At the peak of summer agitation in 2010, the wave of Roushan Illahi’s ‘I Protest’ song brought a new cultural phenomenon in Kashmir. SHAMS IRFAN traces the journey of Illahi, who just released his new album ‘Rebel Republik’ and how his rap has altered and influenced the popular culture in Kashmir.
It has been a coming of age for Kashmir’s most popular hip-hop rap artist, Roushan Illahi, who is known by his stage name, MC Kash. The 22-year-old rapper, after launching his official website and his first solo album titled ‘Rebel RepubliK’ said, “I am only trying to be true to my streets.”
Kash instantly rose to fame in Kashmir during 2010 summer protests. The song titled ‘I Protest’, which talks about the killings of scores of teenagers by government forces, instantly clicked with youngsters who were looking for ways to give a vent to their anger against the curbs and atrocities committed by forces in Kashmir.
The lyrics of ‘I Protest’‘I will throw stones and never run…I protest, until my freedom is come’ are graphic and tell the tale of demonstrations that took place in Kashmir after the government forces used bullets to quell protests which questioned Indian rule of Kashmir.
It was like an anthem, a voice that reflected the mood and atmosphere on the streets. And almost the entire young generation in Kashmir got busy sharing the young rapper’s elegy on social networking sites to counter the state’s version of the events in Kashmir.
In Rebel RepubliK, Illahi has used a tipper sticker which carries a public advisory saying the content is truthful. The album carries a stylized image of Kashmir’s most recognized rebel face, Maqbool Bhat, embossed on a postal stamp with words beneath it saying ‘Republic of Kashmir’. When asked why he chose Maqbool Bhat’s image for cover, without hesitating for a moment, Kash said, “All that I know about Maqbool Bhat is enough a reason for me to put him on the cover. He is an epitome of dedication and commitment to Kashmir cause. Just like the cover, the album is meant to resurrect the sense of community, hope and resilience that Shaheed Maqbool Bhat’s vision embodies. The postal stamp carries a message to a country without a post office,” said Kash
The album has ten tracks and each track talks about Kashmir and its people. Kashmir is the central theme of the album. The powerful lyrics, which Kash wrote himself, talk about the oppression of Kashmiris at the hands of government forces. The album has a song titled Koshur X, which is inspired by the life of Malcom X. “I came to known about Malcom X through his book which I brought from a roadside stall,” said Kash.
Another track titled ‘The Letter’ is actually a letter written by Maqbool Bhat himself from Tihar Jail to one of his comrades which talks about the virtues of perseverance and his idea of freedom and Kashmir’s struggle against oppression through the ages. “Maqbool Bhat, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King make Rebul RepubliK complete for me. They are inspirations – people who stood up for their principles. The album hopes to catch their dreams, their ideas of freedom,” said Kash.
With help from his parents and friends, Kash self-financed his website and his first album. But he knows that in order to sustain himself as an artist, he has to graduate and get a paying job too. “I can’t keep going to my father everyday and ask for money. I am a grown up man now,” he feels.
After ‘I Protest’ went viral, Kash got many offers in India. But he fears for his safety as he is aware that his lyrics may not go down well with Indian audiences who see no evil in their forces in Kashmir. “I want people to listen but only if there are receptive ears. I don’t mind if it is in Mumbai or outside Tihar jail as long as people want to listen to what I have to say,” Kash says. “Doing gigs is also a way to feed my passion,” he quickly adds with a smile. “I know it is difficult to survive in this world when you have nothing in your pocket. But money or no money, I cannot stop now. I have taken a vow,” says Kash.
Kash feels that the younger generation in Kashmir must try to stay alive and develop their intellectual skills and use it for their motherland. But he knows that odds are against them. “Chances are that they might also end up coming home in a coffin,” said Kash. —