sbcltr speaks to Mohammad Muneem, the lead vocalist of popular Pune based sufi band, Alif, on the idea of writing in Kashmiri and their recent collaboration with Hip Hop artist and self-professed street poet MC Kash.
In the summer of 2010, at the height of civil unrest in the Kashmir valley, the then 20-year-old Roushan Illahi aka MC Kash released a song called I protest and shot to instant fame. Its powerful lyrics (I protest/ Against the things you’ve done/ I protest/ For a mother who lost her son/ I protest/ I’ll throw stones and never run) gave it a cult status that no other Kashmiri rapper was able to replicate. It also gave MC Kash (short for the province) instant recognition and a chance to lead the way for fellow musicians who aspired to tell stories of their heritage. Six years later, the popular Pune based Sufi band that sings only in Kashmiri/Urdu, collaborated with the artist to create the country’s first “Sufi rap” song. The song titled Like a Sufi is sung mostly in Kashmiri and propagates the message of peace.
Who is Alif and how did MC Kash and Alif happen?
Alif is an experience of words in music. Alif writes in Urdu and Kashmiri. It is the fusion of contemporary poetry and music with ethnic sounds. There are five of us— Savio Sebastian on Lead Guitars, Hardik Vaghela on Keyboards, Alex Qouthino on Drums, Amit Gadgil on Bass and Mohammad Muneem on Vocals.
I met MC Kash in 2010. We kind of knew that things would fall in place as we are both born and brought up in Kashmir. We had the same aspiration—of reaching out to people and sharing more of Kashmir through personal stories and more. And what better way to collaborate than to do a track together. Thus it began!
You have said, there is no point in making songs in Koshur (Kashmiri) so that the message goes out on a more universal level. What is the message?
You must have not heard that right. It only makes sense to write in Kashmiri. In fact, we need more people who know this language to use it as a medium to express themselves, especially in writing.
Having an English part to these songs, helps us cross over on both sides. People who listen to Kashmiri are exposed to English and vice-versa.
The message you mentioned is the perspective of the listener. Different people will absorb it differently. And because we are born and brought in Kashmir, we are naturally prone to tell our narratives from the valley.
In comparison to some of the earlier MC Kash songs, which are overtly political, the rap lyrics of Like a Sufi seem to be pretty subdued, talking about loss and love. Does the feedback you receive affect your song writing process?
Song writing is an extremely intimate process.
After I wrote the song, I shared it with MC Kash and eventually the band started jamming to it. We liked what we were doing and MC Kash complimented what we had written, so we stuck to that. Like a Sufi is a verb. It is an activity. In a way, being lost in wanting to meet someone who you have lost.
This song appeared on India 101 and your collaboration with MC Kash has been described as “India’s” first Sufi rap? Comments?
Sufi comes from the word tassawuff which means mystic. It’s more about poetry, zikr and lifestyle. It’s introspective and at times, people make melodies of these words. I feel, in contemporary times, the word Sufi is a term associated with a feeling that the words and sound create when listeners tune in.
Every person absorbs it in different way. I’m sure this kind collaboration with Kashmiri and English words is just a beginning for people to express themselves. The words written in Kashmiri were extremely draining, a lot more introspective especially ” bobai bobai suin kya ranuth peer saeri samkhin aai” (Oh grandmother, what did you cook for dinner? The peers have come to dine).
And now it’s up to the listener to perceive when the peers come to dine with you one last time and who are the peers.
All this was complimented by English words.
Your music in general is a mix of Western music and Sufi. How does Kashmir figure in it?
I was born and raised in Kashmir. It’s only natural for me to express more of Kashmir in what I do.
How do you guys manage producing music in Kashmir? Do you have enough jam pads/ recording studios to practice and record? Tell us more about the independent music scene in Kashmir.
I often go back home to write. When I come back, I share it with the band and we jam together. Sometimes what we write turns into melodies and we have structures of it and these in turn, become songs. Since we are signed with Mumbai based Flying Carpet Productions (founded by Ashish Manchanda), we do a lot of back and forth between Kashmir, Mumbai and Pune.
As far as the music scene in Kashmir is concerned, there is a lot that can be explored. Kashmir is full of raw talent, but it needs the right exposure of sonics, production and performance.
What did the other band member of Alif had to say when they heard the revolutionary lyrics of your previous work with MC Kash?
Alex: Roushan’s lyrics are so rooted in personal experiences that they become universal for everyone who is going through the same plight. And his vocal delivery has an authenticity which is rare to come across.
Hardik: I saw that what he writes about resonates with everyone in the conflict zones and inspires people. It’s always a pleasure to be part of such inspiration.
Savio: I think it was great blend of two intense genres, passionate, stemming from genuine experiences. A strong statement and a wild cry for justice.
Amit: MC Kash is definitely one of the fearless people who could bring a bright good change in the way people look at kashmir. the vocal delivery takes you through the sea of emotions. He is a brother to me, we have mutual respect for each other’s work.
Does faith play a role in your life?
Faith is personal. Sukhr and sabr 🙂 Kareem
What have been some of your memorable live performances?
Playing songs which have Kashmiri words in Kerala for kappa TV was super fun. Memorable performances are directly proportional to that day itself. The audience energy, the sound vend and how we feel. We sure have had quite a few. Though the one I can think of is, doing an acoustic three song set on international day of disappearances in Kashmir last year. It was humbling and moving. There was no mic, no sound, and no stage. Just people around, sitting on grass.
What is the ideology behind your music and where does that inspiration come from? Does it come from people who you have grown up listening to or is it something else?
We want to stay inspired and that shall happen when we inspire people around us. Inspired to be one, to be Alif. To be Strong. Oneness of all beings and that is Alif.