Hyper folk intoxication

Pakistan’s Khumariyaan brings hyper folk Music to UD

By Gary Spencer

Photo: Khumariyaan will perform at University of Dayton’s Boll Theatre on Oct. 2; photo: Ammar Shareef

American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.” And since Emerson uttered this mantra, many musical artists have taken this assertion to heart – that music is indeed a universal language, to which everyone can feel and react. One such band comes from the unlikely place of Peshawar, Pakistan – a country in the Middle East often surrounded by fighting, riots, religious militants and death. This quartet of four perhaps brave young men believe in the freedom of music to transform the world into a land of joy and peace, in spite of all the unrest that may be going on around them. The name of this group is Khumariyaan, which in their native tongue translates to “The Intoxicators.”

“Our music reflects the mindset of the young Pashtoon, and the young and educated Pashtoon wants to dance and enjoy music (and) be in a state of intoxication – intoxicated on music,” said Khumariyaan member and rubab player Farhan Bogra. “The terms such as ‘hyper folk,’ repetitive and intense used to describe our music by our listeners being the source for the name of the band, thus we felt we will call ourselves what our fans call us.”

A YouTube search on Khumariyaan retrieves clips of the band exhibiting its brand of “hyper folk” music via live performance, jamming out tunes that are vibrant, percussive and, yes, repetitive and intense, driving audiences to naturally rise out of their seats to sway and dance along. In addition to the traditional Pashtoon instrumentation of the stringed rubab played by Farhan and the percussion instrument zeel baghli played by Khumariyaan member Shiraz Khan, Khumariyaan gives their traditional folk music sounds a modern flair with the addition of two acoustic guitars, played by members Aamer Shafique and Sparlay Rawaii. Together, these four young Pakistani men have been liberating musical cheer to audiences in their native country since 2008 and are now bringing their musical joy to the United States for the very first time with their music-as-universal-language attitude in the fore.

“This is our first visit to the U.S. and hopefully not the last,” Farhan said. “We feel no matter where we perform in the world, if we are sincere (and) aim at spreading joy, we will be appreciated. If we succeed in giving people relief for five minutes, our job is done. Chances are audiences abroad will not have heard music like ours, but everyone has folk music. Many folk instruments sound similar all over the world. We hope the rubab will create a similar intense emotion (in the U.S.) as it does here.”

Generally speaking, traditional folk music is the music of the people. And that’s how Khumariyaan views their own brand folk music – with one foot in the traditions of the past while also being well aware of the band’s modern and sometimes treacherous trappings when upholding the integrity of their folk traditions.

“Our roots and culture include a whole range of folk music, art and traditions,” Farhan explained. “This combined with the current situation in our country where merely being an artist or musician comes at the risk of one’s life, especially if your expertise is folk art and music. (It) helps us create a deep regard for said artists and musicians and thus we try and play the tunes they play – trying to present a different picture of our culture on the world stage along the way. For us, music is a way of resistance.”

The resistance Farhan speaks of is what, somewhat, relates Khumariyaan to the contemporary American folk music revival of the 1960s – the ability to convey resistance to the governing norms of modern society, and in Khumariyaan’s case, the ability to do so just by existing in a war-torn and fundamentalist Middle East is a feat in itself.

“The band was formed initially in Peshawar amid growing political and geo-strategic tensions, in a part of Pakistan where artists are persecuted, exiled or killed,” Farhan explained. “It is part of a reaction of the young and educated Pashtoon that is into art and music, a reaction against the radicalization and fundamentalism of our society.”

But all of this turmoil has not deterred Khumariyaan in its musical mission to bring happiness and good vibes by the honest, universal language of music in a live setting.

“Live music is deeply rooted in our culture and (we) respect the capsules through which this is done,” Farhan said. “Live experiences are amazing. We play anywhere we can, no matter the venue, in an effort to show people how important it is to be a part of a collective conscious at a concert. Since the band is completely instrumental, we feel it doesn’t have the burden of a singular meaning. Thus, one can go away with a whole multitude of feelings, and catering to such a phenomena we feel shows sincerity, and sincerity is universal.”

ArtsLIVE presents Khumariyaan on Thursday, Oct. 2 at University of Dayton’s Boll Theatre inside Kennedy Union, 300 College Park Dr. Tickets are $16 for adults and $8 for youth. For more information, please visit udayton.edu/artssciences/artslive.

Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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