Ghulam Sarwar

Ghulam Sarwar (b. 1948) is a matka player from Gujranwala. He plays the matka, a percussion instrument which is a large clay pot which produces an energetic and lively sound when played. Even though his family used to be blacksmiths, he felt an inclination towards music, and taught himself how to play the matka at the age of eighteen.  Throughout his career, he has played at the Punjab Arts Council in Alhambra, and has also played at the haveli of Mian Yousaf Salahuddin. He has normally worked solo, and currently has no students, though he plans to teach his youngest son how to play the matka. His other children are currently working in a automobile workshop. He has been playing the matka for over 40 years and continues to perform professionally.


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Farhan Iqbal

Farhan Iqbal (b. 1987) is a tabla and harmonium player who was born in Lahore. His paternal grandfather, Ustad Inayat Ali Khan, who hailed from Amritsar, was the son-in-law of the legendary Ustad Mian Qadir Bakhsh, the Khalifa, or head, of the Punjab gharana. Interestingly, he is the brother of Waqar Hussain, another of our interviewees.

Even though he belongs to the Punjab tabla gharana, his father, Muhammad Iqbal Paaley Khan Sahib, formally taught him how to play the harmonium in his childhood. Nevertheless, Farhan Iqbal enthusiastically learnt the tabla by watching his elders play it as a child. His great-uncle, Khalifa Akhtar Hussain, also took an interest in his musical education, and used to teach him the tabla by making him watch himself play. Once he completed high school, his father wanted him to go to college, but he opted to pursue his passion for music instead. A compromise was reached when he began to learn the harmonium from the son of Ustad Ghaamay Khan from Kasur, Ustad Naeem Khan Sahib, as per his father’s wishes, instead of further pursuing the tabla.

He currently is a music teacher at a school, and also provides home tuition to students. He sometimes collaborates with singers and other musicians, and once went to Dubai to play with the great Ustad Hussain Bakhsh Gullu, and has often been invited by Yousaf Salahuddin to his haveli to play with other musicians, including famed musicians such as Ali Zafar and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.


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Ali Billa

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 Musical Store in Gawal Mandi (this article mentions that the store was one of the last two sitar producers of Lahore) 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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Waqar Hussain

Waqar Hussain (b. 1980) is a tabla player who was born in Lahore. He belongs to the Punjab gharana, or school, of tabla, with the tabla player Ustad Mian Qadir Bakhsh being his great-grandfather. (Ustad Mian Qadir Bakhsh was the Khalifa, or head, of the Punjab tabla gharana and teacher of Ustad Allah Rakha). His father, Ustad Paalay Khan, taught him how to play music. He has five to six students, with one playing the piano in a hotel in Islamabad nowadays. In addition to collaborating with one of Salamat Ali Khan’s sons, he has also toured Germany, the UAE and Iran. He has been playing the tabla professionally for 18 years, and his son, who currently is in grade 5, has started learning the instrument too with much interest, despite his father’s reservations with regard to musicians’ financial security and social standing in Pakistan. Waqar Hussain plans to continue pursuing a career in music.


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Mazhar Ali

Mazhar Ali (b. 1971) is a pianist and harmonium player who was born in Lahore who associates himself with the Patiala gharana, or school of music. His father, Wasir Hussain Haideri, who was from Delhi, used to play the harmonium. At the age of 18, Mazhar Ali began to learn the harmonium from his father, but he slowly shifted to the electronic keyboard as the its popularity in Pakistan skyrocketed. He played in many bands, such as the famous Jupiters, some of whose former members include the singers Ali Azmat and Jawad Ahmed, with him also having performed in the hit song ‘Yaaron Yahi Dosti Hai’. He says that he has taught 35 students both classical and pop music, of whom many play the piano at hotels throughout Lahore. However, his children do not follow his footsteps, but rather are pursuing higher education to achieve financial security in adulthood.


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