Songs of War, Bands of Peace

A rock of teenagers creates music that speaks of growing up in conflict. And a group of youth come together to compose music that speaks of the tragedies and questions the powers of the State. Majid Maqbool reports about their aspirations – conveyed through their music.

Adnan Matoo

Two years ago, inspired by Jal – a Pakistani band also started by teenagers – Adnan, Suhaib, Rahil and Rahul Dev thought of forming their own rock band, and named it Blood Rockz. When these youngsters – all four of them 12th standard students – first performed at their high school annual function, they were laughed at. But that was not to deter them from their passion – rock music.

They practice at Adnan’s two story house in Rawalpora area of Srinagar. All of them meet in the living room to practice thrice a week. Their modest instruments – guitars and some drums – occupy half of the room. In one corner, there is a laptop filled to capacity with rock music – especially from their favorite Jal band. And also saved in multiple music files is the rough version of their own music.

Adnan, the lead guitarist, is the most talkative of the four. “We were in 11th standard when we performed our first show in our school function,” he says. “There everyone saw us differently and we were not allowed to perform. We were made to leave.”

“Later our principal called us on phone and later sent a student to our home. We went back and gave such a performance that we won the first prize in that annual function,” he recalls with satisfaction.

On a grainy, amateur video of their school stage performance shot on a mobile phone, besides the noise of drums and guitars, hooting and clapping can be simultaneously heard. Till that time, music was their hobby. After the first prize in the school function, they thought of taking their hobby seriously.

In 2008, the band was invited to perform in Srinagar’s Grand Mumtaz hotel. “We didn’t know how to react. We just sang 60 songs and performed without any break for two hours at a stretch,” says Adnan. Last year the young band also featured in a BBC radio documentary presented by BBC’s George Arney.

Their families were reluctant at first, but eventually gave in, and brought instruments for them. “Fortunately, my family supported me a lot,” says Adnan. “Had that not been the case, we wound not have met today,” he says, as other band members nod in agreement. “We rehearse here. Even our neighbors encourage us now,” he adds.

Many a times when the band goes out with their guitars, Suhaib says, people laugh at them. “Some people don’t like it. They call us ruffians, vagabonds,” he says. “But those who understand rock music, appreciate us,” he adds with a smile.

The band is yet to be recorded in a studio. “Whatever songs we have sung, we have recorded them ourselves at our homes,” says Adnan. The band is looking forward to get more opportunities to showcase their talent. “We get many offers to perform in hotels, but we don’t like it now as we don’t want to be there just to please the guests,” says Suhaib. “We want respect for our music,” he adds.

While they compose music, they write their lyrics as well.

“We sit together and talk about Kashmir, and what is happening around us, and what is its effect on us. And then we start writing about it together,” explains Adnan.

Rahil, the lead singer of the band – aided by Suhaib and Adnan on the guitar and Rahul on the drums – sing their first composition. The song revolves around the death of people’s loved ones, loss of support to the unending conflict.

Suddenly, in the middle of their song, the group pauses. At the call for noon prayers from the nearby mosque, they drop their instruments, and stop singing, briefly. Then, once the Azan is over, they pick up their instruments again, and resume singing.

“This song is a reflection of our aspirations, and music is the best way to express our aspirations and feeling,” says Shuaib. “And we can give a message through our music,” he adds.

Adnan feels that in India, there are a lot of misconceptions about Kashmiri youth. And the band wants to dispel that through their music. “When I am online and chat with youth from outside, and when I tell them that I am from Kashmir, they say that we are all terrorists, and don’t want to chat with us”, says Adnan. “That time I feel very bad. We are not like that,” he adds.

“Through our music we want to show to the whole world what the situation is like in Kashmir and what are the aspirations of youth,” says Suhaib.

Last year’s events – the Amarnath land row, the subsequent protests and curfews – left an imprint on these youngsters too.

“I don’t feel Indian anymore,” says Adnan resolutely.

“Few months back my friend was hit in the eye by a bullet from the security forces, and he lost one of his eyes,” he says. “He sat in the exams but he could see only with one eye.”

Adnan falls silent for a while. A question, that has been disturbing him, breaks the silence at last.

“My friend came out of his home and got a bullet in his eye. But what was his fault?” he asks.

After this incident, the band composed a song. “Dil keh raha hai humsay yahee…jiyange, mitange is zameen kay liyae…(Our hearts tell us, we will live, die for this land).”

These youngsters now want to make a rock version of Kashmiri songs.

“We want someone who can write lyrics for us in Kashmiri,” says Adnan, eager to experiment with their music. Suhaib feels their version of music has a future as the world today accepts rock music, and it has a special appeal for the youth. “To reach a much wider audience, we are changing our version of music,” he adds.

Kashmir revolutionary (Inqalab):

Four singers, including one blind singer, came together in 2008 to bring out their album, Inqalab. The songs in the album – mostly sung in Kashmiri – have revolutionary lyrics that question the powers of the state. Their songs speak of the conflict around, and how it affects the lives of the ordinary people caught in the conflict. Unlike the Blood Rockz band this group is reluctant to talk much.

Shabir Ahmad, 28, who wrote some of the songs, brought all the singers together for the album. He lost his brother to conflict in the early 90s. He says that their songs have more than just an entertainment value. “We have been affected by the conflict and suffered over the years. Kashmiris have given sacrifices and we wanted to convey that through our music so that the coming generation doesn’t forget what happened here once upon a time,” he says.
Apart from the lyricist, only one person associated with their music album, Janisar Kashmiri, 35, is willing to talk, but not on tape .

“I would write Kashmiri poetry but when nobody was able to read and appreciate it, I thought of writing lyrics for these songs, as you can get your message across more emphatically if it is aided by music,” he said.

Their music, says Shabir, is different from other singers as it questions the powers of state, and takes a political position which can invite trouble for them. “We convey Kashmiri nationalistic sentiments through these songs,” he says. “We are different; we sing for a purpose,” he adds.

One song in the album, written by Shabir, is a parody, an anti-song of a hit number sung by Shameema Azad some years ago. “Wathev badlav panun Taqdeer, karav tamer naev Kashmir (Let’s change our Kashmir. Let’s build a new Kashmir).

When I first heard this song, recalls Shabir, I felt it was not the true depiction of the Kashmir we live in. “So that day I sat in front of the TV and this song playing in front of me, I wrote the lyrics of the song which is in the album too,” says Shabir. The lyrics in his anti-song, instead of dreams, speak of shattered dreams: “Sanean khaban karukh haet cheer, karev taemeer naev Kashmir (Our dreams were shattered, but you build a new Kashmir).”

Their album, concludes Shabir, is an attempt to present the alternative realities of Kashmir.

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