Sarangi Lover

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Fighting a protracted battle at home to choose music as a career, Iqbal Shah finally started making and playing the instruments. Three years later, he has trained 50 others in Sufi recitals and is planning a training center, reports Umar Khurshid

When Iqbal Shah, 28, touched the strings of a Sarangi first time, the resultant tunes overwhelmed him.

He developed such a strong liking for the Sarangi music that he wanted to become a professional player.

Son of a professional local musician Nazir Ahmed, Iqbal hails from south Kashmir’s village. His choices triggered opposition and criticism at home but he is dreaming to become a Sufi musician. His father counsels him against his passion, insisting that there was “no value” and “no future” in it and family business would be a better option for life. But Iqbal remained unchanged.

 “My father didn’t allow me first but finally he started teaching me basics,” Iqbal said. Now, every alternate day, music enthusiasts visit Iqbal’s home to learn the art from Shah Sr. Now Iqbal spends five to six hours daily to master the music.

“The more I practice, the more I become passionate about it.”

Now, his passion for music has taken him from a Sarangi player to a Sarangi instrument maker. Iqbal has setup up a workshop in the balcony of his home manufacture the instruments and sell them. “Artists often come home and buy from us”, Iqbal said. “I learnt Sarangi making from my father.”Starting with Sarangi, Iqbal now plays

Harmonium, Piano keyboard, guitar, Violin and Tabla.

Music is normally a collective effort that is why bands perform in chorus. But Iqbal had set his journey alone. After a year long wait, he found Rameez Ahmed, 23 and Tajdar Ahmed,22 from a nearby locality. They also had musical family backgrounds. Rameez plays Nout and Tajdar Rabab.

“It was hectic for me and it took me almost half a year to convince them,” Iqbal said. “It took an effort to convince them that talent is not a stigma and then it changed them.”

Soon, Iqbal’s home became the kindergarten school of music room where the trio would rehearse for hours daily. Given the Shahs’ already in music, their learning curve was no noise.

One day, the trio was invited by town’s Frobel’s School for a Sufi musical concert. Their impressive performance surprised even them. The school offered Iqbal the job of music teacher.

“I refused the job, but made them sure that I will be playing occasionally here and never ask you to pay me for it,” Iqbal said. “Getting the job of music teacher was not my goal.” Many performances followed. But Iqbal never asked anyone to pay for his performance. “I never chased money, because I feel money ultimately destroys the passion,” Iqbal believes.

The trio was up and running. But they still had a problem. Iqbal’s two colleagues were shy, especially in female audience. That was the key reason, why they avoided singing for marriages.

Though invitations for performance continued coming bt it was the school that was the trio’s main cushion. This association got them a chance to perform in DPS Srinagar. There, they bagged the first position and were honoured by Dr Farooq Abdullah and Amitab Mattoo. That was June 2015.

The trio does face taunts. Some people try to judge them with the instruments they carry. Some call them Bhands. “But those who understand Sufi music appreciate us for representing our culture,” Iqbal said. They have made their own  compositions with Sufi lyrics and the number has crossed 15. “We sit together and create the compositions and write them.”

“We avoid marriages functions because we are not entertainers,” Iqbal said. “We want respect for the  Sufi music we play.”

Iqbal says the in-thing right now is the rock music that is attracting the youngsters in hoards. But despite of the westernisation effect on music, there are 20 young boys learning from Iqbal and there are 30 students of district Islamabad who have already learned Sufi music. These include four females. He was never lured by the Western music though he knows many

Farooq Ahmed, 35 lives in Mattan. He learnt harmonium from Iqbal. “He taught me like my brother,” Ahmad said.

It was during these training sessions that Iqbal met Sameer, 22. He studies outside Kashmir and visits home less often. He advised Iqbal to create a YouTube channel where he can upload his musical videos. Iqbal took the advice seriously and did it.

“The music I create on Sarangi was appreciated well. There were five thousand views and it encouraged me a lot,” Iqbal said. His channel is Iqbal Shah by Sarangi. He also performed with Ali Saifudin.

By now, his instrument collection has increased. He now owns Santoor, Tabla, Dolki, Rabab, Nout, and Sitar which vales almost three lakh rupees.

Iqbal said there is lot of talent hidden in the periphery. He said he heard voices much better than his own but they lack access to youtube and other tools of modern communication system.

His target is to create a musical institution in main market of the Islamabad town to teach students, the instruments and the vocals.

“I am talking to various musicians and vocalists and we intend to make it a group effort,” Iqbal said.

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