental pieces, Khumariyaan demonstrate why Bogra couldn’t just leave the rubab. The signature Pushtoon instrument can have the forceful twang of a banjo or a percussive, hypnotic thrum. It intertwines with the strong sonic qualities of other rare traditional instruments, including the djembe-like zerbaghali (clay or wooden goblet drum) and Pushtoon sitar (long-necked lute). Underpinning these instruments with driving acoustic guitars, Khumariyaan’s rolling pulse and richly layered sound builds to high-spirited intensity. It’s an addictive and accessible pleasure that’s ushering in a new era for an eclipsed music.
Americans will get a chance to experience this engaging music for the first time when Khumariyaan makes its U.S. debut as part of Center StageSM. Center Stage is an exchange program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Exchange programs initiated by the Bureau support U.S. foreign policy goals and engage youth, students, educators, artists, athletes, and rising leaders in the U.S. and more than 160 countries. Center Stage uses the performing arts to support cultural understanding between American and international communities; participating artists experience the U.S. first hand and cultivate lasting relationships.
Pushtoon music has had it rough, between local well-educated families eschewing it as too low-brow, and threats from those deeming all music and musicians suspect. During a more recent radical turn in Pakistan, many traditional and popular musicians were killed or arrested, music shops burned, and instrument makers discouraged from their craft.
But the music continues, whether at private celebrations or at friendly jam sessions fueled by MTV and later by the internet and mobile phones. At house parties or regular, small music societies, young players gather, create music on the fly, and draw on anything from Chuck Berry to WASP to Indian hits. Khumariyaan is a leader of this movement to revitalize the instrumental traditions and to bring them out of the shadows—taking risks to play live, encouraging other aspiring musicians to take up their ancestors’ instruments, and reinvigorating the live music experience for audiences throughout the region and across Pakistan.
The group sprang from a chance meeting in 2008, when Bogra spotted guitarist Aamer Shafiq carrying his instrument at a local institute and invited him to jam. They were soon joined by drummer Shiraz Khan. All are self-taught: Shafiq used to pause old music videos of his favorite metal guitarists to catch where their fingers were on the fretboard. Khan, from a tender age, would bang on anything that made a sound—tabletops, tin cans, and eventually a drum kit. About a year later, Sparlay Rawail, a student at the National College of Arts, met the three band members at a concert and joined them in an impromptu jam session. During the first half minute, it became clear to them all that the urgency, dynamics and repetitive grooves of Rawail’s lead guitar not only fit, but upped the vibrancy, resonance, gravity and energy of the band. Khumariyaan, with its propulsive, furious sound hasn’t looked back.
“No one knew much about the instruments. Some of them were almost completely lost here,” notes Bogra. “There was only one rubab maker left, and very, very few people to take lessons from.” The fate of other instruments was even bleaker. Percussionist and drummer Shiraz Khan got his first wooden zerbaghali in India, though his father told him that he had once played the hand drum after bringing a clay version home from Afghanistan in the 1960s. There were none to be found in Peshawar.
This broken link between the musical past and the challenging present reflects a larger issue: the perceptions and limited understanding of Pakistani Pushtoon culture in Pakistan as a whole. Peshawar has a very different cultural legacy than the rest of Pakistan, one with roots in both Persian and Central Asian cultures though with significant South Asian influences. This provincial capital, located on the eastern end of the Khyber Pass close to the Afghan border, has been an important crossroads for centuries.
Pushtoons, the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan, are the largest minority people in Pakistan, with their own language, arts, and customs. Their ethnic homeland has been thrown into violence, disorder, and oppressive cultural limitations by local extremists and international conflict. Pushtoons are often misunderstood, even in their own country. “When I went to university in Lahore,” recalls Shafiq, “everyone asked me if we wore jeans in Peshawar, or said how surprising it was that we knew English. But we were just like everyone else.”
Music, especially instrumental music, felt like the perfect means to exchange stereotypes for first-hand interaction and profound enjoyment. “We decided to introduce people to our ethnic music,” Bogra states. “To give people what we really are.” Dynamic and dedicated performers, Khumariyaan musicians sink their teeth into trance-inducing pieces rich with string trills and rhythmic breaks (“Qataghani”), and moving, bittersweet rubab-driven melodies (“Sheenai”).
Without lyrics, Khumariyaan’s pieces can move audiences from diverse cultural backgrounds instantly. “Sometimes, it can feel much harder to get the audience connect to a piece that’s purely instrumental,” adds Shafiq. “But if you make that connection and you’re targeting multi-cultures, then instrumentals allow everyone to relate. It’s bridge building.”
“In our country and particularly in our region, playing music, or indeed anything that is art, is a form of resistance, a resistance that many have paid for with their lives, yet the Pushtoons love their music,” says Rawail. “By introducing Western and local instruments in one line up, we hope to remove the stereotypes from our culture, and bring back a love for music, and indeed, more importantly, a love for the musician. We are very lucky in regard to the support we have in our homeland from the public.”
It’s a passionate call for a new, more tolerant and expressive era of Pushtoon music and culture.
Farhan Bogra, rubab and Pushtoon sitar
Aamer Shafiq, rhythm guitar
Shiraz Khan, percussion (Zerbaghali)
Sparlay Rawail, lead guitar and Ghungro percussion
Center Stage will bring seven ensembles from Morocco, Pakistan and Vietnam to the U.S. for month-long tours from June-December 2014, connecting artists with diverse communities across the country. Residencies will include performances, workshops, discussions, people-to-people exchanges, and community gatherings. Keep up with Center Stage on Facebook and on Twitter and at www.centerstageUS.org.
Center Stage is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations and supported by the Asian Cultural Council. General management for Center Stage is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.
- New York Times: Khumariyaan Performed at Asia Society on Sunday
- VOA, Across the Durand: Khumariyaan Intoxicate Washington, D.C.
- Dawn: Spotlight: From rabab strings to stardom
- Pique Magazine: Absolutely instrumental
- The Friday Times: Sound Identity
- The News International: Traditional music in modern style!
- Express Tribune: Khumariyaan releases music video of soulful number Bela
- The Friday Times: Music of the ruins
- Express Tribune: The Sound of Intoxication
billing and crediting information
On tour as part of Center Stage
The following credit is required on the title page in all printed performance programs. We appreciate its use wherever else it's practical: brochures, posters, ensemble-only promotional materials, press releases, advertisements, etc:
The presentation of [name of ensemble] is part of Center Stage, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, with additional support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Asian Cultural Council. General Management for Center Stage is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.
Center Stage logo placement is greatly appreciated. On web-based materials, please link from the Center Stage logo or written name to www.centerstageus.org.
Download a zipped folder of color and black and white versions of the logo here.