Altaf Mir, the new Coke Studio sensation in the sub continent has broke the internet in valley on 11th July when the song he sung for Pakistan’s Coke Studio was released on their YouTube channel as part of their Coke Studio Explorer series, which features several folk songs from different ethnic backgrounds in the regions of Pakistan.
Coke Studio Pakistan, an international music franchise has set a new trend since last decade by reproducing the old hit songs, folk, Sufi, Qawalli and Urdu Ghazals adding a new flavor by using new genre of music like hip hop, rock and pop. The yearly Coke Studio series have become a grand hit because of the performances by young and established artists of Pakistan inside music studios with live performances which is in the eleventh year of its production.
Altaf, originally a native of Janglat Mandi area of main town Anantnag had crossed to the other side of LoC during early nineties to pick up arms against the Indian rule in Kashmir. Sensing trouble back home, he decided to stay back in the city of Muzafarabad, where he took up small assignments of teaching weaving to the locals there, while also performing on local radio station. Altaf had years back founded his singing group, Qasamir, in PaK which performs on Radio Pakistan and during the functions in Kashmiri families who have settled in different parts of Pakistan. Back home, Altaf’s family yearns for his return to the native place.
“Altaf used to sing Sufi and folk songs since his early youth and would perform at the marriage ceremonies also. During nineties, like most of the youth, he went to Pakistan administered Kashmir to become a militant. Since then, he briefly visited his native town once but seeing the chaos and how dangerous this part had turned due to the violence spread by government backed insurgents, he decided to go back there in mid nineties. He later got married there and has four sons now,” says his mother, Raja Bano.
As Raja is shown the latest video song of Altaf on a mobile phone, she breaks down and pleads for the return of her separated son. Altaf, 55, had left behind his parents, two young unmarried brothers and a sister, who was married to his companion, Nazir Ahmed Shah, used to work and sing in his group.
“I have visited my son twice in Muzafarabad and he used to sing at Radio Pakistan in their Azad Kashmir Station but since 2005 devastating earthquake, he went jobless and one of his feet also got hurt during that calamity making him limp since then,” adds Raja Bano.
The Ha Gulo folk song written by famous Kashmiri poet, Mehjoor, became an instant hit on the social media networks with most of the Non Resident Kashmiri community living across the globe identifying themselves with it. The song has already got over a lakh hits on YouTube within 24 hours after its release, while the users have been showering praises on the producers as the shares and likes are still growing, particularly on Facebook.
One of the netizens, Zinnia, wrote, “As someone with Kashmiri roots, I cannot properly describe how happy I am that Coke Studio has given a platform to the Kashmiri language. Kashmiri culture is very rich and truly beautiful. Thank you Coke Studio Pakistan.”
Omar Kochak, an ardent listener of Coke Studio Pakistan from the Anantnag town says, “Introducing a Kashmiri folk song on a platform like this, giving the Kashmiris an international representation, which the other music industries have denied, makes it even more special. And as they say music has no boundaries, this particular song has crossed the fortified LoC and reached the hearts of Kashmiris”.
Altaf during his initial stint as a folk singer here had earned a name in his locality for being one of the best Sufiana singers. His long time companion and brother in law describes him as a selfless artist, who had devoted the prime of his youth for this artistry.
“Altaf was the most talented Gada (Pitcher) Nawaz of his times who made him join their group headed by Mohammad Altaf Sheikh of Shirpora, a famous folk singer and their master. Together we sang folk and Sufi songs at Radio Kashmir, in Sufiyana gatherings and occasionally in marriage parties too. It was amazing to see him singing again for the first time since nineties, when he left home. There is a hint of groove and modern music in this Ha Gulo song but this is what is in trend. All the memories of our singing group flashed in front of my eyes while I was watching it on my phone yesterday. I stopped singing soon after he left home and I wish he returns here someday. We have very fond memories of our youth as we used to sing and earn our livelihood by Aari work and chain-stitching together,” says Nazir Ahmed Shah, his friend and brother in law.
“By any means, I want his return. I want to live last years of my life with my son in front of me. He has never harmed anyone here and I request the government to facilitate his return to his native place,” pleads Raja, as her eyes well up again while the relatives and neighbors throng their house with Ha Gulo on loop in the background.