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With its abundant flora and fauna, the crystal clear water of the Dal lake, fresh air and snow-capped mountains, Kashmir truly is a paradise. But over the years it has become a paradise lost to those who call this beautiful landscape home. A cloud of darkness has loomed over the conflict-ridden state since 1947 when India gained independence from colonial rule and a newly freed country was torn into pieces. Kashmir joined the Indian territory but with its large population of Muslims, Pakistan laid its claim as well. The result has been years of war and turmoil in a once-peaceful and heterogeneous society having undergone irreparable loss to both life and property.
Music has long been one of the most powerful and universally accessible tools for political protest and self-expression. As a form of social activism, it stirs civic consciousness and often produces and dispels knowledge and solidarity across borders, drawing in attention and opening up a dialogue about the current state of affairs in regions under repressive regimes, or those curbed by censorship laws and a lack in freedom of speech. It’s not surprising then that in Kashmir, the youth have often taken to music to make critical political and social statements. While we all hear media-sensationalised news about the conflict zone, but this is life in a region of political struggles, disputed borders and constant violent protests where civilians more often than not end up being mere collateral damage. There needs to be room for voices that are actually living in their reality on a day to day basis than those of the media, speaking on their behalf.
Music has served as an outlet and contributor to the young freedom movement but it has also been a relief and an opportunity to bring out cultural aspects of a beautiful state that is now stained with blood. There’s more to Kashmir than just its politics. Today we look not only look at some of the brilliant resistance music coming out of the state that gives us insight, a new perspective and sort of defiant critical view of the popular state-dictated narrative but also introduces us to the rich cultural legacy of Kashmir that hides behind a thick cloud of communal hatred and political turmoil.
I. Mohammad Muneem
Ruh Mai, Hai Khuda
Ibtila Mai Hai Saara Jaahan
Kyu Mazhabon Ke Beech Mai
The Lord is in my veins
The world is in turmoil
Why lost among religions then?
Frontman of the band, Alif formerly known as Highway 61, Muneem’s music is loud, slightly rough, but his stirring voice and the band’s hard hitting lyrics stay with you and make you question everything that we as a country have been fighting for. Combining contemporary western pop music with that of traditional Kashmiri folk and indigenous instruments, his songs, written in Urdu and Hindi resonate almost painfully with what most Kashmiris feels. From the violence in the state to political turmoil, communal hatred to never ending conflict, the engineer turned musician from Srinagar has captured many hearts and has brought tears to many eyes with his soulful and captivating music.
Reportedly, in one of his performances Muneem is said to have abruptly stopped to question the audience ‘if they felt incomplete,’ given that the state is full of widows and orphans. His song, Ikebana, named after the Japanese art of flower arrangement, is dedicated to those whose loved ones were forcibly made to “disappear”. Mohammad Muneef, currently an Urdu professor at Symbiosis College Of Arts And Commerce in Pune, and his band Alif are very loved amongst Kashmiri youth. Their soft rock is slowly gaining popularity amongst other states, especially after being featured in Coke Studio. This poet, singer, songwriter dissents through his music and hopes to see a more tolerant India some day.
Check out his poetry and the band’s performances here.
II. Pragnya Wakhloo
Ithe pethe kahwe chai khushboo chu travaa
Tithye pethe aisi paizi ruth ruth vartavun
Badaam konge tay aele khashkhash
Ikvat milith karan tim kamaal
Byun byun ruzith chu gachaan lurapar
Ikvat saimtave fulraitav poshe ver
In the same way Kahwa (Kashmiri tea) spreads it’s fragrance to all around
Could we all spread the fragrance of our words/actions to those around us?
The mixture of almonds,saffron and elaichi
When they come together create a wonder!
There is no strength in separation
If we all come together, we blossom like a garden of flowers
The beautiful valleys of Kashmir for too long have been stained by blood, war and hatred. “That’s the perception I want to change through my music. Kashmir is about so much more than terror,” says Pragnya Wakhloo, echoing a sentiment many Kashmiri artists resonate with. Born in Srinagar and raised in Pune, Pragnya was as interested in music as she was in exploring her Kashmiri roots. Music has always been a form of self-expression for her, a passion that she deeply wanted to involve herself with, thus she quit her job and dedicated herself to storytelling though music.
The Delhi-based Kashmiri musician’s latest album, Kahwa Speaks is a movement started by Wakhlu that aims to introduce the world to the hidden facets of Kashmiri culture and help preserve the language by means of a live audio-visual tour and story-telling. Her songs, a combination of English and Kashmiri are a mix of contemporary takes on the poems of Lal Ded and Habakhatoon, the traditional Wanwun and original compositions that are aimed at spreading the message of peace and unity, strictly keeping away from any political agendas. The music is upbeat with a slight folky sound to create musical renditions that are a reflection of how most Kashmiri migrants grew up, with diverse modern influences, yet holding a strong connection to their roots.Also a professional sound therapist, Pragnya hopes that one day the world will look beyond the war-plagued Kashmir and relaise how rich and beautiful it is.
III. Winit Tickoo
baithoon main Tere aanchal tale unko liye
Duniya chale chalti rahe
Tham jaaye pal hamare liye
I sit in your lap with them
The world is on and about
But I hope it stops for us
Everything seems to come to a halt when Winit Tickoo sings. His soothing, passionate voice and soulful music transcends you to the spellbinding valleys of Kashmir, you do not feel like returning from. A singer/songwriter raised in Kashmir and now based out Mumbai, his music deeply reflect the Sufi tradition of Kashmir. Trained in Hindustani classical music for 11 years, he finds his inspiration in Urdu poetry. The songs are powerful and are a perfect blend of raw rustic Kashmiri folk elements and blues based Rock n Roll, Grunge and Alternative Rock.
Having been featured at the third edition of Coke Stuido and having performed at huge fests and events, the most unique aspect of Winit Tikoo’s music that makes it so popular is the way he amalgamates Kashmiri elements with those of rock, a characteristic you would find in all his songs. He firmly believes that this combination is necessary to preserve folk music in the country. Talking about the use of Urdu and India musical elements in his songs, the 33-year-old in an interview to the Indian Express said,“ I’m more keen to reach out to my people and I want to write for them first, then everybody else.”
IV. MC Kash
Threads of deceit
Woven around a word of plebiscite
By treacherous puppet politicians
Who have no soul inside
My paradise is burning
With troops left loose with ammo
Who murder and rape
Then hide behind a political shadow
He takes his name ‘Kash’ from his homeland and does not hold his tongue when it comes to voicing everything wrong that’s plaguing his motherland.The young and the bold MC Kash who saw a turmoilt Kashmir while growing up, raps his heart out with his powerful street poetry rap and lyrical storytelling that draws from Hip Hop, urban beats and indigenous Kashmiri sounds and various cultural influences from the state. Strongly believing that music has the power to harness transformation and bring about justice , Kash wishes to stay true to his streets and tell stories of all his people through his path breaking music. His iconic rap song, I Protest that he released only when he was 17 and his self produced album, Rebel Republik painted a brutal and truthfully bitter picture of Kashmir that overwhelmed billions of people and ignited the first seeds of change.
MC Kash chooses songs over stones to dissent and explores themes like hope, courage, survival, resilience and persistence and the destined triumph of Truth over falsehood. On his Facebook page, 22-year-old Kash writes that through his music, he seeks to ask questions, to insist on justice, to resist and condemn hate, greed and ignorance, and to awaken and propel reform and positive action in this world.
Check out MC Kash’s Facebook page here. You can listen to his music here.
Roz roz boz mein zar madhno
Daede chaeniey raewam ha raat madhno
Czei ha czei chuk bulgaar madhno
Chaeni patte rowum lokchaar madhno
Oh beloved, stop and listen to the torment that pursues
The affliction is you, the pain continues
It’s you who heals, it’s you who wreaks
The childhood lost in the burning pyre
Parvaaz needs no introduction. Most young urban millennials have heard their soulful renditions of famous Kashmir poets and original Urdu compositions coupled with dark, moody themes. The Bangalore based band with the lead singer and the guitarist, Khalid Ahamed (vocals), Mir Kashif Iqbal (guitar) belonging to Srinagar bring Kashmir alive in their music. They are spearheaded by Fidel D’souza on bass and Sachin Banandur on drums & percussions. The self-taught musicians who sing in Urdu, started out by experimenting with a lot of alternative rock, combining it with folk music and many elements of Indian classical music. Their scope keeps widening as the band continues to experiment with various genres. The song, ‘Colour White’ shot in a chilly, snowy Kashmir is about an individual fighting his own ego, but the song strangely brings a sense of comfort.
Parvaaz loves performing. Their passion is evident in the music and Khalid’s deep, resonating voice that strikes the right chords. In 2014, Parvaaz started a crowdfunding campaign to record their first album Baraan, which means rain in Persian and raised 2.5 lakhs in just two months. The band also opened for Alt J, a popular UK based band in the Emerge Festival in London. Though, their music is not entirely for resistance, Parvaaz can be credited to popularize Kashmiri music and Urdu songs paving way for many other young independent musicians to take the sounds of the valley to the rest of the nation.
Check out Parvaaz’s website here.
Feature Image Courtesy: www.gyawun.com
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