‘Dictatorship wrapped in Democratic flag’: A political symphony from a Kashmir attic

A group of Kashmiri musicians have released a song ‘Manzoor Nahi’ on Youtube against the ‘dictatorial policies’ of the world regimes. Making no bones about the political mess and factors behind it, the band had to do a lot of talking before coming out with their dissent tunes.

Even before the 2010 uprising would thaw, Kashmir had passed through a paradigm shift. At the peak of that summer, a Srinagar-based rapper MC Kash had become an internet sensation with his I-Protest anthem. Amid seething streets, the dissent tunes became another mode of protest — even fuelling a sense of resistance on the streets. This alternate mode of dissent is evolving.

These musicians would write and sing about the conflict in Kashmir, apart from singing the songs of the poets, reviving the art, and documenting the current situation in their songs.

Eight years since then, Ali Saffudin, Mua’zam Bhat along with a new Kashmiri band Meezan, are dishing out dissent tunes.

On May 12, they produced the song “Manzoor Nahi” (Not Acceptable), performing in the attic of one of the musician’s home at Srinagar’s Illahi Bagh.

It was in 2014 when the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi had visited Kashmir that the urge to write a song had hit Ali. Like many, he could see how normal life was disrupted in Kashmir in order to make the Indian premier’s visit smooth. The strikes and curfews made it clear that the high-profile visitor wasn’t welcomed in Kashmir.

Ali Saffudin

“I wrote a one-day protest song against that visit,” Ali says. Even when, he would later rephrase, rewrite and restructure the song, “so that everyone could relate to it,” Ali had arrived.

For his pal, and fellow musician who mostly raps in English, Mu’azzam, it started when he felt the need to say something.

“There’s a withdrawal of the people from the politics and political parties which do not do their job properly and some event had sparked that dismay towards it even more. Hence the song,” says Mu’azzam.

Ali has already written and released a few protest songs. However, he says, he took a vow not to write any more protest songs, until he knew how to define his idea of freedom.

While political events are known to inspire artists across the globe, in case of Kashmir, Ali says, the political events like Kathua rape-murder case, Omar Abdullah’s US faceoff, and other happenings do trigger artists like him.

“Incidents like these inspire me,” Ali says. “I called Mu’azzam and started writing the song from scratch. The deafening silence of the politicians compelled the words to come out.”

Kashmir is a place where elections are always questionable. While pro-Independence leaders ask people not to vote, the governments are still formed, ‘while some people vote, many boycott’. This, to Ali, is something that kills the idea of democracy. Choosing not to vote, he says, also reflects as to what they’re thinking.

While talking about the idea of democracy, the words—Tasub (prejudice), Nafrat (hatred), Ghaflat (negligence)—used in the song aren’t confined to Kashmir only, he says, but also to the outside world as well.

“We live in times where the line between democracy and dictatorship is blurring,” Ali says. “This song is a collaboration by Kashmiri artists to which the world can relate. I’ve used these lines on my Youtube channel too. The machinery of democracy has malfunctioned everywhere. Look at what Donald Trump is doing in the US, what Nawaz Sharif is doing in Pakistan. Not even a single politician is taking the responsibility of the position he is at. I’ve chosen the words carefully and deliberately. The idea was to confront the politicians.”

As far as Kashmir is concerned, he says, it would be ignorant to call Kashmir a democracy, as people’s wished are not even considered here.

“Politics has become a means of making money,” Ali says. “I’m not saying NC or BJP should change to get better. Point is, we’re not living in a democracy. I fail to understand why are these people treated as VIPs, despite being the reason behind this mess. People should talk about killings, military oppression and religious extremism, like they did when Kathua rape-murder happened.”

On the face of it, it seems the team—Ali (Acoustic guitar and Vocals), Mu’azzam, Ovais Ahmad, Muneeb Khan (Percussion), Zeeshan Nabi (Keys) and Qassam Hussain (Electric guitar)—has chosen solace and secrecy, to let the emotions and words flow. But what comes out, is the music that one can relate to.

Shooting the video in the attic represents the team’s style of work, says Mu’azzam, who for the first time switched from English to Urdu rap, so more people could understand him. “We’re not a big band and don’t have huge studios where we can record our stuff,” he says. “So, that’s exactly how we do our music in real.”

Mua’zam Bhat.

But one has to be careful in Kashmir, Ali says. The team was skeptical about releasing the song due to the possible repercussions they could face. The day they released it, they first held a meeting, if they should release it or not.

“We give sleepless nights to our family and friends by producing these songs,” he says. “But there is some responsibility to make our contribution to the Kashmir cause. We’re taking a stand and confronting the politicians.”

Once the song plays, the striking lyrics standout, “Ahle Watan, Ahle Chaman, Ahle Junoon, Ahle Yakin… Sab Milke Kaho, Mazoor Nahi” (We do not accept the negligence and lies, the intents full of hatred, the growing pride of politicians, the state of being helpless; we seek freedom from deceit, from meaningless institutions.)

“I’ve used Dharinday word for politicians who keep their pockets warm,” Ali says. “One who identifies with the first line will identify with the second line as well. We’re not provoking anybody. Also, there’s no audience for resistance music. This is a fulfilment of the responsibility of Kashmiri musicians to talk about the issues.”

But the deafening silence of other artists often tags the likes of Ali as activists, and links them with the resistance leadership, he says, “when we’re just calling for people.”

Cinematographed by Azaan Shah, the song has been edited by Nausheen Khan, a Jamia Milia Alumni. This is the first funky jazz track in which funk and Jazz music have been combined into a groove-based music.

“Zeeshan Nabi graduated from A.R Rehman’s KM Music Conservatory,” Ali says. “He could do anything, anywhere. Owais was burning with fever yet he came to record. We jammed it from 3 to 4 days to make it impactful. I’ve seen Mu’azzam write and rewrite in the nights. By this way or the other, we try to be there.”

Like Ali, Mu’azzam also believes that it’s quite dangerous to come up with resistance music in Kashmir.

“Whatever little we’re doing can be hindered or deterred in many ways,” he says. “And then, if you get some opportunity people are quick to label you as a traitor. What motivated me to write in this situation is the urge to speak the truth. No matter what!”


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