ON THE WINGS OF FOLK HERITAGE, KASHMIRI SINGERS FLY HIGH
Mareaya Fayaz tells of how Kashmiris are discovering and bringing to the world the ways in which music can transcend the boundaries that conflict and violence want to impose
I meet so many people in the mainland for whom Kashmir is just a violent headline. So many people in India and also abroad see Kashmir with a singular lens. They think all we live and breathe here is conflict. They think that is our solo reality. How wrong they are. Yes, we are forced to live with the stresses and strains of conflict. Yes, the peace of our cities, our towns and villages is more fragile than what people in the mainland have experienced.
And yet, life blossoms and blooms here. Our youth surge with the enthusiasm and the happy spirit that so defines the young. Our young men and women are defining every day – through their many talents and accomplishments – what it means to be a Kashmiri. For you see, militancy is only a sad part of Kashmir. It doesn’t define who we are.
And who are we? We are the holders of a 5000 year old civilization. We are a people whose folk arts, folk dances and folk traditions have entranced for ages. We are the repositories of our rich, varied heritage and our culture. Whether the militancy masterminds like it or not, we are taking forward our glorious heritage and culture with style and glory.
We also are the millennials, so we know how to use social media to maximize our reach. Why are we Kashmiris celebrating our amazing arts and our culture? Because our arts and our culture define who we are and where we come from. Our folk arts, our folk dances, our folk instruments and our folk music strengthen our identities. It marks out our pride in belonging to our community.
Yes, we face the restrictions imposed by militants. But Kashmiri youth are flowering in the midst of, and despite all challenges.
Even with so many restrictions, young Kashmiri artists have found a way to keep alive the folk music and dances of Kashmir. It is commonly said that music transcends boundaries. We Kashmiris are discovering and bringing to the world the ways in which music can transcend the boundaries that conflict and violence want to impose.
Militancy tried to suffocate our voices. Militancy tried to suffocate our songs. But folk arts and folk traditions refuse to die. They grow like an invisible force within us, keeping their cherished space in our hearts and minds.
The talent of Kashmiri youth has developed new wings with the freedom that the social media brings to us. A new generation of youthful singers and musicians has emerged in the Valley, successfully fusing folk music and poetry with modern melodies. So we have artistes who are celebrating folk music, and we also have artistes who are celebrating fusion music. Both kinds are finding huge appreciation within the Valley, and also within the large Kashmiri diaspora globally. Several young musicians who are familiar with new-age music and modern singing instruments, and also have knowledge of our music traditions, have risen to prominence in recent years. Many of these youth have been re-creating folk music using innovative methods and procedures. In recent years, a number of musical ensembles have emerged in Kashmir, organizing hugely popular singing events both indoors and outside.
Waqar Khan, in his mid-20s, is a songster from north Kashmir’s Karnah, a town near the Line of Control. Waqar sings in Urdu, Punjabi, Pahadi, and Kashmiri. Courtesy this wide repertoire, Waqar has been garnering popularity within Kashmir and also in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. Waqar has unquestionably established himself as a unique talent. His Pahari songs are popular on both sides of the international border. His captivating voice and grasp of Urdu Gazal notes and phrasing have made him popular in this genre too. Waqar Khan’s videos register millions of views and likes on YouTube.
Nargis Khatoon is one of the most well-known of the new generation of young Kashmiri musicians. Khatoon, a 21-year-old singer and poet, has been singing and writing poems for a long time. The year 2020, when the epidemic hit globally, proved to be a great year for this aspiring artist. Bollywood celebrity Sushmita Sen shared a song video by Nargis with lovely comments for her. Nargis strums the guitar beautifully. She has the strongest affinity with Kashmiri music. Nargis says that every time she plays outside Kashmir, she makes it a point to start with a Kashmiri song.
Ishfaq Kawa is in his mid-20s. He is the son of a farmer from Bandipora in north Kashmir. Kawa is a well-known name in Kashmiri music and singing. He is the man who successfully translated various Hindi songs into Kashmiri and received significant acclaim for his groundbreaking work.
Kawa is one of the few young Kashmiri vocalists who has remade a number of well-known folk songs utilizing new-age techniques and modern instruments. All of these singers have been using social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube to upload their songs and have got thousands of followers and likes on these platforms.
Aisaar Ashiq, a 22-year-old singer-composer from Srinagar’s Lal Bazar neighborhood, is commonly seen singing at musical events in Kashmir. He recently performed in cities like Chandigarh and Jammu.
The Popular Wedding Singers Of Kashmir
Songs and dances at weddings are an old Kashmiri tradition. There are many wedding singers who are highly popular in the Valley. Now, they are also using social media platforms to fly high and find new admirers and new markets. These wedding singers are doing a tremendous job in keeping our culture of singing and dancing flourishing and vibrant. Many transgender wedding singers too are a big hit on social media.
Reshma is a popular wedding singer of Kashmir. The duo of Chinki and Minki, again highly popular wedding singers, has been taking the social media by storm.
SUFI SINGERS OF KASHMIR
Kashmir is witnessing a growing breed of Sufi singers. Among them, the all-women band of Yemberzal is gaining huge popularity.
The new breed of singers and dancers in Kashmir are proving that they shall not bend to politics driven by religion. They have decided to find their groove in the beloved forms of Kashmiri music and dance, and keep our cultural heritage thriving. The guns will not silence the fire of these artists.