Hope for Pahari music as contemporary artists rise

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On a cold winter evening in Karmara village of Poonch district, Mohammad Rafi was speaking about his journey as a Pahari–Gojri singer. A group of young men surrounded him as he said: “People of our generation understood the simplicity and essence of folk music, but the younger population is not really fond of our own music.”

To Rafi’s dismay, many young artists in the region have departed from their cherished roots and inclined towards more “Bollywood and Hindi/Urdu songs”.

For the longest time, the relevance of Pahari music has been confined to the region. The traditional pattern of the art has failed to appeal to the younger generation. “Young boys used to get inspired by our music and were excited to learn,” said Rafi. “This spirit can rarely be seen now.”

But with the continuous efforts of Rafi and other contemporary artists, the cracks of a revival are apparent. Many young artists are modifying the styles of their folk music, introducing contemporary formats in their composition, leading to an emergence of the new era Pahari Music.

Younger generation

Rafi’s motivation is rooted in his love for the artform and the skills involved that he wishes to pass onto the next generation artists like Waqar Khan.

Dubbed as Kashmir’s Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a Pakistani legend, Waqar Khan has established himself among the new crop of artists that are fusing the folk and contemporary to serve the audience. He has nearly 3 lakh subscribers on YouTube, where Khan has garnered millions of views.

“Our elders have contributed massively to the popularisation of Pahari Music with little resources they had,” Khan told The Kashmir Walla. “Now with the prevalence of social media, we have a plethora of options to distribute our music.” 

Paharis are scattered around the state in different regions. It has, however, impacted the language and indegenious culture that makes the integration of the identity harder than it is. “I believe the transitioning of Pahari folklore into a much more contemporary form has created a scope for this scattered community to consolidate,” added Khan. “Present day artists have been creating music that appeals to the younger generation as well.”

Among the newer artists is Zartasha Zainab,a 23 years old from Uri, Baramulla. With more than 17,000 views on her debut music video, Zainab has poised for bolstering the new era in Pahari Music. 

The Pahari music scene has been a male-dominated space. Even before this art was commercialised, the music domain had male artists and fewer women artists. “I want my music to inspire people from all communities and sections, especially female singers and artists,” she said, adding that her work has been well received. “I hope this will inspire young girls to pursue their creative dreams.”

Impact on language

Along with Pahari, Khan has also sung Urdu, Punjabi, and Kashmiri songs. I’m trying to increase my audience and be more inclusive with my music. “Fortunately the response to my Punjabi and Pahari music has been exciting across Jammu and Kashmir,” Khan said. He has released his music with local Kashmiri studios including MTech and Kalaam Studios, while his Pahari songs include renditions of written works of Mashkoor Shad, a poet from Karnah.

In history, folklore has reinforced the stability of local languages and a shift in the Pahari music scene today has emerged as a hope in strengthening the language too. 

In September 2020, Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill was passed that declared Kashmiri, Dogri, Urdu, Hindi, and English as the official languages of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. It did not include Pahari and Gojri, causing immense resentment amongst the communities. 

“If the government would have included Pahari in the language bill it would be of no loss to anyone,” said Parwez Maanous, a writer and translator of Urdu and Pahari language. “Instead, this step would have promoted our language and culture. Government needs to look into more inclusive methods for cultural welfare here.” 

“It is the youngest generation through which the culture survives, and it is the elder generation who is responsible to create possibilities for the same,” Maanous added. “Being the language of a minority community who are scattered around, government measures are important to promote its usage for its survival.” 

Similarly, new changes in music space have solidified the local language, besides creating a strong connection amongst the Paharis of Jammu and Kashmir. The spectrum of Pahari music is diverse and covers various cultural and social narratives, said Mannous. “The themes often revolve around love, separation, spirituality, and local rituals. There are various Naats [poetic renditions written/sung in the glory of Prophet Muhammad).” 

On other occasions, Pahari music is based on cultural themes often depicting traditions and stories of times that have passed, essentially propagating the history from one generation to another. “Younger generation should understand the importance of our culture and music to keep our identity and history consolidated,” said Khan.

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