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Singer, songwriter, and guitarist from Kashmir Pragnya Wakhlu, has been trying to acquaint people with the beautiful culture of her land. Currently in Goa, she will be conducting two sessions that feature her work in two interconnected aspects of her life - music and wellness

The heartbeat of Kashmir

Danuska Da Gama | NT BUZZ

Pragnya Wakhlu found her calling in music a few years ago. Having undergone music and vocal training as a young girl, Wakhlu however took up a job in IT which led her to the US. But the pull of music was strong. And in a bid to understand her roots better and to foster understanding among those who have a warped notion of Kashmir, she thus decided to take up music full time.

Her debut album ‘Journey to the Sun’ released in 2012, while ‘Kahwa Speaks’ released in 2017. Her lyrics and music reflects the east and west, in beats, rhythm, and melody.

As part of the ‘Kahwa Speaks’ tour, Wakhlu will now be performing a unique audio-visual music set at Shala 142, Assagao today, July 10, as part of their Listening Sessions. The session is a unique look into the ‘heart of Kashmir’, through its culture and heritage and will feature songs from both ‘Kahwa Speaks’ and ‘Journey To the Sun’.

She will also be hosting a Mousai signature workshop – Sound and Movement for Authentic Well Being, on Thursday, July 11. Mousai is a company founded by Wakhlu and is based on the concept that sound and movement can create a space that helps people be the best they can be, and convert potential to performance. The healing and wellness sessions from Mousai are based on the use of vibration and sound to build self awareness and achieve peace of mind.

Excerpts from an interview

Q. You’re trying to introduce to the world the culture and nuances of Kashmir through your music. How did this come about?

Music is a powerful tool and if used responsibly, can inspire, touch hearts, and bring people together. My formative years were at a time where there was no conflict in Kashmir and everyone lived in peace and harmony. The constant media focus on the violence and negative news has often led to Kashmir and the people being portrayed in a poor light. There is so much people don’t know or haven’t heard about when it comes to Kashmiri culture.

The purpose of ‘Kahwa Speaks’ is to use music as a vehicle for spreading a positive message and inspiring new ideas for change. The album started out as a project I wanted to do to explore my roots and understand more about my own culture. As it evolved, I realised that this could be a great bridge for a lot of younger generations of displaced Kashmiris living in other countries to reconnect with their language and culture and understand more about where they’re from. It could help regenerate an interest in the language and revive it. My purpose of using both Kashmir and English in the music was to help reach out to the non-Kashmiri speaking audience as well. The album has six songs in different styles and each song tells a story.

Q. Tell us about the various themes the songs cover?

The songs are about peace, togetherness and also include a few translations of the works of famous poets. We have also created a visual piece that was crowd-funded to enhance our story-telling experience. I hope that this can help paint Kashmir in a more positive light to the rest of the world. I also hope that fragmented sections of Kashmiri society come together and appreciate the good. When you see things that bind us and appreciate them, things that separate us seem feeble.

Q. Tell us something about your Kashmiri culture and history that you’ve sung about?

Some of what I’ve touched upon are the translated works of the poetess Habakhatoon and her love story with the 16th century king Yusuf Shah Chak, and the profound writings of the Kashmiri poetess Lalleshwari, who is universally hailed by all sects of Kashmiri society as their own. In fact, a few of her ‘vaakh’s’ or verses have been translated for the first time in English in the song ‘Lalla’s Lore’ on the album.

There’s an introduction to the Ladishah style of singing, about who Ladishah was and his relevance to society. There’s also, an insight into the Wanwun style of singing with the song ‘Henzay – Returning to peace’. The song is an amalgamation of both the Batta Wanwun or the Kashmiri Pandit style of Wanwun which sounds more Vedic in nature, and the Musalmaan Wanwun which has more of a Persian influence.

The integration of both these styles musically also stands as a metaphor for society. Musical subtleties bring out broader societal concepts.

Q. You are an activist and through song you’ve also tried to create awareness about the Tibetan issue.

I feel strongly about Tibet’s struggle for freedom and identity, and have written a song ‘Burning Fire’ on the album. I found it relevant to this album as Ladakh which is a part of J&K has a strong Tibetan influence and interestingly there are a lot of similarities between the struggles   in both places.

Q. Why did you title the album ‘Kahwa Speaks’?

The title track is based on kahwa or Kashmiri tea as a metaphor for life. The song asks the question- Can we live together in harmony just as all the beautiful ingredients of Kahwa come together to form a beautiful brew? Just like this sweet, fragrant tea, can we be sweet with our words and spread the fragrance of our work with our positive actions?

Q. While for many singers in India, Bollywood is the ultimate, the rest are carving their niche in their language. What is your take on this?

It all depends on what your goals are with respect to your music. It is no secret that the music industry in India is heavily dominated by Bollywood.

As a result, people view singing a film song as the pinnacle of musical success. In the independent music industry there are no pre-defined milestones of success as there are in other jobs (viz promotions, salary upgrade etc). You can make a lot of money singing Bollywood covers at weddings or in clubs…but you have to ask yourself if that’s what your goal was as a musician. If you enjoy it and that’s what you wanted to do that’s fantastic.

Q. But, I think the more important question is- What legacy would you like to leave behind? Why did you become a musician in the first place?

Everyone’s definition and measure of success is different. For me, it is the number of lives I can positively impact with my work be it music or through sound healing. When I receive messages from people telling me the music helped them heal a broken heart, get over a divorce, read more about Lalded, or gave them hope- I count that as a measure of success.

At the end of the day as an artist you should do what makes you happy and makes you grow and should fulfil you creatively. I won’t deny that there are days of monetary struggle, but with a creative approach you can carve out a life where there is a right balance between creative and commercial work.

Q. Collaborations are not uncommon in music. Who would you like to collaborate with?

I love collaborations! They are a great opportunity to learn from one another and grow musically. While I was in Malaysia recently I collaborated with an all-girls band called ‘The Crinkle Cut’ and I’m hoping to record my new song with them. I also played with some fantastic musicians last year in Hong Kong when I was on tour there and we’re planning to record some material together this year on my Extended Play (EP).

I would love to collaborate with the Snake Charmer (on bagpipes) for a song and maybe someday India Arie and Coldplay as I really look up to them as artists

Q. What’s next?

I’m planning to release an EP on love songs this year. I’m also hosting a new music show on Doordarshan Kashmir which will go on air later this month. The show has its basis on the works of Kashmiri poets and poetesses, their influences and then how similar themes play out in Bollywood.

 I hope other Kashmiri women get inspired by seeing me play the guitar and sing, to take up music.

The band is also looking at taking ‘Kahwa Speaks’ as an audio-visual tour across India and the world to spread the message of peace and maybe influence a shift of perception towards Jammu and Kashmir.

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