We recommend: Indie music from the Valley
Editor’s Note: Here’s a wonderful crash course in contemporary independent music from Kashmir. Hip-hop, sufi and rock artists are recreating poetry and folk sounds—but with a message and often uncomfortable for the rest of the nation.
Written by: Arunima Joshua, Advisory editor
Indie experimentation in the subcontinent is peaking across genres. And it’s no different in Kashmir where indie artists are seriously kicking ass. The mood in the Valley is more hip-hop—marked by a resurgence of sufi-folk. Most of it is subversive and perhaps even uncomfortable for many of us. But this is music that expresses the soul of Kashmir—and makes a lovely playlist—even if you have to step out of your comfort zone.
We have created a handy playlist with all the tracks mentioned on splainer’s Youtube channel.
‘Listen, My Brother’: by MC Kash. Roushan Illahi is one of the best known indie artists from Kashmir. He picked his stage name as a tribute to his homeland and to reflect his pioneering genre of protest rap from the Valley. This track from his debut album features fellow musicians Mohammed Muneem and Highway 61, on electrifying guitars.
‘Kahwa Speaks’: by Pragnya Wakhlu. Bilingual singer-songwriter Pragnya Wakhlu belts out Kashmiri folk tracks set to guitar arrangements. Enjoy visuals of the traditional tea drink ‘kahwa’—set to the rhythmic Kashmiri style singing called ‘ladishah’. Wakhlu’s music videos are mostly shot in Srinagar and call for hope, unity and kindness.
‘Ride Home’ by Alif feat. Noor Mohammad. The rock band Alif is fronted by musician and poet Mohammad Muneem who writes in Koshur and Urdu. This track borrows from folklore and traditional poetry, reimagined and composed for a new tune. ‘Ride Home’ is a poignant composition about artists returning to Kashmir with a metaphorical call to ‘mouji’—which represents both mother and motherland.
‘Little Kid, Big Dreams / Akh’ by Ahmer x Sez on the Beat. Ahmer is one of the most prolific Kashmiri rappers—and has been one of the leaders of the resurgence of hip-hop. Since his 2019 debut LP Little Kid, Big Dreams, this is an artist that’s all about azaadi—so that’s something to keep in mind. Also, check out ‘BILYA’ and ‘Inqalab’.
‘Almeeshaan’ by Zeeshaan Nabi ft. Aashti Kazmi. Succinct, haunting and powerful—penned by Zeeshan Nabi—this is an experimental track with a magnificent music video showcasing the harsh snows of Kashmir.
‘Stop That’s It’ by Menime. That’s Eminem spelled in reverse. It’s the stage name of Kashmir’s first female rapper, Mehak Ashraf.
‘Pyaraan Pyaraan’ by Fahd Wani: This music video follows the journey of a Kashmiri exile—unable to get in touch with their family—right after the revocation of Article 370. The acoustic pop track is in both English and Kashmiri.
‘Dilbaro Yuier Valo’ by Aabha Hanjura: A contemporary take on this 15th century folk song—Aabha Hanjura released this as part of the Roshewalla series—perhaps the most recognisable folk lyrics from the Valley. The video features vibrant puppetry and quaint storytelling as the artist croons away to the celebratory music that is often played and sung at weddings.
‘Czawul’ by SOS: Straight Outta Srinagar—or SOS—sample ‘Behaa Yaar Lagai’, ‘Bail Wanty Bal Yaras’ and ‘Bo Paerai Khan’ by legendary Kashmiri folk / Sufi singer Abdul Rashid Hafiz for this hip-hop track. ‘Czawul’ is the first single from this rap duo—Tufail Nazir and Syed Arsalan (Aatanki).
‘Aalav’ by Ramooz: This folk-rock track in Kashmiri is accompanied by an ethereal music video of dream sequences—with a clever play of light and shadows. ‘Aalav’ translates to ‘the call’ and the band uses the outro to call out to a mother figure.
‘Faiz’ by Winit Tickoo: This composition by Tickoo based on the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Tickoo’s deep vocals are perfect for a long drive or cooking on a rainy day!
‘Ha Gulo’ by Qasamir: This track from Coke Studio Pakistan is an eclectic mix of new-age production and folk composition. Helmed by Altaf Ahmad Mir, the song is based on the original song by poet Ghulam Ahmad Mahjoor. And it offers a sweet and catchy resurrection to an old folk song.