Zarsanga - Melody Queen of Pashto

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Zarsanga - Melody Queen of Pashto, Khaled Kheshgi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (

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Zarsanga - Melody Queen of Pashto

Khaled Kheshgi

Publishing Date: Friday, September 16 2005

The pencil thin, wheatish and illiterate Zarsanga is so proud of her euphonic and bewitching voice that even in her mid-fifties she challenges the young vocalists to match her in rhythmic frequency.

Belonging to a gypsy family of Tank, Zarsanga, also known the desert queen of Pashto music, has performed in the USA, UK, Paris, Germany, Belgium, UAE, Iraq and many more countries; but still prefers to live in a tented-house, while at present she is living in a clay-made house in the suburbs of Peshawar. "I love my soil and culture as it gives the fragrance of fraternity, freedom and vanity, the 55-year old Zarsanga, wearing traditional dopata, said.

Born in a nomadic Pakhtoon family at Tank, Zalubai (jalibi in Urdu), commonly known as Zarsanga, inherited singing from her family who was wooed and taken to altar by her clan fellow Mula Jan of Serai Naurang, Bannu, in 1965. Mula Jan was used to play tabla with Zarsanga's father Tekidar. But many say that Mula Jan had eloped her, also loved by her singing partner Khan Tehsil. "Ours was a love marriage," both admitted while sitting in the Radio Pakistan Peshawar station making rehearsal for Independence programs for Radio.

"A person named Mustafa had heard me at a wedding ceremony in Lakki Marwat and later on introduced me to Rashid Ali Dehqan, producer in Radio Pakistan Peshawar. In the very first appearance, I won the hearts and appreciation of producers and public as well," Zarsanga recalled. At that time Radio Station was located near Peshawar Central Jail and when she was giving audition, her reverberating voice even agitated the inmates of the nearby prison who demanded for more, an aged radio employee confirmed her claim.

From that day Zarsanga sang thousands of songs for Radio and TV and performed on stage for hundreds of times. Besides winning appreciation from public, she got many awards including Pride of Performance and Presidential Award from for her contributions. She has also been honoured abroad for her performance. "Once I was singing in an Arab country and some Arab women started dancing on my song without knowing the meaning," she said with a slight smile and vanity. "She is Rishama of Pashtu music," said Laiqzadha Laiq, Radio Producer, adding that once a French woman Mrs Kia who was doing research on Pashtu language and literature here, when heard Zarsanga, was so impressed by her rumbling voice that she used to call herself Zarsanga and arranged a concert of Zarsnaga in Paris where she performed without musical instruments and microphone.

The Pashtu melody queen Zarsanga is known for her folk songs, desert arias, and mountainous gharhi (a type of Pashtu tapi) and has many popular songs to her credit. "Being illiterate I can not sing ghazals and thus concentrate on gharhi and folk songs which are popular among Pakhtoons that even some solemn and pious women told me that they only listen her songs publicly at their old age, Zarsanga said proudly.

Puffing a low-priced cigarette in front of her husband, Zarsanga said that once she won two packs of cigarettes by winning an informal high-pitched competition at Peshawar PTV center. She had also won an international voice competition in Germany organised by Dr Kabir Stori of Pakhtoon Social Democratic Party. Her 25-year old son Shehzada has adopted the singing profession and besides singing at hujra and stage level, has also performed on TV and radio.

Zarsanga has six sons and four daughters, two of them married. Zarsanga's father was proud of her daughter's singing profession but his daughter says, "my daughters have been blessed with melodious voices but I am against their singing in public. When asked why she pointed towards her husband that he also did not like it. It is against our family traditions, was the simple answer of Mula Jan.

Though not a slight change has occurred in her voice till date but the desert queen considers her this blessing as mirage in a desert, an echo in mountains and a wave in the river, saying that being a mortal-being one day she would lose this asset which is the only source of her income, therefore, she sought restoration of culture scholarship, being stopped to her like dozens of artists for the last one year by the provincial culture department.


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Zarsanga - Melody Queen of Pashto, Khaled Kheshgi
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (