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Qaiser Nizami, the only Kashmir musician to win a Grammy nomination

Ehsan Fazili/Srinagar

Qaiser Nizami has not only won the hearts and minds of music lovers across Kashmir but also is the only artist from Jammu and Kashmir to get international attention with his nomination for the prestigious Grammy award from the US in 2019.

He won the nomination for his song “Nazninay…” (O beauty), as a singer, musician, composer, and director. he is thus the only one from J&K to be nominated in the history of Grammys by the Recording Academy of the United States.

There is a long list of Grammy winners from India since its inception in 1959, including Ravi Shankar, Zubin Mehta, Zakir Hussain, A R Rahman, and; Shankar Mahadevan, who received the award for 2024 earlier this month.

Nizami’s nomination for the “Award for Voice” in 2019, led him to visit and perform in New York amid thin movement of people due to the Covid restrictions in 2020 to perform in the category of Kashmiri music and poetry for the “dying melody of Kashmir”.

Qaiser Nizami also had the opportunity to perform with Iranian and other groups, much to the appreciation from the organisers. “The shooting for our performances took place amid the deserted streets of New York that otherwise remain brisk with movement of people round the clock,” he recalls.

Poster of Grammy nominations

He performed in collaboration with Ehsan Matoori, Iranian Santoor player. and Alireza Ghorbani, Iranian Vocalist in “The Voices and Bridges” during his New York visit. “It was a rich experience to perform with the Iranian artists, as most of the musical instruments have come to Kashmir from Iran centuries ago”, he told Awaz-The Voice.

For the last four decades, Qaiser Nizami has been mesmerising the audience with his silky voice from AIR, Srinagar, and different kendras of Doordarshan like Srinagar, Delhi, and Bombay.

Not only as a singer of classical compositions, ghazals, Bhajans, and Sufi poetry in Kashmiri, Urdu, and Hindi, Nizami has also mastered Persian singing. He, however, laments that there are no listeners to some of these songs.

Qaiser has contributed as musical director to various productions of DD, Srinagar, which include “Shanti”, “Pehchan” and “Geath”.

He began his innings with Radio Kashmir, Srinagar (now AIR, Srinagar), as a child artist in 1985-86. Qaiser first participated in weekly Children’s and later musical programmes, singing Kashmiri poetry for the “Yuva Vani”, youth services Section by 1987. At the Doordarshan Kendra Srinagar, he was fully on the screen performing in the New Year programme of 1988.

Despite threats from terrorist organisations that sought to ban all kinds of entertainment including cinema and music, he was approved as an A grade artist by a national jury in 1993 and Top grade artist in 2019.

However, despite winning awards and accolades at the national and international levels, Qaiser Nizami is yet to be honoured by the J&K Government, though he has received appreciation and awards from the Chief Ministers and some institutions.

Qaiser Nizami and Iranian singer-composer Alireza Ghorbani

“Initially I was not inclined to music, but to cricket”, Qaiser Nizami told Awaz-The Voice. His father’s association with Radio Kashmir, Srinagar brought him closer to music. He was often found murmuring famous Urdu Ghazals.

His father, Mohammad Amin Nizami, popularly known as “Amin Bhai”, was co-presenting “Aap Ki Farmayish”, a weekly programme of Hindi film songs, when Radio was the only means of entertainment. “Amin Bhai”, having been in the company of musicians, singers, and other artists at the Radio Station also loved music and had a few musical instruments like Harmonium and Nai at home.

“I would try playing these instruments without proper guidance”. His father spotted his talent.

At the beginning of his career as a singer, Qaiser had the opportunity to get blessings and approval from the Santoor Maestro Padma Shri Bhajan Sopori, then associated with Radio Kashmir, Srinagar.

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He was also lucky to get guidance from Asrar Hussain, Shahi Qawwaal of Dargah at Ajmer, who organised two weeks of “Mehfils” at the residence of Amin Bhai in Srinagar. Qaiser had also the blessings of Ustad Mohammad Ayub Khan Barelvi of Agra Gharana, who had also visited Srinagar in Qaiser’s early childhood.

Qaiser Nizami says the association with the maestros influenced his career.

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