Baluchi music from the heart of Iranian history


Maqam; Musical Magazine (Quarterly)
Summer & Autumn 1999 - Pages: 126 - 129
By: Ashraf Sarbazi

Summary:The Baluchi tribe is one of the oldest Iranian tribes whose music is influenced by Indian melodies because of being close to India. Of musical instruments in Baluchestan one may refer to Tanburak (small guitar), Setar (three stringed guitar), Qalam, a flute with five or seven sections, the pitcher, the oboe, ordinary and small kettledrum, the tambourine and roebuck or Hijdah (eighteen) Tar.
Of melodies popular among the Baluchi tribesmen which are sung for a mother who has given birth to a baby, one might refer to Sepad, Vazbad, Shabtagi, Liloo or Looli (Baluchi lullaby) as well as songs for separation, complaining about hard times, Zayirak (derived from the world Zahir and meaning longing and sadness) which is the most melancholy Baluchi music accompanied by the flute, Gheichak (small scissors) and banjo.

That music which we hear nowadays in Baluchestan differs with genuine Baluchi music because of many reasons. One of these reasons is the big distance between Baluchestan and the capital and lack of attention by former regimes to the impoverished and far flung region. Anotherreason is that Baluchestan neighbors Pakistan and is influenced by Pakistani Baluchi music as well as Indian music.

From ancient times this region has had close commercial and cultural ties with India. The Indian influence was also due to the fact that Baluchestan was too distant from the central governments in Iran and was ignored by these governments. By exploring the root of such influence we will come across geographical and historical facts. Aside from dynasties such as the Sogdians whose seat of government was in Sistan and Baluchestan during the second century A.D., lack of roads and communication with interior parts in the country where Iranian culture prevailed, was another reason that physically and spiritually exposed Baluchi music to Indian culture.

Although the Baluchi tribesmen are strictly religious and fanatic, the musicians are treated as confidantes and intimates and they are permitted to play in private parties where women are also present. However, Baluchi women do not play musical instruments and only sing songs mostly in groups and behind the curtain and where their voice cannot reach male ears. One can rarely find a woman in Baluchestan to be a professional singer in wedding, birthday, circumcision and other festive parties. The musical instruments through which the Baluchi singer pours outs his/her restless and deep sentiments, are genuine instruments such as Tanburak (the small guitar), Setar (three stringed guitar), Qalam (a flute divided into five or six sections), the pitcher, the oboe, ordinary and small kettledrum, the tambourine and roebuck or Hijdah (eighteen) Tar.

Another native musical instrument in Baluchestan province is banjo on which many changes have been made and it has been converted into a native instrument in the Sind Province in Pakistan. Eighty percent of the population in Sind Province are composed of various Baluchi tribesmen. The most famous banjo player in Sind was the late Lavarborji who had descended from Dashtiari Baluchi sect in the Iranian Baluchestan. The next native instrument in Baluchestan is Dongi (whose Pakistani name in Sind Province is different). Dongi includes a pair of male and female flutes. The best Dongi players in Baluchestan who had universal fame came from the Siri tribe and were called Mesri Khan Jamali and Khabir Khan Jamali. Banjo and Dongi are so intermingled with other Baluchi instruments that have become naturalized in Baluchestan. The preservation of tribal traditions such as Sepak, Shabatagi, Liloo, Sote, Liko, Laloo, etc. which are accompanied by music, has helped this remote Iranian province to retain samples of genuine Baluchi music. Moreover, one can find singers and musicians in Baluchestan who are devoted to their traditional music. The singers and musicians who have inherited the art from their ancestors from generations to generations are called Pahlevans. "Pahlevan" is a combination of "Pahloo" and "Van". Pahloo is derived from Pahlavi language and means brave and powerful. "Van" means a singer. Meanwhile in the Baluchi language "Vang" also means singing. Therefore, "Pahlevan" means one who shows bravery and chivalry.

Here we will briefly refer to several examples of genuine Baluchi music which is now popular in Baluchestan. Sepad which means praise are a series of melodies which are sung after the birth of a child. Such songs continue for 14 nights while the mother prepares herself to wash her body. Sepad is sung only by women and by groups and is aimed to help the mother to forget the pains that she has suffered during child delivery. In these songs they mostly praise God, the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the elders of the religion and wish health and happiness for the mother and the newborn. Vazbad also means laudation and are a group of songs which are sung by either a single lady or a group of ladies and responded by another group. Such melodies which continue for about 14 nights at the newborn's house, praise God and the Prophet for bestowing a child to the woman.

Shabtagi is another rite in Baluchestan. When a baby is born the lady's relatives, neighbors and friends assemble in her house in the evenings and at times stay all the night and pray for the health of the mother and the baby. They congratulate the relatives for the newborn and sing poems in a soft tune accompanied by the oboe and tambourine. These poems and songs are known as Shabtagi which means to remain awake in the night. The majority of Shabtagi melodies are in praise of God, the Prophet, the Prophet's companions and elders of religion in which they congratulate the mother and the father and wish health and a brilliant future for the newborn. During such rites they officially sing the Azan (Muslim call for prayer) into the baby's ear which means that the newborn is a Muslim. Shabtagi songs help the mother to forget her labor and refreshes her spirit and bestows strength to her body. Moreover, the Baluchi tribesmen believe that evil souls and evil wishers await in ambuscade to attack and harm the mother and the newborn by talisman and by magic spells. For example they believe that Jatooq who is a devil and sorcerer will devour the child's heart and liver. Jatooq is believed to be an evil and cunning woman who longs for her newborn which she lost during delivery. She envies the others' children and harms such women. The Baluchi women believe that Jatooq's evil spirit secretly devours the baby's heart and liver and for that reason they must not let the mother and the new born remain alone for a minimum of three days and nights. As a result they assemble beside the mother and the child and recite the Quran.

Shabtagi extend from 6 nights to 14 nights at times to even 40 nights according to the family's financial condition. Loola is another song which is sung during festive occasions such as wedding parties and has different meanings. But Laloo shesghani is specially dedicated to the sixth day of the baby's birth. In this song the singer appeals to Almighty God, the Prophet and His blessed family for a happy life for the new born. For example if the baby is a boy, they wish him to be brave, true to his promise, a good swordsman, truthful, kind, hospitable and pious, obedient to elders and other good qualities which is admired in the Baluchi culture. But if the newborn is a daughter, they pray her to be chaste, faithful, a good housewife, truthful, hospitable, kind to her husband, brother and sisters and faithful to Baluchi culture. The christening and circumcision is often performed on the sixth night of childbirth and during that night femaleguests are entertained by food, perfume, and oil.

Liloo or Looli is in fact lullaby which the mother sings to put the child to sleep. Zayirak is the most melancholy melody among the Baluchis which complains of separation, from unkind darling or miseries of life. Zayirak or Zayirik is accompanied by doleful melodies and the music is played only by Qalam or flute. However, nowadays Zayirak is played with banjo as well. This is a long, monotonous and doleful music which is played with drum and the notes are repeated with slight difference. Zayirak is divided into various branches among which the most famous ones are Ashrafdor Zayirak, Janoozami Zayirak and Zamerani Zayirak. When you hear Zayirak it seems that you are sitting at a melancholy coast listening to the repeated sad notes of the flute with the Gheichak. This resembles the sea waves which start with violence at first but as they approach the coast the tempest subsides and at last the ripples find peace at the seashore. The music starts with a shrill tune, rises to its peak, then gradually subsidies and grows silent. Then after a short pause, again the flutes wail shrilly, and the episode is repeated again and again. Zayirak is sung with or without musical instruments and is sung for the absence of close relatives, such as father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, son, wife, a mistress and even for absence from one's homeland. Zayirak is derived from Zahir which according to the Dehkhoda Encyclopedia means remembrance, sadness and a wish to meet the beloved one. Zahir also means melancholy and dejected. Formerly Zayirak was sung by women during their daily chores specially when they gathered near the mill to grind their wheat into flour. At those times the melody was sung alternately by two groups of women. Such a method of singing is no more observed these days. Nowadays Zayirak is only sung by men by flute, Gheichak and banjo.



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