Rapper MC Kash opens up about his travails as a musician and his dreams of a peaceful Kashmir.
Roushan Illahi aka MC Kash belongs to a growing number of protest artists being vocal through their odes on rebellion and freedom as their land grows weary due to the geopolitical quagmire.
For the uninitiated onlooker, the troubles they rap about might just sound like fodder for imagination and not their bullet-riddled reality. But it represents their bullet ridden reality.
So when this journalism graduate says a growing number of like-minded youth want an independent Kashmir devoid of any control by the two disputing countries, it piqued my curiosity.
“So you’re saying you don’t want to be part of India or Pakistan?” I prod him.
“I think the best solution is independent Kashmir. But then again, I’m just one voice. Eventually it’s what the people want.”
As the conversation flows, it becomes apparent that Kash carries a resentment to what he calls `almost a police state’. Although this animosity is balanced with an equal amount of affinity towards other Indians.
“I’ve interacted with thousands of Indians and I think they’re amazing people. It’s the people I want to reach out to and it’s the people who can create a change anywhere in this world,” he adds.
He has abandoned the use of Hindi and Urdu, whether he’s talking or rapping. He prefers to rap in English and talk in English or Koshur.
“I was taught both Hindi and Urdu. But it’s my personal protest that I don’t speak them,” Kash admits with a laugh.
Wherever there is oppression there’s always a platform for a creative backlash. In Kashmir however, there may be little space for protest through the arts. Lack of venues, hardware, power cuts and a constant threat of being pulled up by the state has choked the pace of their creative progress to a gruelling crawl. But this has not devoured the hip hop dreams of crusaders or novices who are part of this sub-cultural emergence. And as Kash says, “You really have to be in Kashmir to understand what goes on.” No arguments there. He’s also strongly opposed to instances like the issuance of a fatwa to the all girl band Pragaash.
In a freewheeling chat, Kash, who can call himself a pioneer with over seven years in the scene, talks about the challenges of being a musician in Kashmir, and dispels some of the popular notions about his state.
How is the hip hop scene there?
I have to say the hip hop movement has kick-started here. There are lots of people who want to rap, lots of kids who want to rebel through music, kids who are intrigued. A lot of rappers and groups came out and some of them discontinued because lack of platforms is an issue. The thing is hip hop is a global culture, wherever it goes, it finds a place in the community—be it Palestine, Tunisia or Kashmir. Hip hop is growing day by day although it’s not progressing as I would like it to. It’s hard work in a hard world.
Is there a live music scene? What about hip hop cyphers?
Few people have tried to do rap battles over here. Again, getting a DJ, equipment and a venue is a problem. In Kashmir there aren’t many gigs in the first place. They (organizers) are scared of repercussions from the state. Since I write about such realities, people are scared of having me at their gigs. The pioneers of hip hop here are very young. I’ve spent 6-7 years in the game now but even for me it’s difficult to organize a gig. But I hope I can do something to make it happen.
I can imagine Kashmir being a hard place, what’s day to day life there like?
There are 7,00,000 troops in Kashmir! Everyday living is affected because there are guns around you. The kind of music I make is against these very inhumane things. The amount of spying, the kind surveillance our people are put through. I’m just a musician and it’s unfortunate to have to deal with all these things. Kashmir is such a beautiful place and I’d love to just talk about its beauty, but I can’t.
Your studio got raided after the release of your song ‘I Protest’. Is there still a fear of surveillance and police action?
I recorded a song and the studio got raided. Studio engineers were put behind bars. The first thing they wanted to know was who was funding me, where I got my money from and stuff but they soon realized that I’m just an individual writing protest songs. Nothing more.
How do you go about your creative routines?
Musically it’s a continuous process. We rappers consider ourselves to be poets first, writing lyrics and getting inspired every day. Like I said, there are no avenues, no platforms for the new breed of musicians. Rappers are looked at as an alien culture. You get no platform because you’re up against the state, and regular people then want nothing to do with you.
What’s your idea of a free Kashmir?
Here police and military stop me when I’m walking in my own neighbourhood. It’s humiliating. I believe independant Kashmir is the best solution for peace in this area. It could bring about a new and positive change to the subcontinent.
Kashmir is so beautiful; it’s not a place for violence but for spiritual tranquility. We cannot expect peace when there is no justice, right? We’re not even part of the talks that’s about us and our future. That’s not right.?
Do you see a scope for a vibrant hip hop culture there? Have you performed outside Kashmir?
There are b-boys, beat boxers, parkour, break dancers, they are following the culture. Lots of graffiti has come up. But then again they don’t find the equipment, they don’t find a platform and after a few years of struggle they can’t take it forward. But the scene is getting bigger.
I was invited to Goa for a literary fest but I didn’t go because the chief minister of Kashmir was there and I didn’t want to perform in front of him.
Do you see anything positive happening in all this muddled up mess?
I have seen a lot of amazing Indians. This generation especially, is concerned and empathetic to our plight. The thing is, the kind of money India puts in maintaining military occupation would be better invested in the poor people of India instead.
By Mohan KK