Suffering in Silence

Why artists in Kashmir cry neglect
Suffering in Silence
Representational Pic

Greater Kashmir Senior Editor, Nazir Ganaie talks to experts in the field of music, drama and theatre and tries to find out why they feel neglected and what they think needs to be done to strike the right chords for the revival of Kashmir’s Sufiyana Mousiqi, folk and light music.

At a time when Sufiyana, folk and other light music artists face a tough time surviving at the hands of what they call “faulty policies,” experts and stakeholders today urged the government to come up with a comprehensive cultural policy—which would give a new impetus to the cultural landscape of Jammu and Kashmir.

Prominent artists and music composers argue that folk and light music artists have been facing tough times amid curbs in absence of a comprehensive cultural policy. However, they also argue that they said that quality folk music doesn’t need any promotional stunts as it would spread like a beautiful perfume.

 Why Culture Policy

They say that a policy should be drafted which will ensure the government’s involvement in matters relating to the arts and cultural heritage.

“Jammu and Kashmir has a rich Cultural Heritage which needs to be preserved, promoted & to be displayed for the world community,” playwright and president of the largest literary organization, Adbee Markaz Kamraz (AMK), Amin Bhat, told Greater Kashmir.

“The government must move ahead with some concrete roadmap in promoting and preserving the art and culture of Jammu and Kashmir,” he says, adding “A policy must be drafted which is aimed to project & utilize the culturally creative potential of the twin regions national & international level.”

Bhat says that the cultural policy would bring in major changes on the ground as it focuses on the principles of individual creativity, equality in cultural life, freedom of expression, promotion and preservation, financial support and cultural exchange.

The stakeholders argue that the major thrust areas under the Comprehensive Cultural Policy must be aimed at the preservation, dissemination, creation, research, training, education and empowerment and gender justice.

“We are hopeful that the LG government will soon come up with a comprehensive cultural policy. This will definitely set the records right, cultural institutions back into their pristine glory,” says former Programme Executive, Radio Kashmir and cultural activist, Nisar Naseem.

“The cultural policy will include grants, awards, employment job creation, culture facilities, services law & regulations, privileges, and responsibilities. It also includes the development of folklore, dance and music, drama and theatre, arts and craft, sculpture & architecture, fairs, festivals, concerts etc,” he says, adding “the cultural policy will also give impetus to the region’s literature and crafts.”

For years, a prominent actor, humorist and writer, Seth Rafi, enthralled audiences with extraordinary performances, today, he struggles with his speech after suffering a brain stroke. Like Rafi, many artists are struggling and meeting the same fate. They get more distressed after witnessing the fortune of Rafi and many others.

“We have failed to create a conducive environment for art to grow,” Haider, a Bollywood film fame actor, Bashir Ahmad Lone says.

“I have been doing theatre since 1975 and I have seen many ups and downs in this profession,” he says. “Although I worked in Bollywood the story of actors is depressing and every day we hear some heart-wrenching stories from our own actors,” he says.

Another veteran theatre actor and TV personality, Qazi Faiz says, while the government failed on many fronts to give voice to artists, a few semi-government organizations proved even more disastrous.

“We have failed at many fronts. We see deception from the official site and we witness a depressing development of our own artist fraternity,” he says.

“Despite a lot of pressure from the artist fraternity, governments have failed to come up with a comprehensive Cultural Policy in Jammu and Kashmir,” academic and prominent music composer, Prof Muzafar Ahmad Bhat told Greater Kashmir.

“Governments sometimes claim that there are many cultural organisations which are granted assistance for art promotion, however, it doesn’t reach out to the humble artiste who continues to live in penury,” he says.

Prof Bhat opined that producing quality music involves economics. He said that for any artist, music production is no longer a straightforward process. First is the creative process — experimenting with lyrics, melody, instruments and the like. “This is followed by countless hours of practice and perfecting the routine. Then comes the recording — artists tend to approach record labels or prospective investors to help them with studio space, equipment and production expertise and with all this if you aren’t paid what you deserve, there is certainly something wrong with the system,” he says, adding Kashmiri music reflects the varied distinct culture along with enriched and enchanting folk traditions of the antique times.

Kashmir’s folk music presents Kashmiri singing and traditional instruments such as the Rabab, Sarangi, Santoor, flute, tabla, Nut (mutkah) - a percussive clay pot renowned for its resonance. Pertinently, Chakri is a responsible song form with instrumental parts, and it is played with instruments like the harmonium, lute shaped stringed instruments like Rabab, Sarangi, Nout.

Noted singer and composer, Munir Ahmad Mir, opined that popular music genres dominate the market across India, but there is also a considerable audience for traditional genres too.

“We must appreciate the efforts and outputs of contemporary musicians, the country’s folk and classical music has continued to thrive into the 21st century,” he said.

“The greater addition would have been if the government came up with a comprehensive cultural policy and not limit art to tourism festivals only,” he said, adding “Our musical genres are very powerful. Be it Sufiyana Mousqi or folk (Chakri, Dastaan, Bhaand Pather, Nend Chakir, Dambali, Wanwun and folk dances also). There is no parallel to such powerful genres which have a legacy in Kashmir,” Mir says.

Recalling his initial entry to music, Mir said that he started learning music from his father, Shafi Muhammad Mir, a lone Bharatnatm dancer of Kashmir valley who later joined hobby classes in 1978.

“Hobby music classes were run by the Institute of Music and Fine Arts and it was here I was introduced to Sufiyana Mousiqi by Pandit Prithivinath Raina, who was a faculty at the Institute,” he recalled. “Such was the aura and environment that I later joined the music Institute as a full-time professional. Where are such classes? Where is that protocol? Policymakers should come forward and bring back the pristine glory of the lost legacy of the music scene of Kashmir valley.”

 When Kashmir’s Ghazal Gayaki was Born

According to experts, Mehmood Shehri, a prominent singer of yesteryears was the first artist to record Ghazal in Kashmiri. They said that his role in popularising Ghazal Gayaki can’t be ignored. “He attracted many youngsters and budding artists who joined the group and later recorded the songs.” “Till this time only Sufiyana Mousiqi and folk were dominant genres in Kashmir.”

“Some of the Ghazals that I recall are Ha Gulov (Ghazal) and Deke Doon Maw Phetrav (folk). These Ghazals were recorded in Lahore and we got an opportunity to listen to such Long Play Discs (LPD) and EP Vinyl Records.

Insiders say that Shehri’s famous Kashmiri Ghazals, recorded on the Long Play Discs (LPD) were recorded in Lahore in Pakistan before partition. Later the songs continued to air on Radio Kashmir. In 2014, the majority of musical archives in Radio Kashmir got washed away.

“Nothing was done to retrieve that musical treasure. These records and labels still continue to remain eating the dust,” insiders say.

Kashmir music replicates the wealthy melodic heritage and enlightening inheritance of the Himalayan region. Jammu and Kashmir’s traditional folk music abides on the ruins of the wealthy enriching heritage. The tradition and history of dance and music in Kashmir valley go back thousands of years. There are a few chief forms of the customary Kashmiri musical forms like Chakri, Ladishah, Hafiz Nagma and others forms.

Notably, due to Kashmir’s close proximity to Central Asia, Eastern Asia and Southern Asia, a unique blend of music has evolved encompassing the music of the three regions.

“Largely music in Kashmiri is closer to Central Asian music, using traditional Central Asian instruments and musical scales,” says Mir, asserting there is a considerable impact on the music in Jammu and Kashmir to that of North India and Ladakhi music is similar to the music of Tibet.

Prominent singer and art activist, Waheed Jeelani opined that Kashmiri music reflects the rich musical heritage and cultural legacy of Kashmir. “Traditionally the music composed by ethnic Kashmiris has a wide range of musical influences in composition,” he says.

Commentating on the popular folk music form, Chakri, Jeealni says that it is one of the most popular types of traditional music played in the Kashmir region. Despite having a rich music and cultural legacy, the popularity of Kashmiri music, especially folk form has been dwindling over the years.

Even though the revival of Kashmir’s traditional music looks diminishes there are certain musical artists who are leaving no stone unturned to preserve the lost glory.

He believes that folk music in Kashmir was facing a tough time in Kashmir and some of the art forms were even on the verge of extinction. However, all these artists opine that “quality soulful folk music will definitely spread like beautiful perfume.”

“There are approximately 250 bands in Srinagar, children nowadays learn from the internet but proper training among them is lagging behind since they are unaware of the technicalities associated with music,” Jeelani says. “we fail to understand why Kashmir’s traditional music and artists are being ignored by authorities. This is a worrying trend. We won’t allow it,” Jeaalni says.

 “What you see on Youtube coming afresh isn’t real. Our traditional folk and Sufiyana artists are suffering in silence,” he sobs. “Some of our young artists are doing a really amazing job by producing and reproducing some remarkable musical projects. However, there are some bands who are actually bringing disrepute.” Jeelani says, “You can’t let your art and culture go into the wrong hands. Kashmir can’t be turned into a hub for band culture.”

Jeealni says the contribution of families like Saznawaaz and Shiekh (Sufiyana families) can’t be ignored. However, at the same time, society and authorities need to honour them and give them their space where they survive and live in dignity.``

“Sufiyana Mousiqi can’t be forgotten. The role of these families can’t be avoided. Artists like Abdur Rashid Hafiz, Ghulam Hassan Sofi, Ghulam Ahmad Sofi, Gulzar Ganaie and others can’t be forgotten. If you just have a look everywhere in the official functions we are promoting band culture. Singing Ustad Nusrat Sahab is good. But that can’t be the replacement for our indigenous genres of music.”

Jeelani further asserted that there used to be special classes held by Cultural Academy for ‘Sufiyana’ in the 1980s during which scholarships were also offered to the desired aspirants.

“Kashmir conflict pushed music to the wall, earlier there used to be special classes for traditional music but the government should start this initiative again as this will also help in revival to a larger extent,” he says.

The artist fraternity and stakeholders are pinning high hopes on the Secretary, Department of Culture, Jammu and Kashmir Government, Dr Abid Rasheed Shah, who they say would reach out to them with a roadmap to rejuvenate the lost cultural landscape of the region and bring it back to its pristine glory.

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