by Ayesha binte Rashid
Bo Giyam traveled to Coke Studio from Hunza, winding down rocky mountain sides, traveling through fields of corn and wheat, crossing sand dunes, and finally settling in the studio’s headphones and mixers in a city by the sea. The song brought with it the complaint of a disenchanted heart: “ bo giyam jaa gure phuk, dughunime meniko ele,” its speaker laments, “I sowed a seed in your garden, but it came to fruition on someone else’s lands.”
The song’s Burushaski lyrics expresses the poet’s disappointment in a visual drama set in nature: the seed he sowed flowered in another’s gardens; when fruit ripened, it grew on branches that were too high for him to reach. When the branches swayed towards him in the wind, giving hope that fruit would fall to him, it landed in someone else’s garden. Secluded in the desolation of mountains, he prayed for a miracle, only to see it being granted to another person. From seed to fruit, our poet paints a picture of his story: he has given his life, and his heart, to another, but the seed of love he sowed has not come to fruition in his garden. The love he prayed for as been given to someone else.
Bo Giyam takes its inspiration from the mountains and gardens that line the banks of the Hunza river as it weaves through the valley floor, into Attabad Lake and onwards to Sost, where it breaks up into two rivers, about 60 kilometres from Khunjerab Pass. Surrounded by behemoth mountains, peaks glistening in the skies, green fields cover the valley’s floor. Glaciers look down upon the greenery, like hulking white giants perched on the mountain sides. Trees and fruit orchards color the mountain sides in hues of green, yellow, and red. For a very short time, in March and April, trees erupt into cherry blossoms and gardens are shaded by the pink and white trees. In the winter, the green is enveloped by an unrelenting white blanket of snow, which settles resolutely over the land.
The people of Hunza live in a routine harmony with their environment, growing food and raising cattle. Houses made of mud and brick are built into the mountains, mounds of apricots lying on roofs, drying in the sun. Kashif Din, who brought Bo Giyam with him to Coke Studio, lives in Altit town of Hunza, where people spend their days tending to their harvests and homes. Walking up the steep roads of Altit, through its homes and shops, one is regaled with smiling, friendly faces. “Hunza is a place of peace,” says Kashif, “we stay in touch with nature. People here don’t have personal issues against each other. Everyone is peaceful, and happily living their own lives.”
Music is an important component of these lives, explains Kashif, something that brings people together. “Where there is happiness, there is music,” says Kashif, “People would refuse to accept a wedding celebration without music.” At every celebration — weddings, birthdays, festivals — there is music; sports events are accompanied by live music; when people gather to socialise, instruments are brought out. The area’s folk music is a source of pride to its people: tourists coming to the area are regularly treated to performances and musical events.
Hunza’s music is made using its local instruments, which include the xiganai – a string instrument with a hollow body, similar to the rabab – and the dadang, a large drum that is played by a stick on one side and a hand on the other. Harmonies are built on a colorful repertoire of rhythms: “There are different rhythms for different occasions. There are different rhythms to be played at weddings. Unique rhythms will be heard at polo matches. If there’s a sports game, there will be a different rhythm to celebrate victory, and another one to celebrate loss,” explains Kashif.
The languages in which Hunza’s music finds expression also varies: the three main languages include Wakhi, Shinaki, spoken by the Shina population of the valley, and Burushaski, which is spoken by the Burusho people. Burushaski can be heard in Hunza, Nagar, and certain parts of the Ghizer district in Gilgit-Baltistan, a language shared by about 90,000 people in the area. The origins of Burushaski are shrouded in mystery, with multiple theories revolving around the genesis of both the language and the tribe that speaks it.
Some narratives trace the lineage of the Burusho tribe to the armies of Alexander the Great, whose soldiers may have chosen to have offspring in the area as he passed through on his expedition to conquer the world. Other historical threads tie the people to the Hoon Tribe who traveled through the valley from northwest China, on their migrations to Europe. There is also evidence of Iranian ancestry in the Burusho — their language, certainly, carries Persian words that trace their lineage back to Iran.
The language seems to support the idea that the Burusho tribe is a result of history’s threads meeting and intertwining. Burushaski’s grammatical structure is similar to Caucasian languages, including Basque, a language spoken in the west of France and Spain. Scholars have confirmed familiarities between words and names in Hungarian and Burushaski, lending some credibility to the Bursho people’s link to the Hoon tribe. With the stories it carries, of culture and history, Burushaski came down to Nas Nafees, the poet of Bo Giyam, and to Kashif Din, who brought it with him to Coke Studio.
Bo Giyam’s Burushaski fuses with Urdu at Coke Studio, a language much younger than itself, but just as much a product of cultural change and interaction. Kashif Din is joined by Nimra Rafiq, who similarly expresses the sorrow of longing, declaring herself to be a flower rendered scentless without her beloved. Coming together, Nimra and Kashif create a space where one can experience the delicate inflections of Burushaski that give the language a softness, even when it is bemoaning the sorrows of a grieving heart.