Our own folk singer

Ali Mohammad Sheikh is recognised as one of the great voices in musical history of Kashmir
Our own folk singer
GK Photo

Kashmir valley has produced a galaxy of renowned sufiyana, classical, and folk singers; Abdul Rashid Hafiz, Late Mohamad Abdullah Tibet Baqal, Late Ghulam Mohammad Saznawaz, Late Ghulam Ahmad Sofi, Late Ghulam Hassan Sofi, to name a few. Among them Late Ali Mohammad Shiekh had his own stature.

Ali Mohammad Sheikh was one of the key artists, and certainly one of the most influential folk singers of Kashmir. His voice is universally recognised as one of the great voices in musical history of Kashmir. Sheikh's popularity rested on the sheer magic of his voice, taking the listeners on a roller coaster of emotions. He was a household name of his time, not without a reason. His gifted voice could elevate the soul from worldly affairs taking it to sonme mystic zone.

A M Sheikh was born on January 3rd, 1934 at Hajin, Sonawari. Hajjin village is famous for producing greats of Kashmiri poetry, language and music. Mention may be made of Wahab Paray, Asad Paray, Mohuddin Hajini and Dr. Aziz Hajani. Ali Mohammad Sheikh belonged to a very poor family. His father's name was Ab Rashid Sheikh. He was admitted to a primary school by his father but due to extreme poverty he could not continue his studies. He got class IV job in J&K health department. He loved Kashmiri music from his childhood and used to attend sufi "mehfil e sama", and other local music shows. Day by day his interest in music increased. One day he met the famous singer of his vicinity, namely Gh. Mohammad Shiekh, who included him in his group. Later on he learned the fibre of Kashmiri music from two teachers namely Gul Dar and Sonaullah Sheikh. Sarangi was his favourite musical instrument. Onwards he became the Sarangi master. It is important to point here that Ali Mohammad Sheikh started his musical journey from the blessed "darbar" of the iconic sufi saint of Yaroo Langate - Hazrat Ama Saheb (RA). He was a prominent singer of the blessed "darbar" of Hazrat Ama Saheb Yaroo RA. One day a very big businessman from Calcutta, now Kolkata, came to Srinagar and stayed with Abdul Majeed Lone Wadipora, the then SP, J&K police. He was accompanied by a seven year old dumb son. This businessman expressed his predicament to Majeed Sahib. Majeed Sahib suggested to take him to Ali Mohammad Sheikh´s party, and go to Ama Sahib's “darbaar” . The merchant did the same. And Ali Mohammad Sheikh started singing in Ama Sahib's blessed darbaar. Ama Sahib was listening to the song. Ali Mohammad Sheikh sang:

Na Roozi habab na rooz shabab

Ama Sahib immediately stood up, grabbed the boy by collar and said, "Tell me who will live forever ." The dumb boy replied, "Allah, the most merciful, the most compassionate,” - and then the dumb boy began to speak.

It is believed that his gifted voice could elevate the soul to some mystic zone. He was really a gifted singer. Allah Almighty had bestowed him a magical voice. In 1956 he got appointed in Radio Kashmir, Srinagar, as casual artist. Soon he achieved popularity and became a household name in Kashmir. The Shiek's death on 19th of July 2006 dealt a big blow to Kashmiri music and left his fans grieving for years.

He was a torch bearer who spread Kashmiri culture and heritage through out the world with his musical talent. Ali Mohammad Sheikh believed that singers could not be ‘made’ and that divine blessings alone had carved his destiny. He had his own group of musicians and did regular riyaz creating new melodies and rhythms. He would mostly sing Sufi poets like Ahad Zargar, Sochhi Kraal, Samad Mir, Wahab Khaar and Shams Faqeer.

Ali Mohammad Sheikh represented Kashmir at National and International music festivals.

He was a master of Chhakri style of kKashmiri folk singing. A Sangeet Natak Academy awardee, he travelled to many places in India and abroad (Tajikistan, USA, Japan and some Latin American countries). Thus popularizing Chhakri style of Kashmiri singing. He mesmerized the audience by his singing in Festival Of Asian Arts at Hong Kong held in 1988. About this Festival, Music composer Dalip Langoo adds: “Ali M Sheikh not only performed there as a folk singer from Kashmir but he also performed in a small dance drama sequence created by noted composer Krishan Langoo ji.” He acted as Moulvi Sahib before a huge gathering at one of the prestigious shows held in Hong Kong. Sheikh also sang for Radio and Television creating two generations of admirers.

As person, he was simple and focused. Flaunting a serious appearance, Sheikh generally wore elegant white or off white Shalwar Kameez, waist coat and central Asian Karakulli cap .

Ali Mohammad Sheikh sang every song with perfection. Perfection in selecting the Kalaam ( poetry) , perfection in handling the words, and perfection in delivery. He was a master player of Harmonium and Sarangi and was the greatest exponent of Chhakri Style of Kashmiri Folk singing.

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