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POP goes the rebellion

Author: Riyaz Wani
Publication: Tehelka
Date: October 20, 2012
URL: http://tehelka.com/pop-goes-the-rebellion/

Coming of age in more peaceful times, a few youngsters in Kashmir are composing a new narrative through their music, says Riyaz Wani

AT THE Band Inn, a one-room music institute, Adnan Muhammad Mattoo is helping nurture a new Kashmiri trend. Guitars line the walls and drums huddle in a corner in a dimly-lit space in Srinagar’s Jawahar Nagar. Every weekend, he holds classes from 11 am to 5 pm where 40 students train as vocalists, guitarists and drummers in the genres of rock, punk, metal and “a fusion of western and cultural”. Adnan says his school has helped form 11 bands and their evocative names trip lightly off his tongue: Tales of Blood, Rhythm, Vampz, Pyaas, Northern Nights and Pragash, a trio of 15-year-olds who hope to become Kashmir’s first all-girl sensation.

Since Mattoo set up Kashmir’s first band, Blood Rockz, in the late ’90s, and belted out Yeh Kaisi Azadi, the number of bands in the Valley has burgeoned to close to 42. Dying Breed, featured in TEHELKA in April, recently launched their debut EP and have done well, selling 500 copies in Srinagar.

Together, the bands represent a generation bred in conflict trying to forge a new identity. The youth still grope for a language that can validate the option of belonging in India. “Kashmir is part of India, but it doesn’t come across as a natural thing to say. At one level, we seem to stand apart from the rest of the country,” says Aaqib, an aspiring guitarist. “It also doesn’t help when we find India as the cause of pain in the state”.

These youngsters do not see themselves as rebels. For them, music is about finding their Kashmiri moorings and connecting to the larger world. Hence Sufi-rock, an eclectic merging of musical styles, is resonant here. High rates of unemployment also mean that traditional career paths are not always viable.

The three young girls in jeans and T-shirts who make up Pragash have an essentially individualistic goal, to pursue music as a career and give themselves a larger platform. “Our effort is to take in the musical influences from everywhere and then blend these into our music while we stay grounded in the distinctiveness of our culture,” says Aneeka, while Numa nods in agreement. “It is about us, about who we are and what we want from our lives.”

Aneeka is the vocalist and often stands up to practice singing in her sweet, nasal voice while Numa plays the guitar and Farah takes her position behind the drums. The pick for their favourite song is unanimous, Maula, Maula, a Sufi song in Kashmiri composed by their teacher Mattoo’s band. At home, they listen to Daughtry, Avril Lavigne, Metallica and Cradle of Filth. They also listen to Pakistan’s Sufi music, mostly Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Though a generation of the conflict, these youngsters wear their past surprisingly lightly. “It has only been five years since we became conscious of our surroundings,” says Numa. They have witnessed the successive unrests of 2010, watching raucous crowds fill the streets through their windows, throwing stones and shouting slogans. “We heard about it sitting at our homes. It was an experience difficult to forget.”

Two years of peace has allowed them the space to think of a life beyond conflict. Unlike teenagers of the ’90s, who occupied a narrow space between extreme militant violence and ruthless State repression, today’s generation lives in more nuanced times. “We can look back at the past in a more relaxed, and uncharged atmosphere, evaluate the loss and then choose to do things differently,” says Mattoo. “Music is our passion, but it is also an effort to escape from an excessively politicised environment, an attempt to breathe free.”

Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.

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