Haroon Reshi

Young Kashmiri stars shine in the sky of music

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The Valley has seen a surge in a new breed of young singers and musicians, who are successfully mixing folk music and poetry with modern melody (fusion)

Poetry and music has always been soul of Kashmir. This place has a centuries-old heritage and cultural legacy of both these aesthetic genres. Poetry and music are co-related, one can’t see either of the two in isolation.

In fact Kashmir – Kasheer, in itself is poetic. Kashmir – Jannat-e-Benazir, is poetic. Kashmir – Iran-e-Sageer, is poetic. In short, Kashmir is poetry. There is poetry in the snow peaked mountains; there is poetry in lush green meadows; there is poetry in magnificent lakes; there is poetry in gushing rivers and dancing streams and — when there is poetry, there is music.

People in this region; have always been having a unique way to resonate their feelings through tuneful lyrics and sounds. Things like Ladishah, Sufiana Kalam, Chakri, Gyawun, Wanvun, and Ruff have been a part and parcel of Kashmir culture.

However, in recent times, the Valley has seen a surge in a new breed of young singers and musicians, who are successfully mixing folk music and poetry with modern melody (fusion). During the past few years, several young artists, familiar with new-age music and modern singing instruments and a know-how of the tradition, came to lime light. Many of these youngsters have been recreating folk songs with new methods and techniques. A number of musical bands have come up in recent years, holding singing shows here and outside.

Kashmir Images spoke to some of these budding artists, to understand the changing scenario of music and lyrics in the Valley.

Read on:

Waqar Khan

In north Kashmir’s Karnah, a town near the Line of Control lives Waqar Khan, a young songster, who has been gaining popularity across the LoC and other geographical boundaries of the region, for quite some time.

The 25-year-old Khan sings in Urdu, Punjabi, Pahadi, and Kashmiri languages. He has, undoubtedly, proven himself as an exceptional talent. His Pahari songs are equally popular in both parts of the divided Kashmir, while his fascinating voice and command over the notes and expressions of Urdu Gazals have made him famous in and outside Kashmir.

Waqar Khan is also known as ‘Kashmir’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’ for resurrecting some famous songs such as ‘Kali Kali Zulfon …’ of the legendary Pakistani singer. However, his popularity in his tribe is mostly because of his talent for intermingling Pahari folks with modern compositions, something which has never been done by anyone before him.

One of his Pahari songs ‘Tussi Nikka Nikka Hasde ho’ is famed here as well as in Pakistani Administered Kashmir, where a good number of Waqar’s relatives dwell.

Besides winning several singing competitions across the country, Waqar Khan, along with other five singers, has also represented India in “Ethno India”, an international workshop on music in 2015.

“Participating in such a great musical event was one of the wonderful moments in my professional career, so far,” he told Kashmir Images.

Waqar recently received a text message from Lakhwinder Wadali, a great Punjabi musician, praising his talent. The famed Sufi singer had seen him on a social media platform, singing a qawwali, originally sung by the great Wadali Brothers.

“It gave me immense pleasure to see a great singer like Lakhwinder Wadali praising my voice. Such feedback from a veteran gives me enormous energy and confidence,” he said.

Pertinently, some of Waqar’s videos have got millions of views and likes on YouTube. His breathtaking singing talent was noticed by everyone around him, even when he was in his school, but he started pursuing singing as his career only after he earned his bachelor’s degree with a gold medal from Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University (BGSBU) Rajouri in 2016 and then did his post-graduation in Political Science.

“After completing my education I worked in the education department for about two years and then quit to pursue my music and singing career,” he told Kashmir Images.

Presently, he is taking part in singing events and contests across the country. In recent times, he performed and won the competitions such as ‘Choona Hai Aasmaan, ‘Kashmir Idol’ and ‘Anmol Rattan.’ He has also won the north zone inter-university competition. He has been lucky enough to get a chance of performing with many great Bollywood singers such as Anu Malik, Sadana Sargam, and Hans Raj Hans.

However, Waqar is most inclined to Sufi music and folk singing. He says, “Sufi and folk singing was my favorite since my childhood and I believe that massage beneath these songs is much deeper and beneficial to the overall humanity.” He adds, “Sufi and folk music gives peace and harmony to my mind and soul and I love it the most.”

Muhammad Yawar Bhat

Muhammad Yawar Bhat (21), was in school in 2010 when Roushan Illahi aka MC Kash, a young student gained fame as a first-ever rapper from Kashmir. Ten years down the line, Yawar is following the same path, with the hope of gaining name and fame in this otherwise unusual profession.

Yawar got noticed in the field during the past few years. However, he had to face many odds including resentment from his parents in the beginning. But, braving all odds, he has succeeded in grabbing the public eye during his participation in several events in Kashmir and outside, including a live show in Mumbai in 2014.

The budding rapper from Kashmir is gradually gaining acceptance in the field of music. He released his first rap songs named “Stardom” and “18 Saal” in 2017, which got thousands of hits on YouTube.

“I have performed in several events in Kashmir and outside and I do not perform without getting reimbursement for my work, because I peruse music as my professional career. Initially, my family did not support my passion but with the passage of time, my mom started supporting me. She has faith in my skills. I share my heart with her and tell her everything about my profession. However, my dad thinks that I should pay heed to education more than what I am doing,” Yawar told Kashmir Images.

The budding rapper added, “Rap music is all about rhyme and rhythm. It took me a long time to motivate people around to listen to this modern music. I do prepare content for the songs myself and I always try creating serious stuff rather than funny content. I have also learned audio engineering and mix mastering so that I am not dependent on someone else for the production of my work.”

Yawar is all smiles these days, as he is going to participate in India’s talent, season 2, next month. The reality show will be telecast from ZEE ETC.

Nargis Khatoon

Nargis Khatoon is a well-known name among the new breed of young Kashmiri musicians who have come to the light lately.

This 21-year-old, Khatoon has been singing and writing poetry for many years, but 2020, when the pandemic impacted normal life everywhere, proved wonderful for this budding singer. She got several confidence boosters during the Covid lockdown, in terms of praises to her talent, by some top Indian and Pakistani celebrities.

A renowned Pakistani artist Ali Sethi mentioned Nargis’s song on his Instagram story on July 5, with some kind words, drawing the attention of the people to the female singer from Kashmir. A few days later, on July 14, another Pakistani singer Ali Zafar retweeted Nargis’s song with some praising words. “A friend just shared this. What a beautiful voice. Keep it coming @nargiskhatoon_ #nargisings,” Ali Zafar wrote on his Twitter handle while posting her performing video. On the same day, Bollywood celebrity Sushmita Sen shared the same video with her lovely comments for Nargis.

“All these tweets boosted my confidence to the higher levels. I was delighted to see such great people talking about my skills. For me, it was a kind of recognition to my work because I know that people do not listen to you unless they find something good in your voice and content,” Nargis Khatoon told Kashmir Images.

She added, “After getting appreciative comments from these celebrities, things regarding my profession started changing for good. More people across many countries including Pakistan and UAE began watching my performance on social media.”

Nargis, originally from the Alamgari Bazaar in Srinagar, pursuing her bachelor’s degree in business management, wants to become a playback singer in Bollywood. She used to sing and perform on smaller platforms much earlier but the journey was not so easy.

“Many people would tell me that my voice was not good. Some said that I had a husky and scratchy voice. However, I did not give up. I continued pursuing writing and singing,” said.

“I have spent most of my childhood listening and watching great singers singing on radio and TV. Now, it gives me the utmost happiness to see people watching me performing,” said Nargis.

Interestingly, this guitar-playing singer has the greatest degree of love for Kashmiri songs. She says that whenever she performs in events outside Kashmir, she ensures that her performance begins with a Kashmiri song.

“Singing and poetry are not new things to Kashmir. This part of the land has always been a hub for artists. However, I sing our traditional poetry with twists like using modern instruments, and people like it. Wherever I go to perform, people are always impatient to listen to Kashmiri songs from me.”

During the pandemic lockdown, Nargis continued sharing her music content through social media platforms, and with each passing day, her fan following started expanding. Today, she is one of the popular names in Kashmir.

“I am overwhelmed with the support of the people. I am continuously improving my skills and learning things related to music. I want to grow so that I will be able to release independent music. That is my dream,” Khatoon Said.

Aisaar Ashiq

Twenty-two years old Aisaar Ashiq, a singer-composer from the Lal Bazar area of Srinagar, is frequently seen performing at musical events in Kashmir. He has also performed in cities such as Chandigarh and Jammu recently. In one of his best performances at Srinagar’s Indoor Stadium, in October 2018, Aisaar got a surprising moment of his life, when IPS officer Basant Kumar Rath, who was IG traffic in Kashmir at that time, stepped forward to hug the budding singer, while he was performing on the stage. Rath praised him for his singing talent in front of a large gathering. Aisaar sings in Urdu, Hindi, and Punjabi languages. Earlier he used to sing in his college functions.  “I have been writing poetry for a long time and singing for a few years. I decided to pursue singing as my career in 2014. First of all, I bought musical instruments, including a Harmonium and Guitar. Since then I am giving most of my time to composing and singing,” Aisaar, who has completed his Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) recently, told Kashmir Images.

Ishfaq Kawa

Ishfaq Kawa (25), son of a farmer in north Kashmir’s Badnipora, is a well-known name in the realm of music and singing in Kashmir. He is the man who successfully recreated several Hindi language songs in Kashmiri and got a widespread appreciation for his innovative work. Kawa is one of the few budding Kashmiri singers who recreated several renowned folk songs using new-age methods and modern instruments.

“I am overwhelmed by the love and affection that music lovers outside and back home bestowed me with. I intend to introduce Kashmiri folk songs to young people and that is what I am doing,” Kawa, who along with his music band ‘Rooh’ has been performing on stages and in events in cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Chandigarh for the past four years, told Kashmir Images.

Kawa was inclined to music and singing from his childhood. He was adored by his friends and people around him for his beautiful voice, but he had never thought of giving wings to his skill until 2015 when he got a standing ovation by a large ordinance in a famous restaurant at Hyderabad, where Kawa worked as a waiter.

He says, “One evening, I requested my manager for his permission to let me sing in front of the guests at my workplace. He hesitantly allowed me to sing. That was the day when I realized that I must pursue my singing career rather than working as a waiter.”

At the restaurant, Kawa got such a cheerful response to his fascinating voice that he decided to pack his bags for pursuing his passion. “It was the moment of realization for me, that my voice could impress the listeners. At the very moment, I decided to return home to pursue my singing passion.”

In Kashmir, Kawa released his first music album in 2017, which got a tremendous response from the people. “Normally, our youngsters in Kashmir would listen to either Hindi or Punjabi songs. However, since the young singers here started using modern music with folk songs, people are listing Kashmiri songs with great love and affection,” Kawa, who has recreated famous Hindi songs such as ‘channa mereya’ into the Kashmiri language, said.

At this point, Kawa has as many as 12 songs in his bag. Each of them has got millions of views on social media platforms. He is getting feedback on his work worldwide. Some of his famous song titles are; Nund Boun, Bala Yara hoo, Asaw Gindaw, Zaroori, etc.

He has recreated the famous folk songs such as ‘Afsoos Duniya… and Zarum Na Dourer… etc, with modern singing fashion and new techniques.

“In the changing trends, we too need to adopt changes to be relevant in the field of music. There is no fun in singing if it does not speed up the heartbeat of the listeners. We always need to update and improve,” said Kawa.

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