December 5, 2023

SRINAGAR, India (Associated Press) – Sarfaraz Javid beat his chest in rhythm in the music video, swaying on the guitar and letting his throaty voice ring through the woods: “What kind of soot covered the sky? It turned my world dark. … Why entrust the house to strangers?” ”

‘Khutan Bang’ – Kashmiri for ‘call to prayer’ – plays like a groaning tone of Muslim-majority Kashmir, an extremely beautiful Himalayan region that is home to decades of regional conflict, gun-toting soldiers and ruthless oppression of the population. . It is sad in its tone but rich in lyrical symbolism inspired by Sufism, an Islamic mystical tradition. Its form is Marcia, a poetic performance mourning Muslim martyrs.

Javed, a poet like his father and grandfather, said in an interview, “I just express myself and shout, but when harmony is added, it becomes a song.”

Javed is among the movement of artists in disputed Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both since 1947, who form a new musical tradition that blends progressive mystical rock with hip-hop in an assertive expression of political aspirations. They call it “conscious music.”

Drawing on elements of Islam and spiritual poetry, it is often filled with religious metaphors to circumvent measures restricting some freedom of speech in Indian-controlled Kashmir that have led many poets and singers to swallow their words. It also seeks to bridge the tensions between Islamic tradition and modernity in a region that still in many ways clings to a conservative past.

“It’s like venting decades of pent-up emotions,” Javid said.

Kashmir has an ancient tradition of spoken poetry heavily influenced by Islam, with mystical and ardent verses often used when offering supplications in mosques and shrines. After the rebellion against Indian rule erupted in 1989, mosque loudspeakers sang poetic chants of liberation and sang elegies inspired by historical Islamic events at the funerals of fallen rebels.

Two decades of fighting left Kashmir and its people scarred by tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces before the armed struggle withered, paving the way for unarmed mass demonstrations that rocked the region in 2008 and 2010. Around that time Kashmir also saw the rise of protest music into hip-hop music. And rap in English, a new resistance anthem.

Singer-songwriter Roshan Elahi, who performs under the name MC Kash, pioneered the genre, creating the angry, neck-grabbing music that became a rallying cry for young people to use rhymes and sharp tones to challenge India’s supremacy over the region.

However, Cash’s songs came dangerously close to stirring up discord, as questioning India’s claim to the troubled region is illegal. The country has imposed severe restrictions on freedom of expression regarding the issue in Kashmir, including some restrictions on the mediaopposition and religious practices.

Repeated questioning by police drove Cash to the point where he almost stopped composing music. Some colleagues continued to record and perform but began incorporating cryptic language, or moved away from politics altogether.

“At first it was stifling, but now it’s a pillow over your mouth,” said Cash.

Tensions escalated in 2016 When Indian forces put down another massive popular uprising, this led to a renewed militancy. Three years later, in 2019, New Delhi abolished the region’s partial autonomy Amid a communications blackout and severe repression of the press and other forms of freedom of expression.

The situation has since worsened with aggressive counter-insurgency operations launched by India which has led to an escalation of armed battles between insurgents and Indian forces. Deadly attacks by insurgents It has also increased against Kashmiri police officials, Indian migrant workers and the Hindu minority in the region.

The crackdown that started in 2019 has continued, however, many artists have stuck to music and have shot to fame, with their songs being widely circulated on social media. Mindful music has flourished as artists have recently started incorporating lyrics in Urdu and Kashmiri.

One afternoon, a group of young artists gathered at the home studio of composer Zeeshan Nabi on the outskirts of Srinagar, the main city in Kashmir. Filling the room with coils of cigarette smoke, they eagerly discussed the essence of religious metaphors and references in their work.

The Prophet said: “What you (religious symbolism) do is constantly knock on the door, either in the form of a reminder or a remembrance of the past.”

He expressed optimism that the muzzle is temporary: “How long can you hold the fist? The oppressor can be oppressed until a certain time.”

“We are dreamers,” Arif Farooq, a hip-hop artist who uses the stage name Caravan, said with a chuckle.

The music video for the “Fugitive” – ​​”The Fugitive” – ​​convoy begins with a shot of barbed wire as he sits in the courtyard of the shrine to Kashmir’s greatest Sufi saint, Mir Syed Ali al-Hamdani. It evokes the ancient battle of Karbala in which the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad was martyred and symbolizes the struggle against injustice and oppression.

“Our disease can only be cured by revolution, my friend. Every answer lies in Karbala, my friend,” urges Caravan in the song.

Caravan said religious symbolism is a creative tool that reflects Kashmir’s pain and evades the eyes of the state.

“You want to be robbed, but you don’t want to be caught,” he said.

The symbolism of faith as a subtext in this new form of music is hard to miss.

One of the recent videos, “Inshallah” – has words that evoke monotheism, the cornerstone of the Islamic faith. Singer Yawer Abdul Kashmir imagines people being freed, blindfolded and clasped around their necks, amid chants of “We are all free”. The playing of “Insha’Allah” is placed on a chorus of the morning prayer, as it is repeated in mosques.

Another song – “Jhelum”, named after the main river in Kashmir – became an instant hit, comparing the banality of everyday life in Kashmir with the constant mourning for the dead. In videos online, users have since set the song on moving and still images of fallen fighters to commemorate them – partly a way of resisting the authorities’ policy since 2020 of burying suspected rebels in remote mountain cemeteries, Depriving their families of the opportunity to perform the last rites.

“There is this tension in the atmosphere that shapes you in a certain way,” said poet and singer Fahim Abdullah, the man behind Jhelum.

Poets and musicians receive state sponsorship in Kashmir, and government-sponsored music events continue regularly.

Yet at least some Indian authorities have a bleak view of the growing movement of protest music. On one recent occasion, a senior Indian military general praised the region’s rich artistic heritage, but lamented “the kind of rap that brings nothing but sadness”.

On a recent evening, Javid, the artist behind Kheftan Bang, sat on the shore of picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar, and delivered an elegy for his homeland. And when the sun slipped from behind the mountains and the rain began to fall, he ended with the recitation of the names of the disappeared. A distant relative was among the names.

“I’m the opposite of what I see,” Javid said. “I see pain, agony, and loss.”


The Associated Press’s religious coverage is supported by an Associated Press collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.


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