The Localist

The Melodic Sounds of the Rubab

I love to listen to all kinds of music. Music is an important part of life; a form of expression, thathas no boundaries and no limits. To me, music is like air and I believe we all need it, to relax our soul.

As Hans Christian Andersen Said “Where words fail, music speaks”.

Yes, music can work when you have no words. Music has its own language. If you are happy, music shares your happiness and when you are sad music shares your sadness.

No matter how bad things are, music has the power to make you forget all about the ruthlessness of life. Music can spark any sensation. It can hold memories. It can tell stories. You can’t touch music, but music can touch you, your feelings and emotions.

What inspires me the most when it comes to music are the musical instruments themselves, especially the rubab.

In Pakistan, I believe that traditional music and instruments are still more influential than modern music and instruments. Get to know our traditional music and instruments, and you will get a better sense of the expression, culture, customs and history of our country.

Our musical instruments and their different qualities

Pakistan’s cultural heritage includes a large number of string, wind and percussion musical instruments. Each instrument has its own peculiar structural and tonal characteristics, resulting in a pitch, thickness and intensity that differentiate it from the rest.

  • Percussion instruments: Tabla, Khunjari, Ghara, Dhol, Tanboor, Dholak, Naqarah, Chimta and Pikhavaj.
  • Wind instruments: Bansuri, Soornai, Been, Shehnai and Alghoza.
  • Plucked string instruments: Sitar, Rubab, Iktara, SoorBahar, Sarod, Taanpura, Damboora, Soorsinghar, Banjo, Veena and Vichatra-Santoor.
  • Bowed string instruments: Sarangi, Sarinda, Taos, Siroz and Dilruba.

Hazrat Amir Khusro (1253-1325 AD), the great Muslim scholar, legendary poet and musicologist, mentioned 26 musical instruments of his time in his second volume book, Ejaz-e-Khusravi.

The beloved rubab

Let me introduce you to the “rubab”. The rubab, otherwise known as “the lion of instruments” is a similar to a lute. It originated in central Afghanistan, where it is the national musical instrument, and is very popular throughout northwest Pakistan.

The word rubab is also found in three other languages: Pashto, Urdu and Persian. The musical instrument derives its name from the Arab word rebab which means “played with a bow“, however in Central Asia the instrument is plucked and is distinctly different in construction. It is played by Pashtun, Tajik, Kashmiri, Baluch and Iranian Kurdish classical musicians, however Pakistan has the biggest names in rubab, most notably Ustad Mohammad Omar, Ustad Mohammad Rahim Khosh nawaz, Aziz Herawi, Quraishi and Homayun Sakhi.

Folk ballads, romantic songs and popular mystic poetry are sung to the accompaniment of the rubab. The most famous instrumentalist of the Frontier-KPK; Taj Muhammad, is an acknowledged expert on the rubab.

The rubab has three melody strings which are tuned in fourths, three drone strings and 11/12 sympathetic strings. When you look at the instrument, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that it’s made of wood. The melody is played upon strings made of natural gut, beneath which are a number of resonating metallic strings called tarab.

It is carved from the trunk of a mulberry tree and its head from an animal skin such as goat, while the strings are made from the intestines of young goats which are equal in size of thread or nylon.

The melodic sounds of the rubab give me so much Joy. I find myself in a place where rhythm, tone, emotions, harmony, melody, poetry, preparation, solitude, friendship, intellect, physical training and spirituality all meet. The melody of “Rubab” moves your spirit, your body, your heart and your mind, and it is both a solitary and a social act. It not only offers the player the pleasure of making music, but it also has the power to actually change other people’s thoughts and feelings.


Image. Photo by Palwasha Khan.


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