Music trumps militancy in Kashmir

IOK - Indian Occupied Kashmir

SRINAGAR, SEP 26 : Lanes and bylanes of Kashmir valley, not long ago filled with smokes and sounds of battles, are stirred by lilting tunes and mellifluous voices drifting in from young men and women heralding a new future for their home.

Music, and Kashmir has a long tradition of music, is the new voice of Kashmir today. Young men and women are no longer misled by false ‘azadi’, they are creating the new tunes of an azadi which is unheard of in Kashmir, a freedom of lyrics and ideas that recalled the Sufi traditions of the Valley.

There is a new storm on the horizon in the new Kashmir, led by young women with guitars and men with voices that rustle the leaves of Chinar and caress the alpine meadows. The valleys and forests, deafened by gunshots, are reverberating with songs and music inspired by Kashmir’s rich ethnic culture. A music event organiser, Asmat Ashai put it lyrically — “The moment you listen to your music, it just brings mountains and valleys right into your heart.” Shazia Bashir is a young woman from a remote south Kashmir’s militancy prone Achabal area. So passionate she was about singing that she left school midway to follow her dream of becoming a singer. She began to sing at public functions quite young, but it was her performance at a TV show, ‘Milay Sur’ broadcast by DD Kashir, that her voice became a regional sensation. She performs light music, ghazal, sufi besides kirtan, bhajan and lila. She is a member of an all-girl ‘Pragaash band’. In 2016, she was nominated for the Bismillah Khan award by the Sangeet Natak Academy.

Yawar Abdal, from downtown Srinagar, has a different take off as a singer. His love for singing began quite early when he would spend hours writing songs and practising imaginary tunes. He was fired up by the music of eccelsiastical Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and popular music band, Junoon. He wanted to sing like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the lilt of sufi lyrics and the breathtaking pitch of the great master enveloped him. But his family was not keen on his singing; they wanted him to pursue more regular professions. He took a degree in computers and began working in Pune where he also found cafes which invited him to sing. Soon after, he left his job and began singing full time. His first album was a hit, not the second one. He is now working on his third which he believes will go some way in fulfilling his dream, of connecting Kashmir youth to their culture, of Sufi songs and mystical lyrics.

Today he is a confident singer, he knows what people want from him. In his words: “Today, when I look at the number of people wanting to listen to me, my eyes can’t reach to the end and I feel I can’t take a count of it. That love, passion in the eyes of my supporters keeps me going. Greeting the audience in Kashmiri at any place I go to makes me feel that I belong to the land of strong people.” Like Abdal, Ali Saffudin is a singer-songwriter from Srinagar’s Hassanabad area. Ali’s inspiration are poets like Faiz Ahmed, Faiz, Mehjoor, among others. He was not unaware of happenings around him. In the summer of 2016, he began writing a song about hope and yearning. Militancy was brewing around him, and then in July, Burhan Wani, a militant commander, was killed, sparking protests and violence in the valley. Saffudin could not go beyond the first line for months and it took four years for him to release the music video in May 2020. His love for music and hope trumped the violence around him.

Isfaq Kawa from militancy prone Bandipora had escaped to Hyderabad to work as a waiter where luck turned. He spent his childhood singing publicly but could not continue due to poverty caused by violence and mayhem. In 2015, when he sang out of blue, on request, while working as a waiter in a hotel, luck smiled upon him. The standing ovation at the hotel propelled him to become a singer and gone was fear and hesitation as singing took flight. He soon became a popular singer of Kashmiri folk songs — a hit on the Internet and most-sought after artist in various cities, including Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh and Hyderabad. He is a powerful writer and is broadening his genre of music with his first album. He is called the Arijit Singh of Kashmir.

It is amazing how music ebbed and flowed as militancy rose and fell in Kashmir. If a single thread were to tie the young group of singers like Saffudin, it would run parallel to the bloodied trail of militancy. But it is music and its devotees which is today taking Kashmir to a world, as great singer Led Zeppelin sings, of lilting grace.