Art & Entertainment

Music As Resistance: The Voices Of Kashmir's Urban Youth

Music by Kashmiri artists captures people’s lived experiences and daily realities

Illustration: Vikas Thakur
Photo: Illustration: Vikas Thakur

“Chal aa ek aesi nazm kahoon

Jo lafz kahoon woh ho jaaye”

(Come, let me recite such a poem

That the words I speak become reality)

As this poem found a home in the composition of a local artist Faheem Abdullah, the buzz that it generated yet again became a testament to the artistic genius of Kashmir—one that feasts on the loss of control while celebrating a state of hysteria. The song ‘Ishq’ by Faheem Abdullah caught global attention and has become a new sensation from the Valley. This melody struck a chord in the hearts of Kashmiris, not only because it fulfilled the aspirations of lovers who fantasise about their beloved being powerless, but because it went to a deeper level, touching upon the trapped emotions of the native people. Kashmiris could empathise with the state in which the song sought to place the beloved, as if they were just waiting for something to trigger their representation, even if it was only a part of the song.

The deafening sound of silence had long been awaiting some piece of art that could imply its manifestation. Thus, creativity allied with memory employed itself to transcribe the sensitive state of silence in the Valley. Alas! To what level did it have to go before echoing in the minds of the people? It could have been annihilation or something like it that the song under discussion offers—loss of control/taking away of power. Usually, the process itself gives birth to severe anxieties but contrary to it, the song generated acceptance among people. However, this was not the first time that something like this had happened. For example, the song ‘Downtown’ by Musaib Bhat had successfully evoked memories of political dissent in Kashmir and become another sensation as it traversed through the digital veins of young people. The song couldn’t afford to be political especially at the time it was released. It took people on a trip down memory lane by evoking certain prophets of resistance.

The path that ‘Downtown’ wanted to tread was lined with severe difficulties so humour and satire came to its aid. Since silence was already ordered for other direct forms of expressions the song offered an intelligent interplay of words hinting at a deeper meaning in the local context. This subtle infusion of dissent within the song’s narrative highlighted a shift from direct to indirect expressions of political sentiments, revealing an evolving strategy within the Kashmiri hip-hop landscape.

For decades, Kashmir has been romanticised in the artistic representations that come from India’s mainstream culture, hence destroying the truth about the territory. The Valley is frequently reduced to a picturesque tapestry through a carefully chosen lens, its identity confined to snow-capped peaks and serene streams. This glance, which appears to be grateful at first look, actually has a sinister undertone. Critical analyses have uncovered the ways in which these portrayals facilitate a manufactured story about cultural nationalism. Even though these portrayals are beautiful to look at, they conceal a sinister purpose: the desire to hijack Kashmir’s aesthetic appeal as a representation of a manufactured national identity. The selective erasure of Kashmir’s history, complexity, and people’s daily realities is dangerous. Instead of representing the complex reality of the area, these artistic representations of the Valley reduce it to a lovely backdrop, perpetuating a one-dimensional narrative that is in line with certain nationalist beliefs.

Since the mainstream lens of cinema relentlessly took it upon itself to sketch Kashmir for its audiences for years, local artists have felt a need to tell their side of the story, resisting the outsider’s gaze. Many novel faces empowered by the democratising nature of the digital mediums began telling their own stories and rejected the outsider’s gaze. But as mainstream Indian cinema has held a hegemonic position in defining Kashmir in its art, it didn’t succumb easily. Such artistic movements also saw invaders who took it upon themselves to hijack the project of decoding the silence to impress a novel meaning upon it—one that could fetch them benefits and further aid the movement of marginalisation of Kashmiris. These dictatorial movements tend to fuel confusion among the masses by positing that this silence is devoid of any abstract meanings and is simply what they call peace. They also tried attributing meanings from their own colonial dictionaries to this type of new art, they launched search operations on such artists and tried convincing them to betray their goals. This was done to create a gap between the younger generations and the older, so they could handover the amulets laced with new meanings to the youth, thus preparing a field for a face-off between the young and the older generations. But even as malicious forces tried to obscure and undermine the very essence of the Valley’s silence, the vanguard of many artists stood firm. They recognised that surrendering to such manipulative reinterpretations would be tantamount to allowing a perverse diminishment of their own sovereign narratives.

The urban space of downtown Srinagar in the song emerged not merely as a physical location but as a site of resistance and identity.

One song that opposes the cinematic lens is ‘Downtown’ where the local perspective, represented through a first-person lens, shifted the focus from the picturesque landscapes to the urban streets of downtown. Here, Henri Lefebvre’s concept of the “right to the city” is fundamentally tied to the notion of urban inhabitants asserting their collective agency in shaping, appropriating, and redefining the spaces they inhabit. This concept resonates powerfully with the ‘Downtown’ rap song’s portrayal of the urban space of downtown Srinagar. The song subverts the dominant narrative by adopting a first-person, local lens that shifts the focus from scenic panoramas to the gritty urban streets of downtown. In doing so, the song reclaims the spatial narrative, asserting the right of the Kashmiri people to define and represent their own spaces on their own terms. This act of reclamation challenges the hegemonic gaze that has traditionally constructed and codified Kashmir’s identity through an external, romanticised lens.

The urban space of downtown Srinagar in the song emerged not merely as a physical location but as a site of contestation, resistance, and identity formation. Through the lyrics and visuals, ‘Downtown’ becomes a representational space imbued with symbolic meanings, reflecting the collective aspirations, struggles, and narratives of the local community. By centering their lived experiences within this urban terrain, the song asserts the Kashmiri people’s right to the city—their right to inhabit, appropriate, and redefine the spaces that have historically been subjected to external narratives and power dynamics.

This reclamation of spatial narratives and identities is a powerful act of resistance, challenging the dominant discourses that have traditionally dictated the representation and control of urban spaces like downtown Srinagar. Through the artistic medium of rap, the song exercises spatial imagination, envisioning and articulating a counter-narrative that disrupts the established hierarchies and power structures that have shaped the representation of place.

Further, in the aftermath of the revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in 2019, many songs emerged as a cultural artifact resonating with the local populace, presenting an alternative reality rooted in local masculinity and dissent. This representation, in essence, counters the traditional feminine imagery associated with Kashmir, asserting a new form of masculinity among the local population.

There is also a clash of two masculinities—representative of the government’s hyper-masculine rhetoric and the local masculine identity—each vying for assertion in the post-2019 political landscape. Notably, the absence of scenic landscapes in the rap song serves a symbolic function, rejecting the cinematic lens of mainstream Hindi cinema and articulating a distinct reality. This linguistic and visual vocabulary endeavours to reaffirm the local place’s masculine identity, offering a counter-narrative to the conventional feminine and paradisiacal imagery historically associated with Kashmir.


There is the construction of a distinct form of youth masculinity in ‘Downtown’. The lyrics and visuals depict a masculinity that is linked to the urban space of downtown Srinagar and shaped by the socio-political realities Kashmiri youth face. This representation speaks to the negotiation of masculine identities by young artists grappling with conflict and marginalisation. The resonance of this portrayal among the youth suggests its potential in articulating shared experiences and asserting agency through artistic expression.

Thus, to describe Kashmir’s silence as merely the absence of sound or voice would be inaccurate. Rather, it’s a convoluted voyage composed of the threads of multiple, perhaps incongruous narratives, vying for recognition and significance in the collective consciousness. The romanticised cinematic pictures, which attempted to portray this silence as one of passive submission, on the one hand, intended to serve as a blank canvas onto which the patriarchal, colonising gaze could inscribe its own rigid ideals of Kashmir as the feminised “other.”


This manufactured silence was meant to destroy the Valley’s autonomy and reduce it to a footnote in the narratives of great nations. By asserting a particularly youth-centric, urban masculinity rooted in the socio-political realities of conflict and giving voice to common experiences of marginalisation, the rap song subverted the cinematic conceptions.

The interplay between these forces makes Kashmir’s silence appear as a palimpsest, a complex text in which attempts to usurp and erase coexist with the enduring markings of an unbreakable spirit. It’s a quiet that, paradoxically, says a lot about how artistic expressions that fight for autonomous narratives continue to push limits, negotiate representation, and persist in maintaining their identities.


(This appeared in the print as 'Raw and Real')