Kashmir’s New Ambassadors

kashmiri music

Like many others in my tribe; opinion writers and columnists, guided by screaming headlines I am also oblivious to the urges and aspirations of our youth. That there is a strong undercurrent in a whole generation of them to use music, arts, literature, theatre and modern mediums like Instagram and YouTube for telling their stories, and articulating their pain and agony. I understood it first time some six years back. Nevertheless, it was just a couple of months back, I realised the power and reached of the mediums chosen by a lot of them for expressing themselves and articulating their stories, when I watched some songs in my mother tongue on the YouTube- and these watched and liked by millions of youth, something unimaginable in the past.

Our land has had a strong tradition of street plays. And artist acting in these plays expressed their angst and anguish against the rulers and their brute governance and spread awareness about the miss-governance in the rural and urban folks. Moreover, by lampooning courtiers and royal courtesans, they made their audience laugh and purge their feelings. In 1947, like many other traditions, the street theatre also died. Nonetheless, in the fifties and early sixties, the troubadours, with iron rods and rings went from door to door, or a street singers with their tin cone loudspeakers sang songs in the lanes and by-lanes giving expression to the concerns of people about social issues. They also sang about disgusting carrot and stuck politics – with thugs and hoodlums ruling the roost. To counter these feeble voluntary voices of troubadours and street singers challenging the “dominant discourses’ and “hegemonic political dispensations, the state came up with the mega shows of folk music and dances. Some of the pictures of those times show none less than Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister, participating in these shows. In one of the photographs that had some time back gone viral on social media Jawaharlal Nehru is seen amidst Kashmiri singers, with Mohammad Abdullah Tibetbalal, playing on the Santoor. Nonetheless, the 1964 Holy Relic Movement and mass upsurge demolished the edifice of one and a half decade old politics of intimidation, terror, incarcerations, and exiles and doles and concessions. And along with it died the devious politics of using musical festival and cultural carnivals for dissuading the people from the core political issue connecting with their very survival.

Many decades after, in September 2007 once again a mega musical event- Zubin Mehta’s musical concert was organised in Srinagar. In the world of music Zubin Mehta, an Indian conductor of Western and Eastern classical music is a big name having the largest fan club. The timing, the events during the preceding months, which also included the hanging of the Afzal Guru and the mass uprising suggested that the concert was arranged for sending a political message across the world about Kashmir- that everything was hunky-dory in the troubled state. Telecast from all the international television channels across the globe the musical event brought Kashmir into international focus for the day. Many channels also carried reports about the ground situation and public perceptions about it, if it had strengthened the state narrative or not, is not subject of this column.

Nevertheless, for me, it had opened portals to the world of younger generations of Kashmir, beyond the newspaper headlines. The event had inspired a parallel concert “Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir” (the reality of Kashmir) on the same day. For the huge participation of youth, it was an occasion for the third generation of Kashmiris to express themselves to the world outside- the way they wanted. This unique combination of folk, music, dramas and poetry spoke about the alternative mediums the new generations have chosen for telling the stories of their land. The performance by two school going rappers Saif and Fahid from the old city telling their story through their rapid word, rhythm and action that even a thousand words cannot narrate, is still etched on my memory. The inspiration for these two young rappers was 2010, song ‘I protest” by young rapper Roushan Illahi, of MC Kash.

The song ‘I protest’, is seen as a paradigm shift in ‘the youth resistance’. It had featured on some international television channels and won millions of fans across the world. Interestingly it has been removed from the YouTube, and the message reads: “The following content has been identified by the YouTube community as inappropriate or offensive to some audiences.” Nevertheless, the MC Kash was a trendsetter. Since the day it was uploaded, scores of youth have taken to music and songs and have been using this medium to tell their story of pain and agony. Some of them are three –in- one, they write songs, compose music and sing. Some, have also excelled in cinematography. These songs filmed against the scenic beauty of the land and of course carrying eerie shots of the sad situation as has been obtaining in this land that once made emperor and poets like Thomas Moore in distant place wax lyrical can win lots of lovers for Kashmiri music across the world.

Most of the youth, who have taken to music are professionals with good academic background and curriculum vitae. Some of them are brilliant students, expressing love for their land through good poetry and soul-stirring music. Instead of remaining stuck up in the folk tunes and traditional instruments this new generation of musicians and singers have selected fusion- a mix of Kashmiri, oriental and English as their medium. Through innovations, some of them have breathed new life in the traditional forms and made the traditional Koshur music favourite in a whole young generation. Some time back, a British-Kashmir sharing his experience rightly observed that the fusion was the best genre to take Kashmir songs and music- of course, the message to the international audience.

Graduating from one level to another, during the past eight years, hundreds of songs sung by these young singers been, put to music have been uploaded on the YouTube and other channels. Some of them, who performed abroad at public places like Hyde Park in London to international gatherings, not only enthralled the audience but very subtly narrated the story of their land. Having watched some of these artists live and many of them on the small screen, it will require a connoisseur of music to evaluate them critically. Nonetheless, I see most of them as ambassadors of our Kashmir’s for the outside world.

Columnist and Writer


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