A Foreword for the Sitar Gharanas of Pakistan

Dr. Lowell Lybarger’s Introduction to the World of the Sitar

Dr. Lowell Lybarger is a tabla player and the current director of the Music Lab at the Arkansas Tech University. He has also been a visiting professor at the NCA, where he was a mentor to Ali Ayub. He inspired him to start his research project on the Sitar gharanas of Pakistan, and has written a foreword for it below.

It is a pleasure and an honor to provide a foreword to this invaluable scholarly work on the Pakistani sitar traditions authored by Muhammad Ali Ayub, and now propagated by the up-and-coming young scholars, Muneeb and Mubeen Ifan Chaudhary. 

For many years, I have known about the often neglected but brilliant classical traditions of music and instrument making of the Punjab province of Pakistan. Yet, when I conducted my own research in the 1990s and early 2000s, I knew that I was merely scratching the surface of deep layers of musical history and culture that few were aware of nor appreciated. This is quite evident in the research that Ali Ayub has performed and gifted to future generations of sitar students and music cognoscenti in Pakistan and beyond.  

Ali Ayub was uniquely qualified to conduct this research due to his extensive background in both western and eastern music traditions from his ability to play the sitar, and most importantly, due to his inquisitive mind and powerful intellect. Contrary to what most contemporary sitar connoisseurs and even many performers realize, the history of sitar in Pakistan is very rich, and involves many gharanas and silsile. Music recordings of sitar began with the phonograph and sped up with mass LP and cassette production, and has now sky-rocketed with digital technologies and near-instantaneous global communication through social media. The great irony is that while a lot of information is readily available about the diversity and complexity of sitar traditions in both India and to a lesser extent Pakistan, few would even realize to consider traditions outside of the two most famous silsile: the gayaki ang associated with the late Ustad Vilayat Khan and the tantrakari ang associated with the late Pandit Ravi Shankar.

The sitar research conducted by Ali Ayub provides a wealth of historical, biographical, and musical data that aptly demonstrates how the sitar of Pakistan (and India) involves musical traditions and individual performers that cannot be adequately classified as exclusively gayaki ang or tantrakari ang. These two polar depictions of the sitar, however popular they might be at the present time, do not reflect the sublime variations and complexity of this magnificent musical instrument. Interestingly, the trend to gravitate to one of these styles through instant access to recordings of their representatives, past and present, is a sociomusical force that is difficult to counter. This makes the material documented in Ali Ayub’s thesis all the more important for enabling performers and listeners to realize possibilities beyond the current trends.  

In a world of increasing access to recording technologies, performing musicians and electronic music producers have a great opportunity to promote their style or their brand of music performance, yet they face a tremendous challenge: musical originality. This is where the research available at the Musicology Department of the National College of Arts, as established by the consummate musicologist and journalist Sarwat Ali, will provide a treasure trove of musical possibilities for future generations of musicians and listeners. In this regard, I am deeply grateful for the work done by Ali Ayub on the legacy of the sitar and for Muneeb and Mubeen’s most excellent website that promotes it as one-step further towards global communities recognizing the illustrious legacy of the music of Pakistan.  

Lowell H. Lybarger, PhD, MLIS

Arkansas Tech University

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