In keeping with global trends, Kashmiris have taken to virtual concerts to not only keep their spirits high but to also come to the aid of the less privileged in the society. A musical concert called Qarar performed by Kashmiri artists, the second in the past two weeks, was held on Sunday evening, 7 June.
In the times of COVID-19, daily life is being increasingly repurposed around the internet. A whole new lifestyle tailored around physical distancing is emerging despite the hurdles of undoing the need for public social gatherings hardwired in human behavior.
However, for the Kashmir valley, this transition has meant overcoming more hurdles. Internet shutdowns are frequent and life has been slowed down to 2G, testing Kashmir’s resilience amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, despite the hurdles, all hope is not lost.
The pandemic had disconnected the artists from their audiences and the unlikelihood of cultural gatherings being held in the foreseeable future had made online concerts the only way to connect to audiences, said the concert’s organizer Waheed Jeelani, among Kashmir’s widely recognized artists. “Unless artists perform, they can’t sleep peacefully,” he said. “Unless they reach out with their creativity, their art will not hold any meaning.”
The concert is bringing together eight Kashmiri artists, some amateurs, to perform diverse genres of music—a mix of Bollywood and Punjabi hits, ghazals, and instrumental renditions on traditional Kashmiri instruments like the rabab, santoor, and nutt, and some Western sounds. The idea behind the initiative, Mr. Jeelani said, was to connect with a larger audience.
Kashmir has a rich tradition of music, from the Sufi music rooted in the devotion of mystics and nurtured by various civilizational influences to the contemporary that blends tradition with the zeitgeist. “In the circumstances that Kashmir has been surviving for the past several years, music is the one thing that everyone connects within their own respective ways,” said Mr. Jeelani.
Among those performing live on Sunday evening is Dr. Shaista Ahmad, a professor of Kashmiri and a singer by passion. Music transcends the barriers of language, time, and age, she said, and in a world grappling with the pandemic, the concert aimed at giving people “some respite”. “Even if a foreign audience does not understand the language, they still connect with the music because music has no language,” she said. “No one can stop an artist.”
The list of performers include one artist who will be participating from Canada, Archana Jalali* and popular vocalist Rashid Jahangir to be performing from the Chenab valley while the concert will be hosted by Radio Mirchi’s popular Srinagar based presenter, Mirchi Vijdan.
Mr. Vijdan, whose real name is Vijdan Saleem, reiterated that “singers ki jaan unki audience me hoti hai (audiences are the life of a singer), live concerts give them that opportunity to connect with the audience [during the lockdown]”.
As the fate of social gatherings in the post lockdown world remains uncertain, virtual concerts in line with the global trend could potentially facilitate a new order of business. Mr. Vijdan believes such events were a “good and sustainable option for media organizations, artist and artist conglomerates to survive.”
It was in a way, said Mr. Vijdan, “creating an oral history of what happened during the pandemic.”
However, to be able to perform in the online concert, Mr. Jeelani specifically installed a high speed fixed line connection – the only option for fast internet in Kashmir but limited in its availability to the consumers – at his home. Most others in Kashmir, he worried, would not be able to experience the concert hassle-free. “It is strange that Kashmir doesn’t have 4G internet in these modern times.”
High-speed internet has been blocked since last August – when Jammu and Kashmir’s limited autonomy was unilaterally abrogated by the Government of India – making it all the more difficult to keep up as a new lifestyle, more dependent on the internet than ever, ushers in.
As the lockdown precipitated by the pandemic hit livelihoods, Kashmir based non-profit Chinar International along with a local e-commerce platform, Kashmir Box, roped in popular artists to raise donations to prove meals to the lesser privileged. The organizers termed it a “celebration of Kashmiri resolve”, a first of its kind global YouTube concert and fundraiser ahead of the Muslim festival of Eid.
The performers comprised of Kashmir’s young, some upcoming, artists: bands Zero Bridge and Alif, Ali Saffudin, Yawar Abdal, Sufiyan Malik, Irfaan Bukhari, and Mona Sahaf, a Kashmiri-American lawyer performing, from the United States, her latest song composed in the first month of lockdown.
Mr. Malik is a 20-year-old engineering student who switched to the traditional rabab from a guitar three years ago; his fusion of rabab with western instruments clicked with the audience remarkably, “that motivated the youth a lot in Kashmir” he said. Subsequently, many youngsters picked up rabab. “It is up to us youngsters to take a step because it is a dying culture,” said Sufiyaan.
For 37-year-old poet and singer, Mohammad Muneem of Alif, “art can change how people think. It can change perceptions”. His participation in the event, he said, was a step towards “bringing positivity, a little more empathy for each other, and little more strength” as the artists come together with a “collective emotion”.