Known for its scenic snow-clad mountains, Kashmir, the Indian ‘Switzerland’, is also famous for its rich, unique and talented craftsmanship along with its exquisite musical heritage.
Home to unique folk musicians, this northern Indian state has a deep-rooted melodic culture that reflects the distinct traditions from the days of yore. The region has been the birthplace for folk music which has been influenced by the countries it is surrounded by. However, the local folk music has somehow sustained its identity amidst all the cultural exchange.
Kashmir has been the place of origin for many classical musical instruments. Santoor, a trapezoid-shaped stringed-folk instrument, has found its place in the mainstream music scene. The Rabab, an instrument with a long-necked lute and a small bulging body, has slowly integrated itself in the mainstream music in India. Also, the Saz-E-Kashmir and the Daman remain popular with the folk musicians. The Chakri, a responsorial song form with instrumental parts including the harmonium, rabab, sarangi, nout, geger, tumbaknaer and chimta, is one of the most popular types of traditional music in Kashmir. Another Kashmiri classical music includes the Sufiana Kalam (also called as Maqam), a devotional music of the Muslim mystics known as Sufis, uses its own ragas and is coupled with a Santoor. Apart from these forms, Ladishah, a sarcastic form of singing which resonates the present social and political conditions, is one of the most important parts of the Kashmiri music tradition.
The valley isn’t just a treasure trove for various forms of folk and classical music but also harbours a gold mine of musicians who are renowned world over. The father-son duo of Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and Rahul Sharma have been successful on national as well as international stage. Waheed Jeelani, artiste and activist, launched ‘Shashrang Band’ which presents and promotes the pure Kashmiri music and melody on the world stage. Dhananjay Koul, Deepali Watal, Bhajan Sopori are amongst the other prominent artists.
Classical and folk are not the only forte of the valley, the new crop of musicians from Kashmir have made their place in the new-age music as well. KSHMR, an American Electronic artiste, has his roots Kashmir. He has worked with the industry bigwigs in the EDM circuit under his music label ‘Dharma’. Also, MC Kash, rapper/emcee, is widely popular amongst the youth for his hard-hitting lyrics. The valley also houses a whole of talented artists waiting to rise and play their tunes to the world. Among these include electronic artist Zeeshan Nabi, rapper Ahmer Zaver, the young Santoor player Umar and songwriter/singer Pragnya Wakhlu who blends western music with Kashmiri influences and language.
Though there is no shortage of talent, Kashmir faces a major problem when it comes to venues that promote live music. Due to the constant unrest in the state, shows are cancelled thus affecting the live music scene. Moreover, artists who play at live gigs hardly get paid.
“I have been asked to play on several occasions but the shows end up getting cancelled. The live music scene here is very sporadic and not consistent like other cities in India. This can also be attributed to the unstable condition in the state. Most of the music produced by artists, here, is underground and self-produced,” said Pragnya.
(Pic: Pragyna Wakhlu)
Music Plus reached out to a Srinagar-based café, Winterfell, to better understand the live-music venue scene in Kashmir. Café manager Kamran Wani said,
“When we started the café, we wanted to reserve Sundays for Kashmiri artists who wanted to perform. Thus Sunday Live Sessions began at our café. Last year alone, we had 87 or more events on Sundays. The mindset of people here is such that they don’t encourage music, it is seen as a distraction. Many of them don’t think of it as a career option.”
Lack of venues isn’t the only hurdle that Kashmiri musicians have to face, female artists in the valley have bigger problems on their plate. Despite being talented, the female artists in Kashmir are reluctant and apprehensive about performing. A lot of them keep their identity hidden by using pseudo names or masking their faces while uploading a video of them performing on social media.
Who can blame them? These artists fear the radical groups who claim music to be haram (forbidden) according to their religion. One such example is that of a female artist who uploaded a video of her singing on Instagram that went viral on social media. This said artist received death threats and had to face humiliation that will put us all to shame.
Hartals and bandhs are a routine in Kashmir, so are deadly attacks on civilians. Often, artists and venues become targets as they promote music which is considered as haram. Unlike other places in India, Kashmir is a land where sensitivity and sentiments run amok at the drop of the hat. Every spoken word or a deed done can be met with the harshest of consequences. With an abundance of talented musicians and folk artists in its kitty, the valley, sadly, can’t boast a healthy music scene, let alone a full-fledged music industry. The lack of financial and personal security prompts artists to migrate to different parts of the country to kickstart their careers.
When the talent pool from Kashmir moves out of the state, it impacts the tourism of state which indirectly affects the economy of the state as well. This means, restoring normalcy in the state and in the life of these musicians will only benefit and enhance the economic growth in Kashmir.
A land which is blessed with scenic beauty is an idyllic venue for live music events. Imagine attending a music concert in an open lush field with snow-clad mountains in the background. What more can one ask for?
In 2017, the Kashmir Music Club organised the seventh annual edition of the ‘Shashrang’ Music Festival, the only large-scale music festival which is held in Kashmir every year. The festivals’ main attraction was the participation of artists from the Pandit community who migrated from Kashmir during the 90’s. Artists such as Rashid Hafiz, Mohammed Yaqoob Sheikh, Gulzar Ganai, Kaiser Nizami, Irfan, Bilal and other 125 artists performed at the festival.
“I have a had a great concert in Kashmir. When it comes to the local music scene, it’s definitely a challenge. There is also some great music coming from Kashmir. It is a matter of time before more venues open up and more art follows. It’s a symbiotic relationship between music and opportunities. It should not take long for things to normalise,” said folk artist Aabha Hanjura.
(Pic: Aabha Hanjura)
To help thrive the music scene in Kashmir, it is vital that the local authorities ensure that such music events are encouraged, funded and provided with adequate infrastructure to attract other organisers to the valley. The profit being the generation of employment as well as the promotion of musicians and artists from Kashmir.
“I am hoping that we can help groom and grow the music scene here. Art is something that needs an outlet,” added hopeful Pragnya.
All said this wonderland called Kashmir needs sur and taal not hartal. We hope this picturesque land will soon echo of its mesmerising music rather than the wails of its people.