Stringing the Right Chords

  • Insha Latief
  • Publish Date: Dec 24 2016 6:36PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Dec 24 2016 6:36PM
Stringing the Right ChordsSuhail Naqshbandi

Clad in a black Pheran, Noor Muhammad Shah sits cross-legged and carefully puts his Rabab on his knee. Strumming the gut strings of his wooden rabab, he mesmerizes his listeners with his unique melody. His songs and videos of singing at functions and at homes have gone viral on social media.

A resident of Wadipora, Handwara, Noor Muhammad was born in a modest family of five. At an early age he started singing devotional songs to make a living and shoulder the responsibilities at home. 

During his childhood, radio was the only source of entertainment for people. One day, when a Kashmiri song was playing on the Radio, Shah tapped a copper pot to sing the song. At that time he was studying in 3rd standard. His interest in music started growing.

A local saint, Samud Khan, used to visit his village with his group to sing devotional songs. People used to gather around him whenever he sang. Shah and his friends would also come to watch him sing. Samud Khan’s singers were from outside the state and sang in Urdu. “We couldn’t understand their language but we loved the way they sang, and the rise and fall of tunes and their coordination while singing,” he says. 

Once when all the children of the area were sitting around Samud Khan, he told them to tell Noor- ul-Allah Khan to sing. They were confused who Noor ul Allah Khan is. He pointed towards Shah and told him to sing a song for him. “Excited, I got up to sing,” he recalls. “My voice was not that strong but he liked my voice.” 

Shah felt motivated and worked hard on his voice. Soon he joined a group and started his singing career. Given the poor financial circumstances at home, he had to give up his schooling in order to support his family. 

Initially, he started singing in his native place. Afterwards he came to Srinagar with groups, singing in weddings and gatherings where his unique style of singing was noticed, earning him some popularity. 

Once someone had a gathering at his home and he had called one of Shah's friends to sing on the occasion. He took Shah along to sing with his group. He was told that legendary singer Ghulam Hassan Sofi will also be attending the function. “I was sitting some distance away and Sofi Sahab told me to come near and I said no, telling him that this is the place of a master (Ustad),” he recalls. “May Allah grant him jannah. He was such a kind soul.”

Seeing him sing well, Ghulam Hassan Sofi paid him well that day. When someone had told him to pay him less as he was very young, Sofi had replied in appreciation, “he plays with heart and his little fingers are bloodshot while playing.” Then one day, a Rabab player was absent and Noor Mohammed was told to play in his place. He performed well and kept on practicing until he became famous for creating fine tunes on Rabab. “Then I started working harder and my videos were uploaded on social networking sites,” he says. “Now people call me on phone and invite me to sing in their weddings, parties and religious gatherings.” Apart from playing Rubab, Shah also plays harmonium and Tanpura. 

Shah has also sung for Radio Kashmir. He was part of the group that performed in several events in Oberai Palace Hotel, Santoor Hotel and Kashmir University. “I also sing for some reputed people who invite me in their wedding functions and also on other happy occasions,” he says. “Everybody admires my singing and some people later upload my videos on internet and more people come to know about me.” 

He became famous for singing the song Katyu Chukh Nund Bane Valo Mashok Myane which was uploaded on YouTube and widely shared on social media. The song has more than one thousand views on YouTube. Another song Walo Myani Poshay madno has more than ten thousand views. “Katyu chukh nund bane was liked more by people. Many other singers have tried to sing this song but till date nobody has succeeded in singing it as I did,” he adds with smile. 

Noor Muhammad’s wife is a homemaker. His sons, except the eldest one, are studying. His daughter is also pursuing graduation. Though he himself left studies midway, he wants his children to get proper education. He feels grateful that singing has helped him to make ends meet and provide good education to his children. Now he wishes his children get good jobs.

One of his sons has a keen interest in singing. He recently brought a guitar and is learning to play it. “We have to keep this culture and tradition alive,” he says. “This was my choice and family supported me. Now my son has also chosen music, so I have to support him too.” 

Shah has spent a lot of time with Sufi saints, including Ahad Bab of Sopore and Syed Meerak Shah. He still goes to Meerakh Shah to sing. 

Shah believes devotional music in Kashmir is lagging behind. “Young people are singing with different styles to gain quick popularity,” he says. “But Allah has bestowed peace in devotional singing and Government should help us to keep it alive.”