The Kalash – My 1998 trip to Pakistan as The British Library researcher


In 1998 I traveled from Kathmandu to Istanbul overland. At the time I was recording indigenous music across Asia in collaboration with The British Library’s National Sound Archive/International Music Collection. I recorded street musicians, folk musicians, religious performers and street corner drunks. I worked in Nepal, India, The Philippines, Thailand, Iran and Pakistan.

In Pakistan, I spent several weeks with the Kalash people, an animist community of a few thousand people who live in three valleys in the Hindu Kush on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. At the time, the Kalash were under serious pressure from orthodox Islam on the one hand and hordes of young Muslim men who came to the valleys to get drunk (the Kalash brew their own alcohol) and harass Kalash girls who are perceived to be promiscuous in Pakistan because they are not hidden under burquas.

The result of this trip is a collection of music and images that can be accessed at The British Library today as well as a commercially available Playasound (France) CD called Sounds of the Hindu Kush.

After Pakistan I continued with my recordings and traveled to some of Asia’s most remote corners to collect rare sounds that for the most part have now gone, with musicians dead, no new talent and traditional music receding in the face of globalization and what we call ‘progress’.

As part of the British Library project stretching from 1993 to 2004, I also released a CD called Sounds of the Himalayas with producer Willy Wysoudil on extraplatte (Austria), which has since gone out of print and a CD called Sea Gypsies of the Andaman Sea for Topic Records (UK). About 100 hours of music, along with photographs and information on the musicians’ have been deposited with the British Library and are available to researchers today.

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