Musical Notes

The golden voice of Kashmir’s indie musicians echoes with politics and folklore

Kashmiri musicians are creating renditions of Kashmiri folk tales and poems blended with Western percussion instruments.

“The more you absorb music, the more you express,” said Mohammad Muneem, lead vocalist and songwriter of the Pune-based band Alif. Muneem’s songs defy genre. From blues to soft rock, each song is a unique blend of Kashmiri and Western genres, merging together to create an unusual range, one which even fans of traditional Kashmiri music are surprised by. “We have a large bandwidth – call it our strength or disadvantage,” he said. “We are a little loud, rough. We are out there. We are extrovert but the lyrics are introverted.”

Muneem’s compositions evolved over time, with his understanding and awareness of his surroundings. From covering songs by Guns N’ Roses, System Of A Down and Pink Floyd, the 34-year-old finally decided to make Kashmiri music.

An engineering graduate with a degree in business administration, Muneem quit his job to take up a permanent career in music. In 2008, he joined other artists to form the band Highway 61, before rechristening it Alif. Muneem’s fusion of Kashmiri and contemporary instruments have been featured on Coke Studio, Kappa TV and several festivals across the country.

Naturally, the music of the Srinagar native is influenced by the events around him and reflect the spectrum of life in Kashmir. He witnessed violence as a child, and then again in 2003, when a hate crime left him with stitches on his wrist and on the back of his head. The thought that humans were ready to kill one another drove Muneem to listen to music with deeper messages.

“I started listening to U2 to absorb what Bono wants to say in Where the Streets Have No Name,” Muneem said. “I liked listening to Pink Floyd’s words on society, time, money, and politics. Being a Kashmiri, political awareness comes with birth. I started reading about Kashmir, understanding the nuances and how people have been so resilient. Every song that I’ve written, every poem has come at the right time.”

Play

Muneem sings about Kashmiri folklore, political churnings and the trail of destruction the two decade-long conflict has left on the state. One of his songs, Ikebana, named after the Japanese art of flower arrangement, is dedicated to those whose loved ones were forcibly made to “disappear”.

During his live performances, Muneem is known to abruptly halt his song midway to ask the audience if the song felt incomplete. That, he will say, is to give people a sense of the sudden emptiness the half-widows and mothers of the missing children and men feel in Kashmir. Some of Muneem’s compositions are rearranged folk songs. After initial criticism and taunts online, Alif’s listener base has grown. One such folk song, Cheerith, composed by Bashir Dada, is about heartbreak. Muneem, however, turned it into a song of celebration.

“I celebrated heartbreak,” he said. “Some despised it, made fun of it, but in the process started liking it.”

Play

While both traditional and popular Kashmiri music can be heard in the Valley, Bollywood music is still the loudest and the most easily available. To get around this, Kashmiri artists have begun to use the internet and social media to draw larger audiences.

In the past decade alone, Kashmiri musicians have created renditions of Kashmiri folk tales and poems blended with Western percussion instruments. Parvaaz, a Bengaluru-based band with a lead vocalist from the Valley, has produced songs that struck a chord with audiences all over the country. The band’s first extended play, Behosh, featured a song in Kashmiri. Lead vocalist Khalid Ahamed said the intention to sing in Kashmiri was a happy coincidence which occurred when guitarist Kashif Iqbal, a fellow Kashmiri, played a folk tune on his guitar.

“It stuck with us, we did three songs in Kashmiri,” said Ahamed. “It was never intentional that we wanted to do Kashmiri. It just came to us naturally.”

Play

Ahamed’s fascination with music began in his childhood, when he listened to his father play songs on a tape recorder. In 2010, Ahamed got together with Iqbal in Bengaluru to set up Parvaaz. Both musicians are self-taught. Since then the band has performed at major festivals across India and are becoming an important part of the nation’s live music scene. Parvaaz has also produced two albums.

Like Alif, their music doesn’t stick to a single pace or genre. The band produces progressive music in a mix of folk, blues, and rock.

The band’s rendition of Kashmiri poet Mahjoor’s Gul Gulshan Gulfam, a poem which describes love, longing, and hope, blends the verses with progressive rock. Another song, Roz Roz, came about when the band experimented with the guitar, playing it the way the traditional stringed instrument rabaab is played. The melody, Ahamed said, came before the lyrics sometimes.

Play

The fact that a majority of Parvaaz’s audience are non-Kashmiri speaks of the acceptance of Kashmiri music and art. Both Alif and Parvaaz depend on live gigs more than album sales. Producing original music, they said, is a slow but steady process.

While Alif recently released its new album Sufayed, Parvaaz is recording music for an upcoming movie, Vodka Diaries.

Play

There are several other Kashmiri musicians captivating audiences with their music. Mumbai-based music director and singer Jaan Nissar Lone’s song Jugni is a rendition of the poetry of Mahjoor. Mehmeet Syed, one of the few female singers from the Valley, has won many awards and gigs at home and abroad. Touring abroad with two other Valley-based musicians, Irfan and Bilal, the trio have played renditions of lullabies and traditional songs to foreign and diaspora audiences.

Play
Play
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Young Indians now like their traditional food with a twist

Indian food with international influences is here to stay.

With twenty-nine states and over 50 ethnic groups, India’s diversity is mind-boggling to most foreigners. This diversity manifests itself across areas from clothing to art and especially to food. With globalisation, growth of international travel and availability of international ingredients, the culinary diversity of India has become progressively richer.

New trends in food are continuously introduced to the Indian palate and are mainly driven by the demands of generation Y. Take the example of schezwan idlis and dosas. These traditional South Indian snacks have been completely transformed by simply adding schezwan sauce to them – creating a dish that is distinctly Indian, but with an international twist. We also have the traditional thepla transformed into thepla tacos – combining the culinary flavours of India and Mexico! And cous cous and quinoa upma – where niche global ingredients are being used to recreate a beloved local dish. Millennials want a true fusion of foreign flavours and ingredients with Indian dishes to create something both Indian and international.

So, what is driving these changes? Is it just the growing need for versatility in the culinary experiences of millennials? Or is it greater exposure to varied cultures and their food habits? It’s a mix of both. Research points to the rising trend to seek out new cuisines that are not only healthy, but are also different and inspired by international flavours.

The global food trend of ‘deconstruction’ where a food item is broken down into its component flavours and then reconstructed using completely different ingredients is also catching on for Indian food. Restaurants like Masala Library (Mumbai), Farzi Café (Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru) and Pink Poppadum (Bengaluru) are pushing the boundaries of what traditional Indian food means. Things like a kulcha pizza, dal chaawal cutlet and chutney foam are no longer inconceivable. Food outlets that stock exotic ingredients and brands that sell traditional Indian packaged snacks in entirely new flavours are also becoming more common across cities.

When it comes to the flavours themselves, some have been embraced more than others. Schezwan sauce, as we’ve mentioned, is now so popular that it is sometimes even served with traditional chakna at Indian bars. Our fascination with the spicy red sauce is however slowly being challenged by other flavours. Wasabi introduced to Indian foodies in Japanese restaurants has become a hit among spice loving Indians with its unique kick. Peri Peri, known both for its heat and tanginess, on the other hand was popularised by the famous UK chain Nandos. And finally, there is the barbeque flavour – the condiment has been a big part of India’s love for American fast food.

Another Indian snack that has been infused with international flavours is the beloved aloo bhujia. While the traditional gram-flour bhujia was first produced in 1877 in the princely state of Bikaner in Rajasthan, aloo bhujia came into existence once manufacturers started experimenting with different flavours. Future Consumer Limited’s leading food brand Tasty Treat continues to experiment with the standard aloo bhujia to cater to the evolving consumer tastes. Keeping the popularity of international flavours in mind, Tasty Treat’s has come up with a range of Firangi Bhujia, an infusion of traditional aloo bhujia with four of the most craved international flavours – Wasabi, Peri Peri, Barbeque and Schezwan.

Tasty Treat’s range of Firangi Bhujia has increased the versatility of the traditional aloo bhujia. Many foodies are already trying out different ways to use it as a condiment to give their favourite dish an extra kick. Archana’s Kitchen recommends pairing the schezwan flavoured Firangi Bhujia with manchow soup to add some crunch. Kalyan Karmakar sprinkled the peri peri flavoured Firangi Bhujia over freshly made poha to give a unique taste to a regular breakfast item. Many others have picked a favourite amongst the four flavours, some admiring the smoky flavour of barbeque Firangi Bhujia and some enjoying the fiery taste of the peri peri flavour.

Be it the kick of wasabi in the crunch of bhujia, a bhujia sandwich with peri peri zing, maska pav spiced with schezwan bhujia or barbeque bhujia with a refreshing cold beverage - the new range of Firangi Bhujia manages to balance the novelty of exotic flavours with the familiarity of tradition. To try out Tasty Treat’s Firangi Bhujia, find a store near you.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Tasty Treat and not by the Scroll editorial team.