“Incorporate the good from other cultures and hold on to your roots. Change is inevitable but change for good. Become a blend of past and present so people will love and respect you for who you were and what you have become.”
Last weekend was quite a fun ride for Kashmiris of Los Angeles. For the first time, we had a Kashmiri music concert here held on April 26th. Three singers from Kashmir—Bilal Ahmad, Irfan Nabi and Mehmeet Syed—burnt the stage down with their talent and brought Kashmir to USA by their performance and presence. They were joined here by two extremely talented artists, Habib Wardak , an Afghan-American and George Lawler, an American from Chicago.
All of us were pretty excited about the event, but no one knew that it would be such an amazing experience. It was something I will remember and cherish for all times to come. I have been to many concerts and have watched world famous artists perform, but never have I seen the crowd so emotionally charged. They gave a mind blowing performance, which created a storm of emotions among the audience—some cried, some cheered while others joined them in their musical extravaganza with our traditional dance, Rouf. Four hours flew by like four minutes; the beat of their instruments and their melodious voices left everyone speechless. Most of the audience said that their magic took them back in time, which they cherish in their heart. Kashmir was everywhere in that room. They made us relive our childhood, reminded us of those little things that we all left behind in our beloved Kashmir many, many years ago. We thank them for that.
I can’t get over the song, “Yaar shube mubarak”. It keeps resonating in my mind. I even recorded it on my phone and keep hearing it over and over again. I feel these artists left too soon, as if we were not done. Our hearts wanted more and wanted the time to stop. To create such an extraordinary aura is not easy and can be done by only people who are truly gifted.
Irfan and Bilal sing traditional Kashmiri songs in a modern style, which is very appealing to the young crowd. Bilal plays harmonium, flute and tumbakh. Irfan plays guitar, and rhabab. Mahmeet is a popular vocalist from Kashmir and has performed in many music videos. Habib is a rhababist who mesmerized the audience with his talent. Habib travelled all the way to Kashmir to revive rhabab there. George Lawler is a well-known percussionist in USA and played tumbakk, providing a jaw-dropping performance. It was a perfect fusion of East and West.
All this was made possible by a wonderful women named Asmat Ashai. Many years back she realized that Kashmiri music, art and language were dying. She has dedicated herself to preserving and promoting the folk art, music, and language of the Valley of Kashmir. She runs an organization called Funkar International. I can’t thank her enough for making it possible for me to be a part of such a heartwarming experience and I along with many other Kashmiri Americans will cherish it for all times to come.
I cannot wait for these wonderful, talented young artist to come here again and recreate this magical experience for us. These artists are truly amazing and loaded with talent. My article doesn’t do justice to them; their talent is beyond words and comes at a time we need it the most. I wish them luck and I know they will spread joy and cheer wherever they go. I am sure they will inspire many youngsters in Kashmir.
We need more people like them and Asmat Ashai. Our culture is a very unique one and it is our responsibility to preserve it for our future generations. Internet and social media has made this world a small place. It has benefited us in million ways, but our culture is getting diluted. Kashmiri language is slowly seeing its last days. When I was young, my father once told me, “Incorporate the good from other cultures and hold on to your roots. Change is inevitable but change for good. Become a blend of past and present so people will love and respect you for who you were and what you have become.”
What makes Kashmir different–its people, culture, language, music, food (Wazwan), things (like Kanger, Pheran, etc.) and so on. There are many more things that are exclusive to Kashmir. It is these little things that combine together to make us who we are. They slowly shape and define us.
Our job is to make sure that our children feel proud of their roots and incorporate those in them. I truly believe artists like Mahmeet, Bilal, Irfan and Habib will regenerate interest and inspire Kashmiri youth towards Kashmiri culture, art and language. I saw it last weekend when second generation Kashmiri kids in USA gave a standing ovation to these brilliant artists. They loved it and want them back as much as I do.