“Abhay has a very friendly Aura about him and he is gifted"
– A R Rahman, Grammy & Academy Award Winning Composer
Versatile is one word that describes Santoor Maestro and Music Composer Abhay Rustum Sopori. He is the youngest classical musician to compose and conduct orchestras, choral music, Sufi and folk music ensembles, and has also been the youngest recipient of almost all the awards that he has received in recognition of his outstanding contribution and achievements in the field of music including the prestigious:
- ‘Mahatma Gandhi Seva Medal’ – Gandhi Global Peace Award by United Nations accredited Gandhi Global Family, 2020 (Jammu, J&K)
- ‘Top Grade Artist’ by All India Radio, Govt. of India, 2019 (Delhi)
- ‘Raag Ranjani Sangeet Bhushan Award’, 2018 (Delhi)
- ‘Pandit Ramji Upadhyay Mangal Dhwani Ratna Award’, 2018 (Delhi)
- ‘Pt. Man Mohan Bhatt Award’, 2018 (Rajasthan)
- ‘Atal Shikhar Samman’, 2017 – Presented at the Parliament of India (Delhi)
- ‘Dr. S. Radhakrishnan National Media Award’, 2017 (Delhi)
- ‘Himalayan Cultural Centre Award’, 2017 (Delhi)
- ‘State Icon’ title by Election Commission of India, 2016 (J&K)
- ‘Baramulla District Administration Award of Honour’, Govt. of J&K, 2016 (Baramulla, Kashmir, J&K)
- ‘Baramulla District Administration Award of Honour’, Govt. of J&K, 2016 (Sopore, Kashmir, J&K)
- ‘Pride of Paradise Award’, 2016 (J&K)
- ‘Pride of India Award’, 2015 (Delhi)
- ‘Sangeet Gaurav Samman’, 2015 (Delhi)
- ‘Madras Music Academy Award’, 2014 (Chennai)
- ‘Sangeet Mani Award’, 2014 (Delhi)
- ‘Sargam Mandir Swaran Jayanti Samman’ 2014 (Delhi)
- ‘Indian Fine Arts Society Award’, 2013 (Kingdom of Bahrain)
- ‘Sabzaar Award of Excellence’, 2013 (J&K)
- ‘Kashmir Kirti Samman’, 2012 (Pune)
- ‘J&K Government Award’ – Highest Civilian Award of Jammu and Kashmir, 2011 (J&K)
- ‘Kashmir Educational, Cultural & Social Society (KECSS) Award’, 2011 (Delhi)
- ‘Glory of India Award’, 2010 (United Kingdom)
- ‘Best Citizens of India Award’, 2010 (Delhi)
- ‘Raag Ranjani Sangeet Shree Award’, 2010 (Delhi)
- ‘Bharat Shiromani Award’, 2009 (Delhi)
- ‘Ma Sharika Samman’, 2009 (Haryana)
- ‘National Dogri Award’, 2008 (J&K)
- ‘Pt. Gama Maharaj Sangeet Bhushan Samman’, 2007 (Delhi)
- ‘Excellence Award’, 2007 (Delhi)
- ‘Sangeet Natak Akademi’s first ‘Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar’, 2006 (Delhi)
- ‘Young India Award’, 2006 (J&K)
- ‘Juenjo Korean International Heritage Award’, 2005 (Seoul, South Korea)
- ‘Tyndale Biscoe School 125th Jubilee Year Celebrations Alumni Award’, 2005 (Kashmir, J&K)
- ‘Kalawant Samman’, 2004 (Mumbai), etc.
Having been presented with hundreds of felicitations across the world, Abhay’s name features in various Biographical-Note Volumes published in India and abroad like “Famous India’s Who’s Who”, “Asia Pacific Who’s Who”, “Asian Admirable Achievers”, “Biography of the year”, “Famous India: Nation’s Who’s Who”, “Reference Asia”, “Kohinoor Personalities of Asia”, “Asian American Who’s Who”, etc.
Abhay recorded his first song as a singer at the age of three for a musical feature for All India Radio composed by his father Pandit Bhajan Sopori. He participated in various festivals as a child including his father’s grand choral presentation featuring over 8000 voices in Srinagar (Kashmir) in 1985. He also won the State Music Competition organized by J&K Academy of Art, Culture & Languages, Govt. of Jammu and Kashmir in 1989 at the age of ten. Abhay started his musical career as a Santoor player in mid 1990s and has since then participated in prestigious festivals across the world like USA, Russia, Brazil, Mauritius, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Germany, France, Italy, Slovakia, Czech, Hungary, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Slovenia, Ukraine, Morocco, Iran, Israel, Bahrain, Dubai, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc.
A graduate in Management and Computers with Masters in Music, Abhay is pursuing his Ph.D. in Music. He was born in Srinagar and inherited a profound sense of music from his fabled Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir, the exclusive traditional Santoor family with its roots spanning over nine generations over more than 300 years. Abhay learnt music (Santoor, Sitar & Vocal) under the traditional Guru-Shishya Parampara of his mystic Shaivite – Sufi tradition from his grandfather Pandit Shamboo Nath Sopori, the great Master musician hailed as the ‘Father of Music’ in Jammu and Kashmir, and from his father Pandit Bhajan Sopori, the legendary Santoor virtuoso and music composer.
Abhay composed and conducted his first ‘J&K Folk Music Ensemble’ in 2003 featuring around 75 musicians and since then has present the ensemble at various festivals in India. He also introduced the concept of ‘Sufi Music Ensemble’ titled ‘Sufi Kinship®’ in 2011 featuring 35 musicians and Santoor led ‘Indian Classical Music Ensemble’ in 2014 featuring 25 musicians. He has also composed and conducted a number of choral music presentations.
World-renowned music conductor of the Bavarian State Orchestra Zubin Mehta said “Abhay is a very talented musician. I was so pleased with his composition for my concert with the Bavarian State Orchestra in 2013 in Srinagar which contributed so very much to this memorable concert, that no one who was present will ever forget…"
– Zubin Mehta, Music Conductor
He is the only contemporary composer of India whose composition ‘Haftrang’ (seven colours in Kashmiri language) has been conducted by the legendary music maestro Zubin Mehta. Abhay scored the music for one of the greatest acclaimed fusion works presented in Kashmir in 2013 performed by the German ‘Bavarian State Orchestra’, one of the top most orchestras of the world, together with Abhay’s Kashmiri ensemble ‘Soz-o-Saaz’, giving international recognition to Kashmiri music and creating history in the world of music. Abhay also has the rare honor to be the only composer and conductor to share the stage and co-conduct along with maestro Mehta.
His other international collaborations include presentations and concerts with the world-renowned Austrian Vienna Boys Choir, Moroccan Lute maestro Haj Younis, Iranian Santur Maestro Dr. Darius Saghafi, American Dulcimer player Malcom Dalgish, French Clarinet player Laurent Clouet and others.
Abhay has more than forty notable releases to his credit. He has composed music for a number of documentaries, telefilms, short films, serials and also national and international award winning films including ‘Mahatma’, a documentary film by Government of India on Mahatma Gandhi, presented at the United Nations marking the first International Non-violence Day in 2007. His compositions have been trendsetters and greatest musical hits of Jammu and Kashmir. He has served as the youngest Visiting Faculty at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst, USA) and happens to be the first Indian Classical musician to be invited at the international conference TEDx. His music in the Bollywood film ‘Shikara’ has been lauded for bringing authentic sounds of Kashmir in commercial cinema.
A gifted and prodigious musician, Abhay continues to innovate and experiment with the Santoor further extending its dimension. In keeping with his lineage he has further established the concept of ‘Gayan-Vadan Baaj’ (vocal-instrumental system) and ‘Been Ang’ in the Indian classical system and introduced the ‘Open String Concept’ on the Santoor together with the ‘Enhanced Sustain Technique’ giving a new dimension to the sound of Santoor. He has also invented, designed and introduced a new 30-stringed instrument called ‘Sur Santoor’.
Abhay has revived the old Sufiana compositions of his predecessors and adopted them in the Indian Classical scenario and also written and composed new Khayal Bandishes (vocal compositions). He has also composed and introduced two new Ragas named Raga Nirmalkauns named after Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi and Raga MahaKali (Mahākālī) named after Goddess Mother Kali, which have been widely acclaimed by the music connoisseurs and critics.
Some of the hallmarks of Abhay’s performances are mellifluous playing, lightning tempo, clarity and accuracy of Raga exposition and adoption of the Sopori Baaj (style), the unique format of Santoor playing created by Pandit Bhajan Sopori. The Sopori Baaj is the formal system of playing the Santoor and incorporates all the essential technical and stylistic nuances of both the Gayaki (vocal) and Tantrakari (instrumental) Angs (aspects) such as ‘Meend’, ‘Gamak’, ‘Glides’, ‘Taan’, ‘Bol’, ‘Chhand’ and ‘Laya’ patterns, which are absolutely essential for the correct rendering of Raga-Sangeet in the true Indian Classical tradition. Presentation of Dhrupad Ang along with the accompaniment of Pakhawaj is also a special characteristic of his Baaj. Another remarkable and unique quality of his presentation is that he sings the composition along with its instrumental rendering reviving his traditional Shaivaite – Sufi Parampara (tradition).
Abhay has carried forward the great legacy of his family in propagating and promoting the Indian culture globally. He has the credit for creating a Cultural Revolution in Jammu and Kashmir bringing the youth together through music. His efforts and philanthropic initiatives have been path breaking creating a new generation of music connoisseurs and bringing more recognition to the art and culture of the country. Regarded as a Cultural Icon of Jammu and Kashmir, Abhay has been instrumental in introducing ‘Cultural Policy’ in J&K and also introducing music as a formal subject in schools and colleges. This initiative, also called as the ‘Music Initiative’, has been a major step in the educational system of Jammu and Kashmir creating new academic streams in colleges and universities as well as new job opportunities for the youth in J&K.
Abhay has been working in Kashmir since 2000 spreading the message of peace through music and reaching out to the youth in far-flung areas. Under the aegis of his father Pandit Bhajan Sopori, Abhay opened the music academy and organization named SaMaPa (Sopori Academy of Music And Performing Arts) in 2005, which is now a very prominent name in the music circle of India. As the General Secretary of SaMaPa, Abhay has the credit of initiating path-breaking events in J&K and Delhi. Some of the prestigious Annual festivals include SaMaPa Sangeet Sammelan (Delhi), which was started in 2005, considered as the topmost music Classical Music festival of Delhi, SaMaPa Aalap Festival (J&K), which was started in 2006, considered as one of the biggest music festival witnessed by over 50000 people. The festival is held at a number of venues including border areas, cultural centers, jails, etc. at places like Sopore, Baramullah, Kupwara, Bandipora, Budgam, Anantnag, Ganderbal, Srinagar, Jammu, Samba, Khour, RS Pora, Rajouri, Poonch, Katra, Udampur, Akhnoor, etc. and many more. Abhay has introduced the concept of ‘Common Song’ under which various songs have been released promoting peace, communal harmony and brotherhood and includes some of the biggest musical hits of Jammu and Kashmir.
Abhay has not only established himself as a preeminent musician of the present generation but simultaneously promoted hundreds of upcoming and talented musicians of the country. Further, Abhay has always been in the forefront to raise funds and mobilize resources through his charity concerts for various medical and social causes and also catastrophes like Kashmir earthquake (over INR 10 million), J&K floods (over INR 8 million), etc.