Ever Heard a Bhaderwahi Rap Song?
Bikram Singh Manhas wants the government to help save this endangered language of Chenab valley
The Jammu and Kashmir Official Languages Bill was enacted by Parliament in September 2020. It made Hindi, Kashmiri, and Dogri the official languages of the Union Territory. People of Chenab valley were disappointed since none of the Chenab languages were proclaimed official. This despite the fact that Chenab is the centre in Jammu and Kashmir.
Meet Bikram Singh Manhas, also known as Vicky Manhas, the 28-year-old rapper is on a mission to promote Bhaderwahi language that is on the verge of extinction. He is also attempting to draw the attention of the government to this disappearing language through his music.
However, despite his excellent rating, just a few people are aware of what he is going through. He has invested his hard-earned money, time, and energy into his profession, and he has yet to earn any profits. Yet Manhas is hopeful that one day it will pay off both monetarily as well as resurrecting the dying language.
According to the 2011 census, 1.2 lakh individuals in Jammu and Kashmir's remote Chenab region spoke Bhaderwahi as their first language. However, according to a recent local survey estimates, just about 50,000 people speak it now.
This worrying decline inspired Manhas to combine his writing and producing talents to create songs in Bhaderwahi, and showcase them to the world. Now Chenab Valley's rapper Bikram Singh Manhas, 28, has become well-known in the area. In his hometown of Thathri, Doda, Manhas is popularly known by the moniker Vicky Manhas. He began his adventure in 2015, and published his first Bhaderwahi rap song, "On the Road."
Manhas was taken aback by the public's response and support. "When I recorded my first song,I never imagined people would appreciate or listen to my song so much," he told the Citizen.
Vicky sang about his way of life, relationships, and culture in his first rap song. He didn't have a platform to share his song with the general public then. WhatsApp was his only social media tool, and that is how he shared his first song with friends and family. He soon began getting calls from friends, family, and even strangers thanking him for his work.
Manhas wrote songs and would record them on his phone even in his days as a schoolschudent. His early musical attempts were then shared with his friends, as YouTube or WhatsApp boom back then. " I used to listen to rap and write my own songs for a long time, but I never took it seriously. Then my younger brother died in a motorcycle accident in 2014,"he recalled.
Manhas he checked his deceased brother's phone and found the songs he had written and shared. "That day, I promised to fulfil my brother's ambition of becoming a rapper," said the artist adding, "to be honest, I was shocked by the response from the general audience. Receiving such a positive response to a song that was primarily about my personal life was unexpected."
He soon began his career by composing rap audios, and after a few years, he established his YouTube channel. Soon, he began uploading his songs and sharing them on social media regularly.
Manhas currently has over 3,50,000 views, and his videos on other channels have millions of views. He also has thousands of fans on his Facebook page. Manhas' songs are now being performed not only on YouTube, Amazon, and other streaming platforms, but also at local weddings and birthday parties.
He has released around 40 songs in several languages to date, with his primary focus remaining on Bhaderwahi, his mother tongue. His successful Bhaderwahi songs include "On The Road" and "Pahadi Jawala."
Manhas is the only child of his parents. A native of Thathri village in Doda district, Manhas, who has an 11-month-old daughter, divides his time between running a shop, and making music at his small makeshift studio in his bedroom.
His brother's death forced him to leave his post-graduation course in management midway to take care of his family. But in these circumstances, he didn't let his passion die. He recalled how he learned to compose and edit songs through YouTube tutorials, "I'm from a town without a music school where I could learn to compose beats or edit videos. I merely watched YouTube videos. At first, it was difficult to practise, but after a while, I purchased some instruments so that I could at least try properly. To learn this from a school outside of my region would have cost me at least five lakh rupees."
He currently has roughly 60 videos on his YouTube channel, mostly Bhaderwahi, Pahadi and Hindi rap songs. Manhas has over 5,000 YouTube subscribers and over 4,000 Facebook followers.
His rap compositions are largely about local culture and lifestyle. Surprisingly, more than any other component of Jammu and Kashmir, the Bhaderwahi language exhibits a strong resemblance to the culture of adjacent Himachal Pradesh.
According to Manhas, Himachali music is often played on trucks and minibuses, and this inspired him to contact Pahadi artists in Himachal Pradesh. He collaborated with Himachali vocalist Rajesh Tyagi, from Sirmur. The song's goal is to reconnect Bhaderwahi and Himachali cultures.
However, the road ahead is fraught with challenges for Manhas, "I come from a place where there aren't many opportunities for me to develop my talent." Manhas continues to use social media and video-sharing platforms to reach a broader audience for his music.
"I want my region to be noticed by the government authorities. I also want tourists to get a taste of our culture and place so they can come here as well," he said.