Sur, Strength, And Sangam

In recent years, Kashmiri youth are using different genres of music to express themselves. From rap to rock, Sufiayana to Bollywood, it seems there is no looking back. Iymon Majid reports on Sangam, a music band from the volatile town of Sopore, that is creating vibes with its fusion of western and Sufiayana music.

In the unrest of 2010, Sangamwas unavoidably on a hiatus. The shutdown in Kashmir had affected their practice as well as performances. The offers from the J&K Tourism Department had also stopped, as there were hardly any tourists coming to Kashmir.

On 15th September of 2010, the lead vocalist of the band, Sawar Nayeem, 22, received shocking news. Sopore was under heavy curfew. In the evening, stone-throwing youth had defied the curfew—leading to CRPF and State Police firing on the protestors.

Nayeem’s childhood friend, Mudasir Bashir Kanna was was killed in the incident. When Nayeem heard the news, he ran all the way to his friend’s home, praying that what he heard was a hoax. But his fears were in fact reality.

“I was shocked,” says Nayeem, sighing. Kanna was not just his closest friend of years, he was who Nayeem and the entire band would turn to. “He gave us support even when our family hardly cared about us,” says Saqib Mehraj, 23, the lead guitarist of the band.

Kanawas was also Sangam’s sound recorder for three years.  “I will never forget him,” says Nayeem. To immortalize their friend and colleague, Nayeem and Mehraj wrote and composed a song in his memory. Most of the songs composed by the band, however, have lyrics written by a little known poet—Abdul GhaniMiskeen—from the band’s native town Sopore. They hope to work with other poets also.

The band members say they are proud of their strong bond. “The name Sangam itself suggests we are together,” says Nayeem.

But Nayeem remembers a time when finding members to have such a unity with was difficult. “Everyone promised to stay with the band but then they would always leave,” he says.

Those were the days when Nayeem was battling alone. Parental resistance, taunts from people, and financial problems disheartened him. It was only when he met Mehraj that the band finally began its journey. Nayeem then invited other young music enthusiasts of the town to join his music band. Thus, a few boys in their late teens were trying to make music without any formal training. In addition to Nayeem and Mehraj, the band includes Firdous, Shabir and Ruhail—who do all the backing vocals and play instruments like tabla, guitar and congo.

“We rented a room for our practice and every member contributed to pay for the rent. At the end of the year, the other members vanished only to reappear later but I had sold my phone to pay the rent by then,” laughs Nayeem.

In 2007, the band collaborated with a local cable channeland composed its first song, Shayerbhe tem banonas (She made me a poet). “We had fought very hard in our life and that was the happiest moment,” says Nayeem. He remembers how he sold his cycle and DVD player to buy a harmonium. Mehrajal so remembers how it was difficult to convince his family, “Once, I was playing guitar at home, my father saw me. Not only did he break my guitar but I ended up spending the night in a local Masjid.”

Nayeem says the first big break came in 2008 when they performed at the Grand Mumtaz Hotel in front of Dilawar Mir, the Cabinet Minister at the time.

After that, there was no turning back.Sangam began to compose more songs and perform at more events. In 2010, the band signed a contract with MTI (Music Tape Industry) and launched their first album, Sarhad. The album had eight songs and was released in May 2010.

The band is also now teaching music in north Kashmir. Through their SangamMusical Organization,they have set up centers in Baramulla, Sopore and Handwara, with the help of an NGO Nehru Yuva Kendra.

The band is looking forward to its next album. They also have their eyes set on Mumbai, and perhaps that dream isn’t too far.

“While in Jammu for a performance, we met Ismail Darbar. He encouraged us and said that his door will be always open for us.” Nayeem says. Soon, the band is going to Mumbai to show their compositions to Sajid-Wajid.

Nayeem says music was always their passion. But it is their home town of Sopore that is at the heart of the band. “Sopore has always been neglected. We want to state through our music that yes, Sopore has got talent. We want to prove that Sopore does not only throw stones but also Sur (melody),” says Nayeem.

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