Kahan se ata mein? Sabse darrawni jagah se
Insaaf hi mana hai, gunhegaari mein mazza
Tu talve chaate toh bada hai, sach paale toh
(Where do I come from? The most dangerous place on this planet/ Justice, they deny it, violations bring them joy, here/ If you lick their boots, you stay relevant, you support the truth, you’re a criminal)
A basic drumbeat and synth piece on loop is the background to these lines in Elaan, a powerful song in Kashmiri rapper Ahmer Javed Dar’s debut album Little Kid, Big Dreams. For the rapper, this song serves as a “war cry against everyone who uses socio-political and religious differences to divide the Kashmiris”. In the second half, we also hear Delhi rapper Prabh Deep raise his voice — Jedde border ni tappe, karan jung da elaan (Those sitting comfortably at home, are declaring war). He further raps in Punjabi — Meinu chayedi aa azadi, nakli soch toh, pyon di pahunch toh, Kashmir di fauj toh, meinu rok lo ya thok lo, meri awaaz twaade toh zyada buland, Lok Sabha vich jinna marzi bhonk lo (I want freedom from blinded subservience, from your father’s reach, from the oppression I’ve seen in Kashmir/ Stop me or kill me, my voice will forever be louder than yours, bark as much as you want in the Lok Sabha). He further raps about how after this song, the government will declare him anti-
In Uncle, another powerful track on the album, Ahmer remembers Aijaz Ahmed Dar, his uncle, who was the first militant to be killed in the Valley — the incident that kicked off the insurgency in the late ‘80s. Dar was a part of the Muslim United Front, the coalition party that contested the infamous 1987 Legislative elections which the National Conference was accused of rigging. But this association was buried by the family. The song has now brought up many forgotten emotions. “My father couldn’t listen to the song for it brought up memories of my uncle. They were very close,” he says.
What also makes this track interesting is the recitation of the Kashmiri translation of Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, the famed soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth. It’s a reflection on the cry of a woman and how there was a time when his hair would have stood up, but now he was so full of horrors that it could no longer startle him. “In the verse, Macbeth is talking about how life signifies nothing, and in Kashmir, there is depression all around. There is uncertainty and people have no idea what is going to happen. They work like robots every day and all that the people want is a little peace and some money to feed their families,” he says. In the Shakespearean tragedy, Macbeth commits one murder after another to retain his throne and power. “The politicians and leaders can be all powerful and controlling but they should know god is way superior and a twist can have them lose it all,” says Ahmer.
The album not only tells Kashmir’s story, but also Ahmer’s — his journey from being “a shy, introvert kid, to becoming a socially-aware rapper”. In the songs Sifar (Zero), Galat, and Little kid, big dreams, he raps about the mental block that exists in the society when someone wishes to become an artiste, and the judgement that comes along. Released by indie hip hop label Azadi Records, the album has been produced by Delhi-based producer Sez on the Beat.
Ahmer was 13 when he first heard the rap In the club by 50 Cent. “I couldn’t understand the lyrics but I felt a connection with the music. I kept listening to it and started reading about hip hop. At night, before sleeping, I used to sit on my bed and write verses. Soon I was introduced to Tupac Shakur, and since then, he has remained a huge influence. Through his music, I got an idea about the trials and tribulations faced by the Black community and how they were suppressed and not given equal rights. His music really resonated with me,” says the rapper, who used to record songs on his mother’s Nokia phone, and make trips to a cyber cafe to download songs. After school, he moved to Delhi and trained in audio engineering and music production. “I knew I needed to become a complete package. Rappers in Kashmir used to lift beats off YouTube, they didn’t know much about rights and licenses,” says the 23-year-old.
Rap in Kashmir picked up after Roushan Illahi, better known as MC Kash, released the song I protest in 2010. It soon became an “anthem of dissent”. In Ahmer’s album, there is a conversation where we hear Illahi speak to a TV reporter after his studio was raided by the police that year. “I’m against injustice, I’m against oppression, massacres, rapes, I’m against everything called wrong, wherever it is happening, not only in Muslim countries. I’ll speak against it and Inshallah, will sing against it,” he says.
“MC Kash rapped in English but we knew he was talking about us, even though not many understood English. Soon some 40 rappers followed. They all were doing political rap. But people here did not understand English, let alone rap, and it was looked down upon,” says Ahmer. But with hip hop artistes breaking out of Mumbai, it has changed perceptions in the Valley. “I was too young at that time to understand the situation, but what I really cherish is that I did not give up at that time. So this album is also a tribute to that little kid who had big dreams and did not give up,” he says. While in school, all that Ahmer stressed about was homework. “I didn’t know much about the conflict while growing up. There were two bunkers in front of my house, and I used to wonder why they are there and why is there such wide army presence. It was only later when once my brother was beaten up and we used to hear of people disappearing that I started reading and understood,” he says.
What also sets the album apart is that Ahmer raps in Koshur, something not many rappers in the valley have attempted. “Rapping in Kashmiri isn’t cool. There is no audience if you rap in this language. The idea that ‘it doesn’t sound good on the beats’ — is is the notion that I wanted to change,” says Ahmer. Akh and Kasheer are two songs completely in Koshur, the rest are in Urdu. “When I had my first meeting with Sez, he told me to drop the verses in English and rap in Koshur for it will bring the best out of me. People in Delhi and Mumbai don’t know that Kashmir has its own language, so I wanted to put it on the map through hip hop. In Kashmir, nowadays, children in schools are told to speak in Hindi and English. They don’t speak in pure Koshur anymore. These are our roots and let us not forget about them,” says Ahmer.