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Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Tuesday, 5 May 2009 18:10 UK

Musicians flee Taleban for NYC

By Haroon Rashid
BBC Urdu service, Islamabad

Pashtu musicians in New York
Successful back home, the musicians practice in a New York basement

The small basement is typical of many American residential buildings in New York.

It houses what its followers call "A Shrine of Love".

Some of the melodies that reflect the harsh terrain of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) can only be heard these days in this underground room.

The small flat is a temporary base for some of the musicians and singers who fled from their homes in NWFP following threats from pro-Taleban militants.

The news from home is not good for musicians as the Taleban's grip over north-west Pakistan appears to have tightened.

There are reports from Buner that youngsters have had their heads and moustaches shaved for listening to music.

For the musicians themselves it is even worse.

According to police in Peshawar, the Pashtu musician Shamim Aiman Udaas was shot dead by her brothers for refusing to give up singing.

Music exiles

The New York musicians gather every weekend to sing their hearts out about the plight of their beloved homeland.

New York
It's a far cry from North West Frontier Province

Most of their lyrics are critical of spreading militancy and intolerance.

They meet in a basement measuring about 5 by 3 meters.

It's a room-cum-studio with a decent sound system and musical instruments from the musicians' homeland.

As one enters one cannot miss a rubab - a lute-like musical instrument - hanging on the wall. A harmonium and a set of small drums lie on the floor.

To the other side is the traditional floor sitting arrangement complete with food for guests.

One of the musicians who is far from home is Haroon Bacha who regularly comes to this basement to sing.

He's from Peshawar and is a renowned singer in his native Pashtu language.

He had to leave his home and come to the US after receiving threatening phone calls, letters and text messages because of his singing.

The harsh message would always be "stop singing".

Lost love

Many others attached in his profession have been trying to leave the country after receiving threats.

Afghan singer Farhad Darya
The Taleban in Afghanistan and Pakistan do not like popular music

Those who cannot get out simply announce their retirement from the profession like the Pashtu singer Gulrez Tabassum who recently said that he would not sing anymore after receiving threats from the militants.

Haroon Bacha does not speak often on record because he fears for the safety of his family who are still at home.

He has been in the US for the last eight months but still misses his family and home.

This may be the reason why one can feel the torment in his music.

He says that he recently talked to his son back home who told him that he had saved 1,000 rupees ($13).

"When I asked him what for he said to come to the USA," Haroon said.

Nowadays Haroon - who has released many albums and frequently used to appear on Pashtu radio and television - is effectively in exile.

He is more likely to write of his love for his country rather than his lost love.

In New York he has recently put together a collection of songs about the situation in NWFP.

He does not have the money or contacts to get his work recorded, so for now continues to go to the "Shrine of Love" to perform among friends and to keep the memories of his homeland alive.



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