Soulful voice that has ruled the hearts of Kashmir for three decades

Kashmir is one of the culturally richest places which has produced many folk singers who have ruled the hearts of people for decades.

Manzoor Ahmad Shah is one of those folk singers who has been mesmerizing people with his soothing voice for three decades and has taken the lead in reviving folk music in the valley.

His song ‘Pooshe Mateo Ninder Payem Cheni Gazal Gawan Gawan’ is among the most famous songs among the people. It has gained popularity on radio and television and continues to be played and enjoyed by young people on new media platforms.

Hailing from Srinagar, the 44-year-old veteran artist has sung around 14-15,000 album songs on different platforms and gained popularity among youngsters.

Shah was born and raised in Khaitangan village of Baramulla district. His father worked in the education department and wanted to see him as a civilian officer but Shah was more inclined to listen to music.

“My mother’s house was in Dangiwacha Baramulla, where I spent my childhood. In the village, many families were associated with music and singing. Every day after school I would attend their Mehfils,” Shah said.

He says he remembers his first teacher Ali Mohammad Bhat who helped him a lot to understand and learn music.

Shah thinks the music has added a charm to his life which would have been monotonous and boring without it. It connects hearts, opens the horizons of the mind and brings immense pleasure, he said.

“It acts as a bridge between cultural heritage and different horizons. It erases the line that defines all boundaries and allows a group of distinct people to feel the same at the same time,” he said.

In Rafiabad, Shah’s talent was spotted by Rafiq Masoodi, who at the time was working with Radio Kashmir. They had to do a musical concert in Rafiabad and for that, they were organizing auditions. “I passed easily and was selected for Yuva-Vani,” he said.

Shah is among the recognized singers of All India Radio Srinagar, Doordarshan Kendra Kashmir and is also affiliated with Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages. He has hosted many cultural programs and shows at the Department of Information and Public Relations.

“The radio and the Doordarshan played a vital role in shaping my personality. When I started working with Radio and Doordarshan, that turned out to be the turning point in my life. People loved my performance. Everywhere I went, people followed me,” he said.

The veteran artist says to make folk music popular in Kashmir he stays connected with the youth. He often takes suggestions from them and always gets a good response.

He said, “Kashmir music is in my blood and I have been associated with the music since I opened my eyes. Music has always been present in me. Kashmiris have immense talent and lack a platform to showcase it.

He is connected with his wide fans across the world. Every day he receives praise and suggestions from people around the world via social media, he said.

Shah believes that music brings love into the air and makes people more connected and creates memories that will last a lifetime. “A lot of people ask about my voice because it hasn’t changed in the past three decades and my answer is always that it’s a gift from God,” he said.

He has also been conferred with Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Purskar in 2017-2018 and Gulshan Cultural Forum Kashmir Award in 2022 for his outstanding contribution to Kashmiri folk music.

Shah said the main responsibility of the government is to formulate an appropriate cultural policy for the promotion and propagation of folk music in the valley.

“Training in folk music should be provided in all schools and colleges in Kashmir. It should be part of the curriculum of educational institutions,” he said.

Shah believes there should be financial aid and maintenance grants for artists so that they earn a living and can give their full attention to the art form.

He said many talented artists are sitting at home as there is no oversight that is hired for events and festivals.

Over the past few decades, Shah says they haven’t mixed western with traditional instruments. “We only use our own traditional instruments so that his legacy remains pure and clear,” he said.

Some of Shah’s popular songs include, Posh Mati Dilber Ma Trawet Kot Gasak, Chi Pakun Mainan Watan Wan Kya Karak, Pout Nazar, Post Matiyo Neender Mein Gazal Gawan Gawan, Yeli Che Mohbat Myuon Saniye Ad Che Baniye Myuon Hiu, Che Ha Yaar Shubi Mubarak, Teri Mehfil Mai, etc

“I also launched my digital platforms, including YouTube and Facebook, where I have a good number of subscribers and followers. My fans love my voice and I hope they continue to love the same,” he said.

On his message for young artists in Kashmir, the veteran folk singer urged the youngsters to work hard to achieve their feat. They should learn music professionally. There are obstacles everywhere, but patience and struggle determine the life of an artist, he said.

“They should promote their own Kashmiri musical instruments and use them in their songs,” Shah said.

He said that over the past few years, the music industry in Kashmir has been hit by the pandemic, but it will be reborn. “We will not lose hope. We will keep striving and moving forward,” Shah said.

Shah thinks that poor artists are neglected today by radio and Doordarshan. Only a few artists have good programs in certain departments, he said.

Apart from Kashmir, Shah has also performed in music concerts across India where he got good response from people.

On the future of popular media, Shah says the government should wake up and take concrete steps to revive them in Kashmir. He says the government should give special retirement benefits to veteran artists who have survived folk music and performed it at all levels.

James C. Tibbs