The advent of rap music in Kashmir with Roushan Ilahi’s powerful song, ‘I Protest’, has given birth to a new generation of budding and talented rappers who are using music to express the rage, not necessarily against the establishment, to a larger audience, Bilal Handoo reports.
At the peak of summer agitation in 2010, a young boy from Srinagar, Roushan Ilahi, created waves in Kashmir valley with his debut rap track ‘I Protest’. The song with its powerful lyrics and rebellious undertones became an instant hit among the youth who were surrounded by violence and had very few means to express their anger. ‘I Protest’ made Roushan an influential figure in popular music in the valley with many comparing him with Bob Dylan whose popular tracks became anthems for US Civil Rights movement in America in 1970s.
‘I Protest’ marked the beginning of a new era of rap music in Kashmir. A new generation of talented rappers instantly came out with popular tracks which found a mass acceptance among the youth. Since then, the passion for rap music has gripped the youngsters who are looking for means to give vent to their feelings.
Arshid Habib is a 12-year-old rapper from Raj Bagh, Srinagar, who recently enthralled audiences at Zabarwan Park, Dalgate. He says rapping is a way of his life. A huge fan of rap sensation, Bohemia, Arshid raps in fluent Punjabi. “What have you learnt after coming to this world? Man’s worth is known after he leaves this mortal world,” reads one of his Punjabi rap songs he penned down recently.
“Language is not a barrier. The message should reach the masses which is important. Besides, Punjabi is the darling language with a global reach,” Arshid says. At his age, children are usually seen playing in parks but the wisdom in his words speaks volumes about the maturity he has achieved at such a tender age.
Arshid is the member of rap crew called ‘The Outfit Followers’ formed by seven youngsters. A Class 7 student from Burn Hall School in Srinagar, Arshid has been rapping since the age of 10, “Rap is the form of communication through which I drain out my feelings about the things closer to my heart.”
Unlike most rappers, his music doesn’t revolve around politics. “I am rapper, not a politician. I will never talk about the politics.” He says that he raps to convey a message of life to people.
Arshid’s elder brother, Hamza Arshid, 17, is also a Punjabi rapper and diehard fan of Bohemia. A student of Class 11 at Burn Hall School, Hamza says rap is an art, “But people have false perception towards it in Kashmir. Wearing long chains and donning punk outfits don’t make one rapper. You have to toil hard to master this art.”
His rap, like his younger brother’s, revolves around social messages. “I rap to narrate a story. Keeping the mass appeal of rap music in mind, I think my message can reach larger audience around the world.”
Hamza is aware of the uncertainty surrounding the future of rappers in Kashmir. “Rap is still controversial for large masses here. But if a rapper doesn’t have a spine to alter established notions, then he should better quit rapping,” says Hamza in a confident tone. Interestingly, the family members of Arshid and Hamza have supported their endeavours. “Our parents want us to differentiate between studies and rap which we are doing,” said Hamza.
Most of the valley’s rappers have used social media and popular websites like Reverbnation, a web site launched in 2006 that focuses on the independent music industry, to publicize their music. While their friends are busy with studies and sports, these rappers are trying to create a niche in the world of music sadly seen as a form of immorality in a conservative society like Kashmir. Their passion for rap has made them ‘outlaws’ but they are confident to change the prevailing perceptions towards musicians in Kashmir.
Arhaan Manzoor who lives in Srinagar’s Sonawar area is another budding rapper from Kashmir valley. Barely 15-year-old, he started rapping at the age of 13 and recorded five tracks in his debut year which were featured on ReverbNation.com which allows its members to place content on web pages. Since then, there has been no looking back.
Famously known as AM-Da Bagpiper, Arhaan started rapping as a hobby and soon fell in love with it. “Growing social evils in our society provides me an opportunity to rap about these practices,” he said. Besides, his rapping also reflects his concern for the environmental degradation around the world. Inspired by famous rappers, Enimen and Immortal Technique, Arhaan says he raps mostly in English, “I will start rapping in my mother language Kashmiri language very soon.”
Besides being a student of Srinagar’s Amar Singh College, another teen rapper from Raj Bagh, Irfan Dar, 17, who calls himself ‘Young Heart’ is working hard these days to create a name for himself in the rapping world. But, sadly, his father doesn’t support his endeavours. All his pocket money goes into recording songs at Zee studio, Srinagar but he is still waiting for the right platform to showcase his talent.
Irfan started his rapping journey when he was a student of Class 10. Since then, he has recorded many rap songs which he has uploaded on ReverbNation. Irfan’s relationship with a girl didn’t materialize and his rap usually revolves around emotions and feelings. “Rapping is in my blood and a way to express my feelings. Being heartbroken, feelings for my lost love usually drive my rap,” he says.
He doesn’t believe in rapping on political subjects, “I think there are a lot of subjects to rap on,” he says. Being a struggling rapper, he performs at various school festivals in Srinagar and elsewhere.
Born in 1990, a rapper called Haze Kay whose real name is Zubair Magray is another rap sensation from Kashmir. “Having witnessed armed uprising in my childhood and struggle for existence in the years that followed, it is the insurgency I witnessed during my childhood that inspired me to pick up the music,” said Zubair. He released his first track ‘Puff Endorsed’ on July 21, 2009.
Interestingly, this track was the first rap to have been released by a Kashmiri. In the same year, he released two more tracks ‘Devils Cheer’ and “K E D bolder’ on Youtube and Orkut. In 2010, Magray went to Pune to pursue his engineering studies at DY Patil College of Engineering where he performed at various events. He also performed at Symbiosis Institute of Technology and International School of Business Management. “In order to spread word about Kashmir in 2011, I performed ‘Aazadi-a word to the Govt’ which won at a cultural event CRESCENDO in Pune,” Zubair said.
A16-year-old boy from Gopalpora on the outskirts of Srinagar is another rapper making waves in Kashmir. A Class 11 student of SP School, Srinagar, Jibran who is famously known as ‘Rapper JB’ is also inspired by Bohemia. He usually raps to convey feelings of love.
Jibran has performed in front of large audience in an event at Zabarwan Park, Srinagar recently where his performance was appreciated. “My motive is to attract the attention of people to my rap,” he says. Though he follows Mc Kash but doesn’t want to copy his style and substance. “There are rappers who have made it a point to sing only anti-establishment rap. But such style doesn’t attract me. I want to convey feelings of love through my rap,” he says. After initial reluctance, his parents are also supporting his passion.
Rapper Dash is another popular name among rap lovers in Kashmir. His real name is Danish, 17, and he lives in Rajbagh, Srinagar. He uses Facebook and ReverbNation website to publicize his rap. So far, this New Convent School boy has recorded 10 rap songs and most of them have become instant hit among youth. Danish started rapping at the age of 13. Since then, he has learnt to become proficient in Kashmiri, Punjabi, English and Hindi rap styles. Initially, he chose love as a theme for his rap songs. But he gradually started rapping on politics surrounding the conflict in Kashmir. “Rap is the voice of my feelings and those of others who can’t express their own hidden sentiments,” he says.
While nursing the wounds of his split love, he finds rap a reason to drain out the feelings inside his heart through his music. Besides, this aspiring software engineer writes his own lyrics, but not so frequently. “Today, rappers have serious problem with their content because they don’t give proper time to process it. But I make it very sure to pen down my lyrics after months of thought-process,” he said.
Kashmir saw the first rapping contest in autumn this year when DJ Athar Iqbal alias DJ Aki organized an event called “Rapper’s Battle” at Zabarwan Park, Dalgate on Sept 29. The event brought most of the budding rappers from the valley under one roof to exhibit their rapping skills. “Rapping is new to Kashmir and it will take some time to trickle down. For the time being, I want to guide these talented kids so that they can create a name for themselves,” said DJ Aki.