Manzoor Ahmad Shah, a known Kashmiri folk singer, would dissuade his son, Adil Manzoor Shah, 23, from following in his footsteps and taking up music as a career. For him, it did not make much sense as the opportunities in the field were restricted to weddings and appearances on the state-owned TV and Radio stations. But Adil Manzoor Shah did not give up and convinced his father to teach him music. His persistence has paid off and he is now among more recognisable musicians in Kashmir thanks largely to video-sharing site YouTube and social media.
Adil Manzoor Shah is not alone. Many like him have excelled thanks to new avenues to showcase their talent and by giving a modern touch to the folk music like Chakker for which instruments like harmonium, rabab, sarangi, and nout (earthern pot) have traditionally been used.
“We are bringing newness to Chakker by using guitar, keyboard, and dholak. …YouTube is giving it more prominence,” he said. “Folk [music] should not die. With some subtle changes, the younger generation is happily accepting it.”
Adil Manzoor Shah, who began singing when he was 14, has his YouTube channel, which is helping new and talented singers to reach a wider audience and the Kashmiri diaspora. His channel has over 100,000 subscribers. A duet he sang has over 3.1 million views so far.
Another singer Tariq Ahmad Bhat, who used to be a dancer and then learnt harmonium, said people looking for singers to perform at weddings would often ask about his previous work. “[Then] I started recording my work. YouTube has [since] given me a lot of fame,” he said.
Shazia Bashir, 32, who has been in the music industry since winning a talent show on Doordarshan over a decade back, said not everybody would get the platform to showcase her talent earlier. “Before social media, talented people would find it difficult to get a break. ‘How to start’ used to be a big question back then. Now social media provides you the ultimate platform. Nowadays, newcomers and budding talent are in good shape due to social media.”
Prominent singer and composer Waheed Jeelani advised the younger singers to first learn the basics instead of getting carried away by instant fame. “The youths understand that our identity is Kashmiri music. Though they also experiment with western instruments and do innovations like introducing the guitar to revive old songs sung by Kashmiri stalwarts. They present them in a fresh way and get a lot of fame. What is important is that, in this way, many youngsters are coming towards Kashmiri music particularly the folk.”
Jeelani said social media gives information but it cannot be one’s teacher.