In the harsh and adverse times that we live in, arts are our escapist route from the pains and trials of an unending ordeal. But for artistes to thrive in an environment where freedom of expression is constantly scrutinized by socio-political intervention, finding your voice is an implausible feat to pull off. Ahmer Javed, a young and emerging rapper from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir expresses the collective angst and rage of citizens from the valley, whose lives tip-toe between life and death, with every passing second, through his self-aware, scathing verses. His debut album ‘Little Kid, Big Dreams’ looked at the lives and thoughts of the valley’s residents whose ideas of ‘Azadi’ have been thwarted since the country’s independence in 1947 to the crackdown followed by the abrogation of Article 370 by the Indian Government in August 2019. He even recorded ‘Inqalab’, his mixtape during the imposed curfew, verses of which have resonated with the youth across the country.
On behalf of Radio City Freedom, I caught up with the young rapper to unearth his equivocal thoughts in the midst of these trying times.
First and foremost, you truly believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. How do you find optimism while everyday seems like a ticking time bomb?
Ahmer: Pen is more power, knowledge is more power, indeed. Depends on how you use it, how you use your artform. It's really hard where we come from. At times it feels like all hope is gone, and we don't know how it feels like anymore. The stories of Kashmir, of people, who have suffered, are in pain, that's what keeps me going as an artist. Music being one of the most important factors, it was my escape back when there was no one, music became a friend. Responsibility matters to me more than optimism, that's how it is nowadays.
You wanted the truth of Kashmir to reach as many people as possible that you listed your album for free download. In an interview, you said, ‘I did not want anyone to pay me to listen to the reality of Kashmir’. Please elaborate
Ahmer: I mean that's how I felt when we dropped 'Inqalab', a project that's super close to my heart, and that project was needed and necessary, back when our voices were muted completely. We had to show them that we were gonna speak up and talk about the ground realities, no matter what, no matter how difficult, that's why I wanted to put out this project for free, because I didn't care about anything else back then. Just this project and listeners. It felt war-like.
‘We’re born in curfews/we die in crackdowns’, a line from your song ‘Kasheer’ has resonated with your fans from across the country. How do you look at music achieving what war can’t?
Ahmer: I feel that with music, art, literature, we can come to a better understanding and conclusion. I have had people who I thought would bash me for putting out such music that's raw and factual but I was proven wrong. The response, reception was surprising and I was so glad, people wanted to know about the situation that we the people of Kashmir are in, what we have to face and the history of this place. I tried to do my best, I reached out to almost each and everyone. Even the people who didn't appreciate it. Discussion is needed, dissent is a must and a conversation is better than war.
You believe that rap is a form of protest. Do you feel rappers spit politically-charged verses because it’s considered cool or do you genuinely feel that they use it as a medium to express how they feel?
Ahmer: I don't think people who want to sound cool will spit politically charged verses. There are other forms. I appreciate the fact that at least there are people out there who make such music, write politically charged verses, at least they are doing something about it, and that matters. Sometimes calling such verses politically charged is wrong too, in my case, my main concern is, was and will be, the human side, I talk about my people and their stories. Rest, whatever you wanna label it, you can.
You count Tupac Shakur and 50 Cent as your inspirations. What is it about their work that drew you towards rapping?
Ahmer: 50 Cent was the first artist I heard back when I wasn't even writing, that was my introduction to hip hop/ rap music. This was the first time I watched a hip hop music video. His persona and fearlessness spoke volumes and I loved it, I was a kid back then impersonating American rappers, just like other artists, exploring the genre and trying to understand it better. Then I started writing, got introduced to Tupac's music, his music inspired me alot. Talking about police brutality, injustice. I realised that I have to do it for a bigger cause.
Any likeliness of a collaboration with MC Kash, the force from Kashmir to reckon with
Ahmer: Roushan is inactive, if any other artist had to face what he faced, they would've been inactive too. I don't know whether he will make music in the future or not but he has been a prominent figure in my life and he's been there, for each and every artist, whenever needed, he's still doing his bit.
Lastly, you choose to rap in Koshur, a language which in your words is not even known to the people of Kashmir? How do you look to bring relevance to the dialect?
Ahmer: Kashmiris do know the dialect and its relevance, it's just with time and influence, be it in school where you have to speak in Hindi, Urdu or English and when it comes to your mother tongue and you speaking in it, you are looked down upon to an extent that people assume that you are cheap or illiterate. We have to think about its importance and have to persevere no matter what people think. I speak in Kashmiri with all my friends and family also. I wanted to let the world know, I have met people, who asked me what language I was rapping in, outside Kashmir, thinking it was Dogri. No, it's Kashmiri, our own language.
Ahmer Javed’s songs are now streaming on Radio City Freedom and Radio City Hip Hop.