Tweak ’em to a new taste

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Headline: Tweak ’em to a new taste

 

 

Waheed Jeelani

THE last few years have seen the Jammu & Kashmir government trying to revive the UT’s culture across the Valley, especially in Kashmir. The endeavour has been to involve and bring together legendary artists and the youth. The government is hoping to take this initiative forward with the cooperation of various stake holders, artists and creative professionals of J&K. The idea is to take the youth on board and harness real talent.

It is with immense trepidation that I view our people, who had once been unmistakably interwoven with a sense of brotherhood worth exaltation, and now rendered helplessly nonplussed and directionless. Amidst a myriad of undeniable troubles, I often wonder about what has held us together and what has had the power to undo us so! My answer, a rather obstinate one, is that our strength as a society has consistently been, and will forever be, related to our culture, our art, our precious heritage. And I also sombrely observe that it has lately fallen prey to certain meddlesome souls.

Kashmir has always been held in high esteem for its great musicians, artists, scholars and teachers. Enormous contribution in terms of art and culture can be found everywhere. But sadly, very limited information is available about most contributors of our cultural ethos, especially performing arts. Why?

  • What ails our art?

At the core of loopholes in accentuating the growth of our art and culture are the lack of proper platforms, funds, education about our culture, and the hindrance in its promotion.

An artist shares his notes: “As it is, it’s extremely difficult to make a living with a job in today’s economy; it’s even more challenging to get by riding solely on art”.

“Kashmir is celebrated for cultural diversity. And independent artists from several regions make music in as many languages here… But the going is far from easy for them. The problem for regional cultural heritage is that the crowds that entertain independent art forms consider anything regional a nuisance”, he adds.

“The attempts at fusion are shunned with claims of hypocrisy. A very small number of people appreciate the effort, while the others maintain it’s nothing but a waste of time. Every artist struggles immensely while pursuing his dream. This, more often than not, leaves one mentally disturbed, and most performing artists give up and some even go into a downward spiral of depression. For someone who plans to pursue art, the path is filled with questions of self-doubt. When people ask about what I do for a living, I respond saying I am into ‘performing & promoting art’. And they always ask about my ‘real’ job. And this is a common scenario for all artists. I have a job like everyone else – to conceptualise and deliver in the field of art!” adds the artist.

A lead artist of a well-established band explains the problem thus: “The independent freelance art industry is not streamlined at all. The number of production houses supporting art is very small”.

“The very first challenge our culture is facing is the way it is ceasing to exist gradually. The young generation is not aware of just how rich it actually is, which is eating into the chances for our art to stay alive and with very few initiating to take it forward. The road for every artist across varied sectors is full of thorns and bumps, and some major hustling is a part of the job if artists are serious about carving a niche,” he adds.

  • Traditional art forms waning

While modern and more engaging genres make way into the Valley, all forms of folk, traditional art forms are losing their place in the Kashmiri society. The traditional art forms, mainly associated with local customs and mysticism in Kashmir, are facing an onslaught from modernity and remain confined to their slow paced avatar.

  • Sideling the signature Sufi

The signature Sufi music here evolved from a combination of Persian and Indian classical music and was introduced in Kashmir in the 16th century with the inception of Islam. It’s no news that Sufi music holds the capacity to cure ailments of the heart and the head. It is the simplest way to realise God.

Earlier, Sufi music used to be people’s first choice, but now the trend has completely reversed. The genre is being ignored in the Valley. There are those who have been trying hard to preserve it, but have achieved little success so far. Sufi musicians, in a bid to reach wider audiences, have been introducing local poetry in their performances since Persian lyrics – originally used for such performances – are difficult to understand. But despite varied efforts, the growth of Sufi music has remained stagnant in the Valley. Most Sufi musicians too have much to do with this. For instance, they have not allowed modern instruments and lyrics to mingle with Sufi music. They have kept themselves confined to traditional ragas. And then, most Sufi music fails at being popular owing to the use of conventional lyrics which are difficult to understand.

  • Hope floats, thanks to social media

Thankfully, all is not lost. With social media opening and establishing newer avenues for artists to not only be discovered but also build their community, artists have to adopt a two-fold approach to ensure their art makes the right waves. The first part includes maintaining a razor-sharp focus on creating good art or creative content, despite challenges. And the second part includes optimising social media to build their own audience that actually cares for good quality regional music, drama, theatre or any performing art, instead of ruing over those that don’t. With YouTube, Band Camp, OkListen, iTunes, and numerous other upcoming apps and platforms, the problems of artists are sorting themselves out. Now, it’s about how much artists are willing to put themselves out there.

  • Tweak it to fit in

The traditional arts might bounce back to life if we were to tweak them smartly and make a few small adjustments.

Making Sufi lyrics easy to understand would help the youth and the coming generations relate with them. In fact, similar interventions need to be applied to other art forms too.

To be able to fulfil objectives related to our arts, descriptive methodology must be adopted. Talking to eminent artists and taking their advice on the matter might help. And technological resources need to be tapped in order to make desirable changes.

Our goals could include:

  • Identifying information about selected artists of Kashmir; translating biographies of identified artists from Kashmiri and local languages into Urdu, English and other popular languages; documenting the contribution and the biographical details of each selected artist
  • Promoting the present artistic talent
  • Preserving the work of legendary musicians of Kashmir;
  • Reviving J&K’s art and culture by exploring the hidden artistic promise in today’s youth – especially those from far flung areas – by grooming them and providing them a platform under different forums; by improving the present artistic atmosphere and using it for understanding different art forums and cultures, thus creating a bridge to create a space for peace, friendship and harmony by way of interaction and expression; acknowledging and recognising the contribution of contemporary artists by rewarding them with incentives and financial help; by grooming and training young artists for national and international level performances of all traditional art forums of the State; collaborating and co-ordinating with different media of entertainment, cultural departments and academies so that festivals may be organised collectively within and outside the country. This will bring the youth the required exposure worldwide and will help establish an institution/academy to promote and impact artistic education. It will also aid in organising and managing events, exhibitions which have social, cultural, economic and promotional significance for Jammu & Kashmir;
  • Facilitating and creating space for peace-building reconciliation – interpersonal and intra-state – using non-violent tools like art forums to ensure that people from varied regions, religions, cultures form a beautiful mosaic of communal harmony and brotherhood.

 

Our art, culture, languages and heritage are the foundation of our society and are at the core of unity. Tradition is their precious evidence. I beseech all for their revival.

(The writer is an artist, social & cultural activist)

Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India – November 15, 2015 : A young Kashmiri man at his handicraft stall in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, India

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