During the soundcheck of Alif — a band that performed at the Spoken Fest held in Delhi earlier this month — Mohammad Muneem Nazir takes off his shawl, one with Kashida embroidery on it, and wraps his microphone stand with it. This is something he does before every performance. The band members also wear a phiran or cover their gear with similar shawls. It reminds Nazir of “the feeling of home, of Kashmir, and the feeling of being rooted”.
The band, which came into being in 2008, is one of the few indie acts in the country that creates songs in Koshur, one of the dominant languages spoken in Kashmir. Their song, Ride home raises concerns that artistes have in the Valley, where livelihood is a struggle and spaces to perform are limited. It is one of the band’s most popular songs with over 2.5 million hits on YouTube. The five-piece band collaborated with folk artiste Noor Mohammad from Handwara for the same. Mohammad can be seen singing an ode to mothers in the video, holding his rabab. Through Lalnawath, which means ‘to cradle’ in Kashmiri, the band members try to give wings to the stories of Kashmiris — ones that otherwise “get buried between the mountains of this vale”. The video, in which we can see Nazir cradling a coffin, won the best music video award at the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival in 2018.
Released in 2016, their song Jhelumas, which also makes an appearance at the festival, is still as popular. Nazir wrote it as a response to the floods in Kashmir and compared the courage and resilience of the Kashmiri women to the river that provides livelihood to many. “When we see that so many people from across the country post covers of the song, singing it in Koshur, one realises that emotions transcend the language,” says Nazir. But the song that first put the band into limelight was Like a Sufi — perhaps India’s first Sufi rap. It was in collaboration with popular rapper MC Kash. “The idea was to document.
I don’t know how long my life will be — maybe till tomorrow, day after or another year, but as long as I am there, I should be documenting. I think an artiste is the most important person in the society as he or she documents the culture, documents the language and documents the emotions,” says Nazir, 36.
Describing his music as “Urdu and Kashmiri poetry with a contemporary sound”, Nazir’s tryst with writing started as a child when he maintained a diary. “It started from there. I attempted to write songs for others, but I couldn’t. I tried finding people who could compose for me but that didn’t happen. In the end, I had to do everything on my own. I picked up the guitar, started singing and composing my own songs,” says the singer-songwriter.
“There are things that you’re supposed to do and things that you want to do. Our society is such that we’re mostly doing things that we’re supposed to do. But I wanted to do something that kept me inspired, and art always keeps you in gratitude. The idea was to share honest emotions,” says Nazir, who, after Sufayed, is working on another album that will release next year.
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