‘Kashmiri Mysticism is at the Heart of Our Music’

  • Saqib Malik
  • Publish Date: Feb 22 2017 8:36PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Feb 22 2017 8:36PM
‘Kashmiri Mysticism is at the Heart of Our Music’

                                                               Photo: Kashmir Ink

Alif lead singer-songwriter Muneem Nazir, the voice of ‘Jhelumas’ and ‘Ikebana’, on his musical journey

 

Seventeen years ago, a starry-eyed boy from Srinagar moved to Pune for higher studies. Mohammad Muneem Nazir did get a college degree alright, but not only. He earned a name as a poet, songwriter and vocalist. Among college goers in particular, he became a sensation. Inevitably, albums and stage performances followed.

 Recently, Muneem, as part of the band Alif, launched his new album. Titled Sufayed,it includes a collection of haunting Kashmiri tracks. In a telephonic conversation withKashmir Ink, Muneem says with his poetry and music, he hopes to connect Kashmir to the rest of the world.

 

Tell us about your musical journey from Kashmir to Pune?

I was interested in singing since childhood. But in Kashmir, culturally, we absorb things differently. So, not much happened. Then I was sent to Pune to study engineering, and it was there that I realised my love for poetry. Writing poetry made me confident but I didn’t really know how to sing, though I had performed at some shows at Centaur in Srinagar during my school days. I picked up the guitar but wasn’t aware about its technicalities. Self-learning was the only way.

In Pune, I worked hard on my voice. I would walk for hours to attend voice training sessions with a 60-year old lady named Celia Lobo because I wanted to save money for the training classes. Apart from regular riyaaz, my trainer helped me learn the Belmont technique of singing, which helped me a lot.

 

How did you grow as a singer and a musician?

When I was a kid, my parents didn’t speak to me in Kashmiri. Still, Kashmiri poetry became my passion. I had to learn the language from scratch and I am still learning; learning should never stop. In our latest album, Sufayed, we have four Kashmiri tracks, and Kashmiri mysticism is at the heart of our music. I love to create dark melodies.

It's been a beautifully journey, a blessing, and it wouldn't have been possible without the team – there's Aman Moroney, Hardik Vaghela and me. On bass, we have Amit Gadgil and on drums, Karan Chitra Deshmukh.

I can never forget my days of struggle in Pune. Then again, it's only when you struggle you feel that passion; the moment you get comfortable, things become stagnant.

Today, I teach Urdu poetry at the prestigious Symbiosis college in Pune. I am a co-founder of the music academy muziclub.com, which has over 600 students. The academy also has an online branch operating out of London and we get online registrations from all over the world.

 

How has the Kashmir conflict influenced your work, particularly Sufayed?

There's a track in Sufayed called “Like a sufi” that we did in collaboration with MC Kash, and it has become quite popular across the world. Another track called “Jhelumas” celebrates the perseverance of Kashmiri women. It's important to remember your roots for that is what gives you strength. We have a track called “Ikebana”, which, when we perform live, we end it abruptly, giving a feeling of incompleteness. Then, we humbly ask the audience if they felt the song was incomplete and, of course, they do feel it was incomplete. Then we ask them to imagine how incomplete would the lives of those people feel whose dear ones have disappeared without a trace. One of our songs, “Hukus Bukus”, is about a kid who does not understand why his mother visits the graveyard everyday before dawn. That the kid's father is buried there is revealed only at the end. The track “Ali” is about overcoming self-doubt.

Growing up in Srinagar and my early days at Tyndale Biscoe School have hugely influenced my poetry and music. I believe it’s important for us to empathise with each other and lift each other up. Sometimes, the media creates a perception about Kashmir that's not right. We aspire to share stories of oneness, and share stories of Kashmir with the world.

“Peer Te Peeri”, “Jhelumas” and "Roumut Daiwane" are among my favourite works. Every Sufayed song has a story. Much thought has gone into the title as well: rotate the rainbow fast and it will appear white, or sufayed. Similarly, we all have different colours in us, yet we are all one. We are keen to promote Sufayed on a global level. We recently performed live with a German poet at Poets Translating Poets festival. Music and poetry know no boundaries.

 

What has been the response to your work in Kashmir and outside?

We are particular about where we perform because we want an audience that is keen. I am driven by poetry and some of our songs are in Kashmiri. It’s astonishing how non-Kashmiri audiences listen to our Kashmiri tracks and appreciate them. It’s extremely humbling how people connect with our poetry and music during a live concert. We have done a wide range of songs, about death, resistance, humanity, being one; we have even done satirical and funny songs. The basic idea is to inspire. That is what I tell my students too: stay inspired and inspire others. Choose love over hate, faith over doubt.