I wish we were remembered for Kashmir

Kashmir’s illuminating music legacy across the culture and valley has a soothing impact in its chaos.

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Kashmiri Music

Music has been an integral part of Kashmir since ages. Present in many forms and nurtured by many legends, the music in Kashmir has touched upon lives in and out of the valley. It has passed on the stories from past, emotions, culture and even agriculture. The Kashmiri music heavily uses traditional musical instruments like Swarnai, Rabab, Santoor, Sitar, Tumbaknari and Noot. The folk songs of Kashmir and musical instruments could not be studied separately as they began their cultural journey at the same time and grew together. The traditionally made instruments from local products like wood and baked clay are prepared by artisans engaged in the business through many generations. It is the job of an artist to find the perfect wood and bake clay to the right temperature, thus resulting in the creation of a sound which is close to the heart of Kashmir.

‘I wish we were remembered for Kashmir more than Stairway To Heaven’

­–Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant in an interview.

Serving as a commonplace for music, the social ceremonies and festivals have treasured the traditional music forms such as Rouf (folk song where group of girls interlink their arms and dance while they sing the songs), Chekri (songs are played using local instruments such as Rubab, Sarangi and Harmonium), Sufiana Kalam (devotional songs sung my Sufis accompanied by dance), Wanwun (The word means Chorus and its sung by Kashmiri Pandits during auspicious ceremonies), etc.

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It has not been an easy journey for makers of instruments. The demand from places which ranged from foreign countries to local states has seen a sharp decline. The near absence of business with changing times and reduced demand from local as well as foreign markets has affected the artisans adversely. The passing generations have refused to take up dying art form thus making it difficult for the valley to keep its history alive. As long-established forms of music are slowly vanishing under political conflicts of area, modernization of music has failed to acknowledge the contribution along with special place which these instruments hold when it comes to Kashmiri music.

One of the most famous folk singers of Kashmir is Ustad Ghulam Ahmad Sofi, popularly known as ‘Ama Sofi’, excelled in the Chekri form of music.

Known for his creative music and unparalleled skills in playing Noat (matka), he has left audiences spellbound for years. He was known for giving new dimensions to the traditional Chekri music. Many musicians have graced the locals with their music but no one could be compared to the extent of Ama Sofi’s popularity.

Many Kashmiri songs have become a part of the mainstream because of their catchy tune though the meaning remain a mystery. The song Hukus Bukus made it to the advertisement industry through a prominent Bank’s promotion and thus remained in chants of many children as well as adults. While the meaning describes the spiritual essence of Kashmir through ages, it has been modernized, reused and re-sung with a different purpose with the modern age, somehow maintaining the old rhythm.

The valley’s history and current conditions are changing its music. The youth, yearning to reach for alarger audience to voice their anger and frustration are following a western pattern which is alien to otherwise calm and soothing nature of Kashmiri music. Craving and demanding to be heard, young singers are incorporating the traditional songs and sounds of instruments with the demand of the industry.

Chaos in the valley is now visible in its songs as well. Chosen as a medium of resistance, music is taking a new shape. Inspiration has changed along with the situation, though the closeness to homeland remains the same.

The songs which are written by new generation mostly speak about the bloodshed in the valley and their demand for freedom. Not demanding capital for their words, these young singers demand a creative platform for their protest. Protesting against the injustice felt by Kashmiris, many of the songs also reflect the pain and sorrow of locals emanating from the wounds left by those who were killed or lost.

The pain and anguish have replaced the traditional content which was spiritual and described the beauty of the valley in the melodies resounding deep in the valley.

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The majority of songs and poetry in Kashmir has been a window to the society and culture of the people.

The song writers and singers namely MC Kash and others have become internet phenomenon by creating an amalgamation of English, Hindi and Kashmiri. Many of the young song writers are raising the issues plaguing young minds of the valley. There is an array of forms of songs being produced by youth, ranging from rap with modern instruments to traditional with local musical instruments.

MC Kash’s official Facebook page shows an x-ray report published in human rights report of a Kashmiri local’s skull which is dotted by pellet gun wounds. The posts resonate the demand for peace and freedom with hashtag #azaadi. Many other singers have followed a similar pattern of protests. Answering to call of the hour, these youngsters are paving way for new forms to reach Kashmir. The strong words accompanied by the pain, sorrow and anger of the people are slowly gaining popularity and attention.

Slowly falling into the radar of music lovers, these young songwriters are using semi-professional, home-made techniques to gather a wider range of music lovers for the videos. They use whatever is readily available instead of the high-tech machines and equipment used in modern recording studios. The video elements to support the music and message are the local scenes of rebellion and destruction left in the wake of conflict.

While the ways have extended a helping hand to get the attention for their word to the world, it has also started documenting the happenings in Kashmir in an immortal form, thus becoming a part of history.