Ahmer Javed: Rapper highlights divided Kashmir

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Released in July, Little Kid, Big Dreams is a visceral document of what it’s like to grow up in a state struggling with decades of insurgency and counterinsurgency. Javed raps in English, Hindi and Kashmiri, switching effortlessly between the three as he invites the listener into his world, a landscape blighted by decades of curfews, repression and violence.

Opener Sifar charts his own journey, from a shy introvert with few friends to a confident young rapper who spits out bars of defiance. The third track, Uncle, is a conversation with the uncle he never met, detailing the daily horrors of life in Kashmir. The second half of the track features an elderly relative narrating the famous “Tomorrow, Tomorrow and Tomorrow” monologue from Shakespeare’s Macbeth in Kashmiri.

“This is like a message to him, even though he is not with us,” says Javed. “But still, I feel like I’m somehow in touch with him, in this world, right here, everywhere. You know, every time I’m doing something, I feel like he’s got his hand on me, I’m inspired just by hearing his stories because he was really fair.”

Top ten singles Elaan, Javed raps about life in a land where “insaaf hi mana hai (justice is always denied), with all the swagger and menace of classic ’90s gangsta rap, over a beat that creeps and prowls with unbridled urgency. Halfway through, he is joined by Azadi Records labelmate Prabh Deep who comes in like a wrecking ball out of control. For two breathless minutes, Prabh Deep calls out everything from the hysteria of the recent war, to the growing specter of communal violence, to the apparent worthlessness of the Indian media. It is a searing attack on the state of contemporary Indian politics, delivered with a fervor that surprised even Javed.

But the heart of the album is Kasheer, a resistance manifesto performed entirely in Kashmir. Javed sets the tone with the opening lines of “we are born in curfews/we die in repression,” and he never gives up from there. The song has become a crowd favorite at shows in Delhi and Mumbai, even though few understand the lyrics, because Ahmer performs it with such vehemence and conviction that translation seems almost unnecessary.

The album ends with the title track, a rare moment of optimism on a record that’s tinged with despair. It reflects Javed’s belief that music can bring about change in Kashmir that weapons or stones could not. It’s a conviction that has been sorely tested in recent weeks, as he travels between a home state that has become a prison and a country that seems indifferent to the trauma he is inflicting on its own citizens.

This optimism seems to be in short supply. “I still believe that picking up the pen is more powerful than picking up something else,” says Javed. “But I don’t know, man. Right now I feel so disappointed and hopeless that I’m not sure it’s going to work. I’m really in a state where I don’t know what to do. I am very scientific about music too. I don’t know what to do next.

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