Yawar Abdal, a Kashmiri musician, wants to spread the message of love, harmony and peace through the words of famous poets.
Armed with just a guitar and a song playing on his lips, this 24-year-old Kashmiri man is on a mission.
In a Valley that has seen turbulent and tumultuous times, often marred by hate and intolerance, Yawar Abdal wants to spread the message of peace, love, and harmony, through the words of legendary poets Mirza Ghalib, Mahjoor, and Amir Khusrow, through Kashmiri music.
In the midst of all the hate, Abdal believes that’s time to script a new story. The computer science graduate from Srinagar takes refuge in Sufi music to spread the message of peace and instill hope. He does this through the common man’s medium, by having his own voice on YouTube.
“I am in love with my language and I did not want to restrict it only to my city. I wanted to take it everywhere, and spread its khushboo. I was ready to tolerate every resistance for this cause,” he tells us.
One must understand that in Kashmir, a career in music is still highly frowned upon. Going against his parents’ wishes and against popular culture, Yawar set out to do what his heart told him to.
Yawar’s journey is unique for he is, perhaps, the first Kashmiri who has stepped outside the valley and is spreading its culture by blending modern music and technology with native Kashmiri poetry.
In 2017, Yawar released his first single, Tamanna on YouTube, which became a runaway hit. Within two months the song garnered over 300,000 views and currently has over 4 million hits. The song a mix of three languages - Kashmiri, Persian, and Urdu - is drawn from the poetry of three poets.
The struggle to sing
An ardent follower of singer-composer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Yawar grew up listening to the poetry of Mehjoor, Soche Kraal, Rasul Mir, Neami Saeb, Shamas Fakeer, and he spent his childhood composing his own “imaginary” tunes to their lyrics.
Although he has no formal training in music, his passion for music was inherited from his grandfather who was singer, but had only practised his music at home. Yawar says that music as a profession was unheard of, and that, even public performances were not encouraged as it did not reflect well on the family.
At the age of 16, Yawar left for Pune to pursue further studies. After graduating in computer science, he joined Tech Mahindra. Financial pressure pushed him to continue to work at his normal job, even though his heart kept telling him otherwise.
He kept drifting to music by performing at small gigs outside work hours. He sang at intercollegiate events and later, he began performing in bars and pubs. Every stage, every platform, was an opportunity for Yawar to bring alive the culture and heritage of the Valley through traditional music.
“Whether it is Kashmir or Kanyakumari, music is beyond language,” he believes.
With an increasing presence at Pune’s musical events, soon it became difficult for him to manage both work and his passion. However, money was important at that time, and he was dissuaded from quitting his job. His father’s business was not doing well, and his mother was diagnosed with cancer. There were days when he would return home at 2am and then go back to his day job within six hours.
His family was not in favour of Yawal singing in bars and pubs. They also thought that music wouldn’t bring in the money, and well, money was important. However, by 2017, Yawar had decided to quit and turn to music full-time.
"I did not find any happiness or enjoyment in my job; it was nothing similar to what experienced with music. Also, I was neither getting good money nor a hike. Despite many attempts, I could not bring myself to continue in IT and I ultimately left the job and went out into the world with just my guitar,” Yawar recalls.
The musical journey
Initially, his family refused to support him and ridiculed his choice. But when he told them that his aim was to promote Kashmiri culture, they softened their stance.
He began his career at Muziclub, a music academy run by another Pune-based Kashmiri singer, Mohammad Muneem. With his support, Yawar connected with other Sufi singers and began to earn money through performances. In his initial days, he would charge Rs 500-600 for a three-hour performance.
Yawar composed Tamanna while he was still working at Tech Mahindra and through Muneem’s encouragement he decided to publish the video on YouTube. Yawar invested his savings and produced his single in 2017. Adapted from the verses of three poets, Mehjoor, Mirza Ghalib and Amir Khushrow, the message conveyed was that one should stop seeking materialistic pleasures in life. Ghalib’s famous couplet finds resonance here.
“Hazaaron khvaahishen aisii ki har khvaaish pe dam nikle,
Bahut nikle mere armaan, lekin phir bhii kam nikle.”
(I have a thousand desires, all desires worth dying for,
Though many of my desires were fulfilled, most were not.)
Following the success of his first single, Yawar launched his second Lalle Waan, in October 2017, which failed to connect with the audience. The language in this song was in a native Kashmiri dialect, which is no longer spoken by the youth. This is the key challenge, which Yawar hopes to overcome through his upcoming album. The album is a fusion of Kashmiri and Urdu poetry and the songs are based on verses by Rasul Mir and Bahadur Shah Zafar.
Even in the Valley, Yawar says young people are not reading Kashmiri poetry anymore. The legacy of Sufi poets and its mysticism is today limited to the libraries and the older generation. Hence to bridge this gap, Yawar is blending modern musical notes with poetry lyrics hoping that the message of peace and harmony, the essence of Kashmiri poetry reaches the younger audience.
Today Yawar’s fan base is counted in millions and he performs across cities in India and has even performed in Dubai.