Kashmiri Qawali forgotten as other music genres gain momentum

SHOPIAN: Very few people in Kashmir know about Kashmiri Qawali and its founder has been forgotten with the passage of time as other music genres have gained momentum over the time.
Ghulam Mohidun Balpori, founder of Kashmiri Qawali, expired almost two decades ago at his ancestral village Balpora situated on bank of Rambiara rivulet in Shopian. With his death, Kashmiri Qawali has lost its track.
Ather Balpori, a Qawali singer and son of Mohidun Balpori said that his grandfather, Dilawar Balpori was a well-known apple trader and the father-son duo often visited Lahore for business purposes and there they used to visit the shrines and listen Qawalis which were being sung in Urdu and Persian.
“There these Qawalis were being sung by famed singers like Fareed Ali and my father and grandfather used to listen to them for hours,” said Athar. He said that by listening to them they both got interested in Qawali singing.
“Later they became disciples of Fareed Ali and Balpori and started singing Qawalis in Urdu and Persian languages,” he added.
In 1947, when India and Pakistan partitioned, Balpori lost contact with his mentor and the band with which he was singing Qawalis.
“Later he formed his own band in Kashmir and formally started singing Kashmiri Qawali. It was the introduction of Kashmiri Qawali,” Athar said, adding that his father first started singing Persian and Urdu poetry of Moulana Altaf Hussain Hali and Moulana Jami.
“He was first person in Valley who sung Kashmiri Qawali. His intention was to reach the masses in their mother tongue,” said Athar. “He also joined the group and started singing Qawalis besides his father.”
He said that the fame from singing led his father to share space with then prominent politicians like Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad, and “in mid-fifties – Radio Kashmir started airing Qawalis of Mohidun Balpori and his group”.
Athar said that in 1979 – his father got an opportunity to perform in Iran “but due the political uncertainty then, he couldn’t perform”.
“We used to perform in Persian language and Balpori had chosen the poetry of Ghani Kashmiri for the concert,” said Masood Abas, who had also participated in the concert.
After the death of Balpori in 1997, Kashmiri qawwali began losing its lustre. The government also failed to promote the genre or artists. Even Balpori was not felicitated at once in his life time or after his death for his iconic contributions to Kashmiri music.
“Government always remained indifferent towards Kashmiri Qawali. It hardly did anything to encourage new artists,” said Balpori.
While most of the artists trained by Balpori died, Athar is struggling hard to revive Qawali culture and pass it on to the next generation.

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