We have all heard the famous saying, “Where words fail, music speaks” and it has proven right in Batsuma Rafiabad area of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, where music has connected three generations of people and has produced a number of professional artists from the rich soil.
Situated around 70 kilometers from Srinagar, Batsuma village is known as Kashmir’s music village where more than 80 percent of the population is associated directly or indirectly with the music.
As per the locals, during the Hindu rule in Kashmir, the famous ruler used to invite artisans from the Batsuma, who would entertain his whole council (Darbar). In return, villagers were getting some relaxation in taxes, which they used to pay towards the autocratic ruler.
The villagers are still keeping the rich tradition of folk muic alive as the fourth generation is also inclined towards music and hasve earned good fame among the local population.
Ghulam Nabi Shah, popularly known as Bulbul, a veteran singer and noted music composer told Rising Kashmir that 75-80 percent of the villagers are associated with the music.
Bulbul retired as a music instructor from the Department of Information and Public Relations (DIPR) in 2007 and continues to inspire artisans from the Valley.
“Everyone here knows, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa of the music. At every home, there are musical instruments and there are six to seven professional musical bands in the village. Music has no boundaries and it is loved by friends as well as enemies,” he said.
Recalling his days, Bulbul says during his school days in 1960s, he was actively participating in cultural programs at Government High School, Dangiwacha.
“Our school Principal Fazil Kashmiri Sahab asked me to be ready with performance, as Education Minister Sham Lal Saraf was invited to the school. I performed along with my team with full dedication and was awarded 1100 rupees by Minister, that was later donated for high school,” he said.
Bulbul said it was a turning point in his life as people love his performance. “Wherever I go anywhere, people used to follow me. Even the education minister directed the School authorities not to charge Bulbul for uniforms, books till completion of studies,” he said.
“I have heard from my elders that during the Hindu rule in Valley. The ruler used to invite singers, musicians from the village in Raaz Woch (Now Rowchah) to entertain his council (Raaz Darbar) and it passed to several generations,” he said.
Bulbul said he started as a folk singer and was performing dance also. That is popularly known as ‘Bachkot’ in Kashmir. He also represented Jammu and Kashmir, several times across India. During the past three decades, he has become an ambassador for his village.
About prefix Bulbul, he said in Chogal area of Handwara, he had performed in front of that time Prime Minister Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad. After I finished, Bakshi was inspired and gave me the prefix of Hamli Bulbul, which means Songbird of Hamal (Old name of Rafiabad).
In the year 2018, Bulbul setup his BulBul Academy of Performing Arts (BAPA). Around 30 youth are learning the music under the supervision of the Bulbul family. They have also performed at local and national levels.
About the patience of music, Bulbul said once he was performing in the studio of Doordarshan Srinagar and during the program, fill light hit his leg and left him seriously injured. “My producer asked to stop, but I did not and continued. That injury mark is still there on my leg,” he said.
Lastly, I had a dream that government should construct an auditorium in our village so that our youth can take this musical legacy to the next generations. If it will be done, it can be the biggest contribution to the village, Bulbul said.
He said although many politicians and bureaucrats assured that the auditorium will be constructed but things remained unchanged on the ground.
Bulbul has also received many national awards including Sopori Academy of Music And Performing Arts (SAMAPA) Award 2011, Gold Medal from the Chief Minister in the year 2012.
Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Shah, 53, who is a popular Rabab player in the Village, says he is associated with music from his childhood. He is also an approved artist in both Radio Kashmir and Doordarshan.
“My father was also associated with music. I want to carry this legacy to the next generation. He is also associated with Bulbul’s group and has performed across India and in foreign countries including France,” he said.
Shah says that his three sons are also inclined towards music. They are performing with noted folk singers including Gulzar Ahmad Ganai. My whole family is associated with music and there is no other source of income, he said.
“Over the past several decades, Shah says they have not mixed western with traditional instruments. We are only using our own traditional instruments so that its legacy will remain to continue pure and clear,” he said.
Batsuma village is heaven for us and we are proud of it. It is full of talent and one can find singers everywhere. The people used to talk about recent trends in Kashmiri music on shop fronts and young boys are also interested in keeping the village legacy alive.
Sarvar Bulbul, 50 who is the son of Bulbul Shah says he is also following the footsteps of the family. Music is a gift from Almighty Allah to us and it is in our blood. He is looking at the father’s academy BAPA on a voluntary basis.
“Our students have reached national and international levels. They have bagged some awards for the village. Even my children have also interest in the music,” he said.
Sarvar said he has also performed at local and national levels. Recalling his memories, he said in the year 2006, he performed in front of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he was Chief Minister of Gujrat.
“Out of total 18 groups performed in the event, our group bagged the first position. We were appreciated by the organizers. When there is love for music, even everything can be sacrificed,’ he said.
About a number of active music groups in the village, Sarvar said there are 7-8 recognized groups active in the village, which has their fan following across the Valley.
The village veterans including noted singers Manzoor Ahmad Shah, Asad-ul-Ullah Shah (Rabab Player), Mohammad Shuban Shah (Pamposh), Khurshid Ahmad Shah (Dilbar), Abdul Rashid Shah (International rhythm player) and Mushtaq Ahmad Shah (Matka player).
Among the new ones, Mohammad Ashraf, (Rabab Player), Ishrat Hussain Shah, Mohmmad Sadiq Shah, Shahid, and Umar Shafi are active in music line.
“They are most popular across Kashmir. They have good face value following the social media presence,” Sarvar said adding that there are less commercial interests than promoting culture.
About his message for young artists of Kashmir, Sarvar urged the youth to work hard to achieve their feat. They should learn music professionally. There are hurdles everywhere but it is patience and struggle that determines life of an artist, he said.
“Over the past several years, the music industry in the village has been hit by the pandemic, but we believe it will revive again. We will not lose our hope. We will continue to strive and move forward,” the veteran singer said.
In the year 1988, I passed the radio audition in Srinagar as a light music artist and Naat Khaan. “Even I remember the first Sehri program, which was produced by Syed Muzaffar Kashiyani where I recited the Naat Shareef of Gamgeen Sahab “Gamzadan Dil Filin, Khuda Bozin’. It become popular and was loved by people,” he said.
Among the new folk singers, Umar Shabir, who is a class 12th student says he is very fond of music. In the year 2018, he represented the valley at Kala Uthsav in Jammu and bagged the second position in the mega event.
“My whole family is associated with music. It seems music is in every villager’s blood. I am currently learning music at the BAPA academy in the Village. Before the lockdown, we usually spent 2-3 hours learning the music and we have also performed in Chandigarh in 2018,” he said.
Umar said there are always family pressures but one has to manage all to achieve the dream.
“There should be an auditorium in the village so that we can practice it fully. Government should designate the village as the music village of Kashmir,” he said.
“We will continue to narrate the untold stories of the Kashmir by the music, which has no boundaries at all,” Umar added.