Pride of the Pathans: Kheyal Mohammad

Kheyal Mohammad

Kheyal Mohammad


The Pashtun people, commonly referred to as Pathans, of South Asia are a tough lot.  Like the scrabbly mountains and remote deserts they call home along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, they are portrayed in popular culture as rugged, ignorant, warrior-like (perhaps even blood thirsty) fundamentalist, child-like and uncouth.   If the wide world knows much about Pathans they probably have a vague idea that the Taliban are mostly Pashtun tribesmen.


Of course, this is but one aspect of their identity.  Pashto-speaking tribes are also brave (having driven superpower after superpower out of their lands for centuries), freedom loving, culture and tradition-proud, great story tellers (the main bazaar in Peshawar their great and ancient capital is the famous Qissa Khawani [Story Tellers] bazaar) and sportsmen. For decades the world championship of squash belonged only to one Pathan family, the Khans (Roshan, Torsam, Rehmat, and the invincible Jahangir) of Neway Kelay, Peshawar.


And then of course, there is Imran Khan, cricketer extraordinaire, playboy, philanthropist and politician. A Pathan from Mianwali district, in Punjab.  And before we relegate Pathans to a class of backward looking extremists remember, Malalai Yousafzai, the bravest school kid in the world, is also not only a Pathan but her parents, who have insisted upon their daughter being educated, are also Pathans.


Pashtun music is heavily influence by Afghan and Iranian musical forms as well as those of India.  The Pashtun folk tradition has a variety of poetic styles a few of which are described below:


Tappa is the oldest and most popular genre of the Pashto poetry. The tappa is a composition of two unequal meters, in which the first line is shorter than the succeeding one, yet it reflects all human feelings and aspirations elegantly. Be it laborers, peasants, or women all sentiments find expression in the tappa. It is also common among the Pashtuns that a boy of school would sing it, the elders in their hujrahs, the women in their home and Godar alike. It is the only song sung in the time of grief and on the occasion of marriage. In music it is sung with the traditional Pashto musical instruments rubab and mangai. Tappa has up to 16 different models of harmony and is being sung with full orchestra. In hujrah it’s sung with rubab and sitar.

Charbeta is another popular genre, which consists of an epic poem with special rhythms. There are four kinds of charbetta’s. Normally, it’s a poem of four lines but might also have six or eight lines. All aspects of life are discussed in it. That includes the heroic deeds and heroism by legendary figures and sometime expresses the romantic feelings. The tempo is usually very fast and is sung by two or more singers as part of a chorus in which ones singer reads the first line while the others follow the remaining. The singing or recitation of a charbetta is called tang takore. Traditionally charbetta is started just after the finishing of a tappa.

Neemakai has many different forms and normally women compose it. It is usually very short (1 to 3 lines). The first lines are repeated in the middle of the song and tappa is usually added according to the subject and circumstances. Most of these songs in Pashtoon culture have been expressed in different areas about daily life and love.

Loba is very popular among the masses and are added within tappas occasionally. This is a form of folk music in which a story is told. It requires 2 or more persons who reply to each other in a poetic form. The two sides are usually the lover and the beloved (the man and woman).

Shaan is sung on happy occasions such as marriages and or the birth of a child, and are sung in private congregations and social gatherings.

Badala is a professional form of folk music and consists of an epic poem or a ballad. Instruments used include the rubab, harmonium, mungey or tabla. In badala, tribal traditions are the main theme as well as heroism, tragedies and romance. Badala consists of variations, because each couplet is varied in rhythms from other. It is sung traditionally at night.

Rubayi is a Pashto form of a ghazal. The Rubayis of Rehman Baba are popular among the masses and is sung before the starting of badala. As with the ghazals, the rubayi have been heavily influenced by Arabic, Persian and Turkish poetry. (Wikipedia)


Kheyal Mohammad is an immensely popular Pakistani Pashtun singer from Peshawar.  For the first part of his career he specialised as an accompanist, playing tabla and harmonium on Radio Pakistan.  In the late 60’s in a prescient career shift he took to recording ghazals at a time when they were rarely heard on the radio. By the early 80’s the ghazal was seemingly ubiquitous and Kheyal Mohammad’s voice was the most popular among Pastho speaking Pakistanis.  In the early 70’s he began a popular run in the Pashto (Pollywood, anybody?) film industry and has ever since been recognised as one of the most talented Pashto artists of the last forty years.

Kheyal Mohammad renders songs in a traditional manner, choosing pieces that combine mysticism, romance and philosophy, usually with an undertone of melancholy. His voice has impressive range, but is always fully under control. Radio, television and movie producers have paid tribute to his professionalism and ability to produce flawless performances with minimal rehearsal. Zahoor Khan Zaiby, a Pakhtoon composer of Balochi and Sindhi tunes, says “Lala is an expert at harnessing the mood of the moment and the poetry through his voice. The songs from his films are considered Pashto anthems.” (Wikipedia)


He has been awarded the highest civil awards of his country and a living legend in Pakistan. This is a collection from the fabulous Music Pakistan series, from the archives of Radio Pakistan.  Wonderful music, just the stuff to set the record straight about the Pathans!

Kheyal Mohammad

Kheyal Mohammad_0001


Track Listing:

01 Wa Kheyali Jana Na

02 Gham de Leyone

03 Jananna Sataminh

04 Sata pe Judai

05 Yau de Dala Launon

06 Zane Zarrau Jamokay

07 Sabro Malalay

08 Nare May Walayna Aworay

09 Pass Peh godarolaray

10 Ya Qurban Bailtoon Da

11 Har Yu gul Ponray

12 Da Mangy Ghara ae Shanah

13 Bi Bi Sharinay

14 Bya Kaday Haregi




3 thoughts on “Pride of the Pathans: Kheyal Mohammad

  1. Pingback: From the Archives: Kheyal Mohammad | Harmonium

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