Musician Ali Saffudin on his track 'Manzoor Nahi' and what it means to be an artist in Kashmir
'I ask myself, if Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bob Marley belonged to Kashmir, what would they write about?' says Ali Saffudin.
In 2015, a new trend of resistance had started taking shape in the Kashmir valley. There was a surge of protest art and protest music, and a lot of Kashmiri artists had started sharing their work on social media.
One of these artists was Ali Saffudin, then a fresh graduate from Delhi University. He had come back to his hometown in Kashmir to pursue a Masters in Mass Communication. And to become a Kashmiri musician. During the same time, a website dedicated to curating Kashmiri music was also launched. It was called Gyawun, and its tagline was – ‘Spotting the elegance within the chaos #Kashmir’.
Back in Delhi University, Ali was a part of three-piece Urdu rock band, Ilhaam. Though he performed in a lot of concerts and college festivals, he felt some sort of disconnect there. He decided to go back to Kashmir, where he started a small-scale studio.
Gyawun had shared some of Ali’s songs on their page, and that was where it all began for him. His songs ‘Mayi Chani’ and ‘Chol Hama Roshay’, received a positive feedback. In November 2015, after Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the state, Ali published the protest song ‘Manzoor Nahi’. At one point in the song, Ali sings, ‘Jhamooriyat ke parcham ko, tanashahi ki aag se jalaya hai.’ The song went viral in Kashmir.
Most of Ali’s songs are juxtaposed with the bytes of ministers and news reporters; and with songs like ‘Manzoor Nahi’ and ‘Tum Kitne Jawan Maroage’, he has built himself the reputation of an upcoming protest musician. His songs gained more popularity after the death of Burhan Wani in 2016.
“I don’t like to call myself a protest musician. All the artists I look up to, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bob Marley, etc., their songwriting is inspired by their milieu. I ask myself a lot of times, if these artists belonged to Kashmir, what would they write about? I am sure they would write about the oppression and the political turmoil in the valley,” says Ali.
But some of Ali’s most viewed tracks are not his protest numbers, but his renditions of old Kashmiri folk songs. One of his most popular songs, ‘Gah Chon’, is a melodious fusion of guitar and Kashmiri Sarangi. “In my college days, I started listening to old Kashmiri music, and I realised that there is a treasure of music right there in my backyard, on the verge of oblivion. So, most of my songs are now an amalgamation of old Kashmiri instruments and some western elements,” he remarks.
In his latest song, a new version of ‘Manzoor Nahi’, Ali has collaborated with rapper Mua'zzam Bhat. The song was not only shot but also recorded in an attic. Almost all of Ali’s songs are recorded and shot on a shoestring budget. According to him, there aren’t many recording studios in Kashmir, so a lot of musicians have to go out to record their songs, but he doesn’t want to do that. “This is a different kind of a challenge: what kind of music can I produce for Kashmir, in Kashmir. I do want to bring out an album, but for that I need professional gear and money,” he adds.
Ali feels that being a musician in Kashmir comes with a lot of social responsibility. “I support the resistance in Kashmir, which is evident from my songs. There have been so many civilian killings, mass protests and disruptions in our day to day life, it is bound to affect me, as a musician. I have a problem with the status and luxury that the politicians in power enjoy; they are at the epicenter of the entire Kashmir unrest. There have been many instances where I have refused state sponsored gigs, declined a lot of money, and that affects my growth as an artist, but I have a social responsibility too, ” says Ali.
“Music is just a small part of my larger picture, of how I would like to be. It is as much a stepping stone as acting or even education was for me," says Lucky Ali, who recently turned 63.
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