Improvisation and modernisation have almost been the defining slogans of our times and these slogans have been carried across the domains of religion, art, culture, tradition and almost all other domains of human life. All changes are seen as advancements and all things associated with the past are seen as primitive, stagnant, redundant and wanting change and alteration. The point in question is Kashmiri music and the changes it has been made to withstand in terms of instrumentation, vocals, lyrics and performance and the fact that under the pretext of improvisation, it has been hollowed from within and what has survived instead is a hybrid of unrecognizable character dangled on the cross of tradition and modernity. But it must also be noted that change is inevitable and the evolution of technique has become a prerogative.
We live in times where the most cherished of the religious ordinances have been altered/partially modified in view of the challenges emerging from the demands of modern life. This is an era when the legal frameworks are witnessing regular revivals and the facets of life from microscopic to macroscopic levels are adjusting to the pressing needs of time and like a flowing river carving out newer ways and courses to ensure continuity. In view of this tie between tradition and modernity, change and constancy, permanence and ephemeral what are the prospectus ahead of our Musical landscape and to what extent shall the singers and musicians avail from the liberty and tweak the existing superstructure of the traditional Music? Let’s try to understand.
What needs to be understood at the very outset is that music, or for that matter any art form, is not an autonomous cultural organ which can survive in isolation. Music stands in close entanglement with the culture and is in a sense a representation of the culture in which it thrives and from the substratum of which it emerges. When culture in any of its constituents undergoes a change, the rest of the ingredients can’t be impervious to this change, but respond to it by changing accordingly and proportionately.
Thus, at a time when our traditional attire has undergone major editing, when our poetry has evolved from Vaakh to modern Ghazal and when our eating habits have changed from dried vegetables to pizza and others, the change in Music is, but natural. The past decade in particular has seen the rise of singers and musical genres which radically break away and depart from the traditional music and the content of songs has also witnessed a radical shift in view of the changing socio-political circumstances and the growing consciousness thereof. An increased use of modern instruments in place of traditional ones and a deliberate attempt at creation of Music which tangentially flies off the traditional orbit has emerged as the very identity of modern day singers and their artworks. But all this improvisation and innovation seems to have arrived at a huge cost and the cost is the loss or near absence of traditional music and the complete erasure of what essentially defines “Kashmiri Music”. The slow abandonment of traditional musical instruments and an abrupt change in vocals seems to have jeopardised the very notion of traditional Kashmiri Music and replaced it with uncouth parody and soulless noise.
Noted musician and singer, Waheed Jeelani aptly summarises the equilibrium that must define the relationship between our traditional music and the incorporation of foreign elements therein. Waheed Says, “Modernisation in every art form is unavoidable and needed, but this cannot be allowed to be done in a manner that we lose the basic identity of our music. I have never objected to the use of guitar and synthesisers in our local music, but these have to assist and not dominate our art form”. One must also remember the difference between bypassing and transcending, the former includes neglecting and playing down anything in ignorance while as the later includes scope for improvement and going beyond after having mastered a specific field. The general consensus among senior and seasoned singers is that the new age singers usually bypass the tradition and do not transcend it. This is only worsened by the new age singers’ mispronunciation, total reliance on synthesisers and inability to play traditional instruments.
Some people try to blanket these fallacies under popularity and fandom claiming a certain song to have millions of views, irrespective of its quality standardisation or loyalty to its own essence. These people need to be reminded that popularity and the number of views isn’t the qualitative measure of a work of art and for that matter anything else. The most worthy and meaningful pieces on Youtube and social media go unnoticed, whereas senseless stuff has umpteen views. What has been said can be summarised briefly that while the necessity of modernising music and art forms remains dominant, the superstructure of art can’t be compromised with and while we incorporate modern twists into our traditional music, it must not devour our identity and essence. An attempt at the modernisation of art shall be synthetic not destructive and Tumbaknari, Rabar, Sitar must dominate the drums, guitars and violins.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is a Srinagar-based columnist
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