Ali Billa (b. 1964) is a harmonium-maker who was born in Lahore. Unlike many others in the field of classical music, his family members were not musicians: in fact, his father was a driver. When he was in sixth grade, he became interested in playing the sitar and went to Bombay Music Store in Bansanwala Bazaar, run by the son of the sitar player Muhammed Alam and asked to be taught how to play the sitar. The musician agreed, but when the child saw the mizraab (the plectrum used for plucking the sitar’s strings), he flatly objected. Upon this, the musician proposed the alternative of learning the harmonium, which he accepted. He began learning how to make and play harmoniums and later on became a student of Ustad Ikhlaq Ahmad Khan. Ali Billa has five children—four sons and one daughter—who do not play music but are currently pursuing higher education. He has no students, as he believes that his set of skills will not be useful in the future and will die out with his generation. His shop remains as one the last harmonium shops in Lahore’s inner city.
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