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Srinagar’s Jhelum Cafe is Providing a Stage for Local Kashmiri Artists

With a multidisciplinary art and music festival conducted in October last year, there’s a regular gig series called Bund Sessions, promoting singer-songwriters, beatboxers and more

Anurag Tagat Jan 23, 2021

Bengaluru-based, Kashmiri singer-songwriter and rock band Parvaaz's frontman Khalid Ahamed at Jhelum Cafe's Bund Sessions in December. Photo: Courtesy of Jhelum Cafe

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Although it started in January 2019, Jhelum Café in Srinagar can claim to have only haltingly run in the last two years, but they’re on their way now. “The past two years have been hectic but we’ve scored a good number of people within Kashmir and elsewhere as well,” says the café and restaurant’s co-founder Adil Khan.

In what is almost indicative of the continued struggles of businesses and the general population in the newly formed union territory, Khan says they ran until August 2019 when the special status of the then-state was revoked, leading them to shut shop immediately for six months. He along with co-founder Asim Khan – both 26 years old – then resumed operations only in February last year. “We worked until March and at the end of the month, we heard about corona and we had to again shut shop until July,” Adil says.

They were quick to spring into action when things reopened in Kashmir, organizing an art and music festival called JhelumFest in October. Both founders were keen followers of independent music and they collectively state that they “aim to get a new remunerated vibe to the industry here in Kashmir so that every talented artist gets what he/she truly deserves.” JhelumFest organized everyone from poets and photojournalists to singer-songwriters such as (Zeeshaan Nabi and Ali Saffudin), beatboxers and folk musicians on one stage across two days. The duo add in a statement, “All of these events have also been a huge collaboration with the young generation entrepreneurs and business houses of Kashmir and also a very important association with visual artists of Kashmir to create a perfect ambiance for the artist as well as the audience.”

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Watch Ali Saffudin perform at JhelumFest. 

After JhelumFest, the founders created a gig series called Bund Sessions, which has so far hosted singer-songwriters such as Qassam Hussain and Yawar Abdal but also a special unplugged performance by Bengaluru-based vocalist-guitarist Khalid Ahamed from rockers Parvaaz. Although he had some reservations about the quality of stage production and sound at the café, Ahamed says he cleared things up soon enough and agreed to perform. “What caught my attention was the emotion and the heart behind what these guys were doing. I think there is a lot of art going on and they just need a platform to showcase it.”

With COVID-19 precautions in place, the tickets sold out for Ahamed’s performance at Jhelum Café, drawing in just about a hundred people. “All were paid tickets and we had sold out, but people were still asking us for tickets,” Adil says. With each larger series of performances are hosted as ‘Walks’, folk duo Gaekhir Republik also joined Ahamed on the lineup in December. While there’s plans to bring down more singer-songwriters from across the country (Adil notes that singer-songwriter Saby Singh is on the cards for a future Bund Sessions performance), the emphasis remains on hosting local musicians.

The co-founder is aware that music performances have sprung up before in Kashmir but he feels they are doing things differently at Jhelum Café. “Our initiative is backed by a cause, which is to support artists of Kashmir. We’re trying to build up a platform where each and every artist gets paid and gets exposure of a live performance and share the stage with artists who are more experienced,” he says. Seeking sponsors might be a perennial problem for organizers of indie gigs and it’s perhaps even tougher in a place that’s often under the shadow of clampdowns and heavy handed law enforcement. Adil says that the idea of a performance venue is a new thing that will take some time to show its impact. “For now we’re doing this on our own. We’re trying to get entrepreneurs and business houses in Kashmir who are start-ups possibly to promote their brand with the gig,” he adds.

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Rappers, folk artists and more likely have a recently established new home for themselves in a venue like Jhelum Café. Ahamed says, “This place is always tension-bound and then art just dies at your home. You either have to do it here or travel outside. Things like these are a good start and I hope it doesn’t succumb. I hope it survives and happens more often.”

Follow Jhelum Café on Facebook and Instagram for updates. Watch Gaekhir Republik perform at Bund Sessions below. 

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