The Matka

The Complex Simplicity of a Folk Instrument

At Save the Sitar, we have covered many diverse types of instruments, from sarangis to tablas. Continuing this tradition, today we will cover an unusual yet amazing instrument: the matka, an instrument which may appear to the uninitiated as a … pot?! What’s this? We cover instruments, not cooking utensils! Or at least we think so—perhaps we should reread mission statement!

Okay, we’ve checked the matka’s Wikipedia page (our research sources are impeccable) and concluded that it is indeed an instrument. The matka, also known as the ghatam or gara, is ideal for playing rhythmic patterns at an energetic tempo and is a prominent part of folk music throughout much of Pakistan and India. The matka itself is a percussion instrument which is a large clay pot. Despite its simple appearance, playing it is anything but simple. The matka is played by both hands, with the dominant one hitting its abdomen to produce a hard treble sound while the other one plays the bass by clapping its open top and striking its rim with the wrist. This requires extraordinary hand coordination, which is perfectly demonstrated in the video below, where our interviewee, Ghulam Sarwar, plays the matka and sings a traditional Punjabi song. Notice the metal chhalay he wears to protect his fingers while striking the matka, very similar to the mizrabs sitar players use.


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The Circle Unbroken

Ziauddin, the Maker of our Namesake, the Sitar

When we entered the shop of Ziauddin, the 75-year-old Pride of Performance winning sitar-maker was working on a sarod’s wooden frame in deep concentration. He looked up to welcome us, and putting his tools away, sat down for an interview. From time to time his eyes wandered to the instruments hanging on the walls, the instruments he had made with his hands, with the knowledge his father had passed down to him.

Ziauddin is an experienced instrument-maker who specializes in crafting the sitar, and also makes a wide variety of other musical instruments. He is one of the last sitar-makers in all of Lahore with an impressive family history.  His father Ustad Sher Muhammad Khan, a Pride of Performance awardee, was world-famous for his sitar-making talents, and taught the great Rikhi Ram himself, who made sitars for a variety of famous Western and Eastern musicians including the Beatles! While absent-mindedly brandishing a file, he told us that his ancestors used to make sword sheaths during the Mughal era, and later on shifted to making the sitar and other string instruments. While one of his brothers, Ustad Ramzan Khan Sahib used to make the sitar like he does, his other one, Ustad Salahuddin, used to make harmoniums.

Upon being asked if he sold more sitars in the past than he does nowadays, he replied that the number has not changed much, states that he did not sell that many sitars earlier either, and cautions against romanticizing the past.  However, it is important to note that there has indeed been a drop.

When asked if he has any students, he tells us that he has taught sitar making to no one except for one of his sons, Muhammad Kashan, and that no-one else other than him is currently carrying on the family legacy. His other children work in various firms and companies and help financially support him.   He did not encourage them to pursue his profession, as he believes that there is no financial security in it.

His father, Ustad Sher Muhammad, pulled him out of school when he was in fifth grade to teach him making instruments, a knowledge which has supported him all of his life. That knowledge also stood him in good stead when he made sitars for experienced sitarists like Ustad Sharif Khan Poonchawaley, Ustad Kabir Khan and Ustad Nafees Ahmed Khan throughout his career. Even though he knows how to play the sitar, he has never seriously taken it up as an occupation, preferring to stick to his ancestral profession of sitar-making.

At the end of his interview, he wishes to pass on a message to the future generation, telling them that playing music saves them from many flaws and errors, and encourages them to take up playing classical music.

After his interview ends, we thank him and leave the shop. Even as we leave, we look back to see him return to his work, exactly as we left him, the file shining in the light. Suddenly, we stop.

“What is that on the wall?” “Oh, that’s a poem which was composed in honour of my father by the famous poet Syed Zameer Jafri.” “Can we look at it?” “Why, of course!” came the answer. You can see it below along with its translation and typed version.

       

ایک سازنیہ

(سازوں کے ماہر فن کار ساز استاد شیر محمد کے لے)

شیر محمد تجھ سے کتنے سازوں کو آواز ملی

سازوں کو آواز ملی جینے کی اداے ناز ملی

سازوں سے تو، شہد بھری آوازوں کا رس گھولے ہے

تیرے ہاتھ سے گونگی، مردہ لکڑی فر فر بولے ہے

تاروں کے جھنکار  سے دل کے دروازے کھولے ہے

وقت کی جھولے میں سوئ پریوں کو پرواز ملی

شیر محمد تجھ سے کتنے سازوں کو آواز ملی

تان پروں کی تانیں گونجیں ، چیخ اٹھی شہنائ بھی

تار سرود کے چھم چھم باجے، من مرلی لہرائ بھی

تیرے دم سے چھن چھن چھن چھن، بول پڑی تنہائ بھی

تیرے فن سے دنیا کے چپ جنگل کو اواز ملی

وقت کی جھولے میں سوئ پریوں کو پرواز ملی

شیر محمد تجھ سے کتنے سازوں کو آواز مل

An Orchestra (Translated by Mubeen Irfan Chaudhary)

Sher Muhammad, into how many instruments have you instilled the miracle of life?

The instruments came to life, and they learnt their art.

From your instruments you coax honey-filled voices,

From your hands, dead and dumb wood begins to sing.

From the sparkling of the stars the doors of the heart have opened

And the fairies that slept for eons, woke up and flew high.

Sher Muhammad, into how many instruments have you instilled the miracle of life?

The voices of the tanpuras boomed, the shehnai’s shrieks pierced the air,

The sarod’s strings went “chum chum”, my flute shrilled too.

From your breath even loneliness spoke,

From your art the quiet jungle of this world got a voice

And the fairies that slept for eons, woke up and flew high.

Sher Muhammad, into how many instruments have you instilled the miracle of life?

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Saleem Haider

Saleem Haider is a music director who was born in Lahore. His teacher was the famous Akhtar Hussain Akhiyan, who worked in films such as Gulbadan, Aas Paas etc. His ancestors used to be mainly actors in the past, and his family has also remained related to classical music. His grandfather used to collaborate with the famed poet Agha Hashar Kashmiri, who wrote plays for the New Alfred Theatrical Company, one of the first modern acting companies in the Subcontinent. Mr. Haider has worked with Akhtar Hussain Akhiyan in his famous film Patay Khan, and has also worked on the hit patriotic song Ae Watan Pyare Watan, which you can listen to here. Along with working in many different films, he has also worked with Radio Pakistan in the past. His family is currently working in the music industry, and he now teaches music to students.


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Ziauddin

Ziauddin (b. 1945) is a sitar-maker who was born in British India. He is the son of the famous sitar-maker Ustad Shere Muhammad Khan Sahib, who taught him how to make instruments when he was in fifth grade. Amongst his father’s students, Rikhi Ram, who supplied sitars to the Beatles, features perhaps most prominently. Ziauddin’s ancestors used to make sword sheaths in Mughal times, and later on shifted to instrument making. He has made instruments for Ustad Sharif Khan Poonchawaley, Ustad Kabir Khan and Ustad Nafees Ahmed Khan, who are all world-famous sitarists. One of his sons, Muhammad Kashan, works along with him. He runs his father’s shop, and makes a wide variety of stringed instruments by hand.


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Dilawar Jameel

Dilawar Jameel (b. 1989) is a tabla-maker who was born in Lahore, though his family comes from Rongal Pind, a village near the city of Wazirabad. His grandfather used to be based in the village and later on moved to Lahore His family has traditionally been making instruments for a long time, with him stating that it was one of the original instrument-making families of Lahore. He was taught how to make the tabla by his father when he was seventeen years old, while he professionally started making instruments when he was nineteen. He used to play the dholak earlier, and also worked at an office for some time. His son is currently learning this art from him, and he also has three to four students. He is currently actively making instruments.


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