Ahmer - Azli Music Album Reviews

Ahmer - Azli Music Album Reviews
Where the Kashmiri rapper’s debut album was a fist-waving call to arms, Azli is a desolate post-mortem of a revolution stalled.

The future looked bright for Ahmer Javed in the summer of 2019. The Kashmiri rapper—who goes by Ahmer—had just dropped his debut album to rave reviews in the Indian press. Produced by Indian hip-hop pioneer Sez on the Beat and pulsing with righteous anger, Little Kid, Big Dreams was a sometimes funereal, sometimes incandescent record about growing up in one of the world’s most militarized zones. Ahmer hit the road, performing to packed club crowds in Mumbai and Delhi—not a regular experience for independent artists from Kashmir. Momentum building, there was a sense of bigger things on the horizon. But the newly re-elected BJP government in New Delhi had other plans.

On August 5, the Indian government abrogated Article 370 of the Indian constitution, stripping the union territory Jammu and Kashmir of both statehood and the special status it enjoyed as part of its uneasy accession to India in 1947 (it was the only Muslim-majority region to do so at Partition). In the name of national security, the hard-line Hindu nationalist government then proceeded to turn Kashmir into an open-air prison: Thousands of additional troops were rushed in; a total communications blackout was imposed. So many Kashmiris—from political leaders and activists to 15-year-old kids—were detained or arrested under draconian security laws in the next month that the state ran out of space in its jails. In the streets, right-wing Hindus celebrated the verdict, sometimes by attacking a nearby Kashmiri.

On his sophomore album, Azli (Urdu for “endless”), written in Srinagar in the midst of the crackdown and the COVID-19 lockdowns that followed, Ahmer paints a vivid portrait of the mental and emotional trauma of these terrible years, the latest episode in an unending cycle of violence and tragedy.

Like Little Kid, Big Dreams, much of Azli is given over to a grim accounting of the scars of occupation and militancy. His debut record’s anger and despair were tempered by a strong undercurrent of faith in the universe’s moral arc and the power of peaceful protest. Three years later, that faith hangs by a thread, moral certainties shredded by the realities of life under Hindutva authoritarianism: state-supported pogroms, young Muslims being tortured and shot on camera by cops and security forces, collective punishment and apartheid policies. On Azli, the 27-year-old sounds tired and embittered. His voice is ragged, gravelly, as if he’s rapping through a mouthful of ash and smoke. At times—like on the wish-fulfillment fantasy “Kalkharab”—he teeters on the edge, caught in the throes of delayed-onset trauma. If Little Kid, Big Dreams was Ahmer’s fist-waving call to arms, Azli is a desolate post-mortem of the collateral damage from a revolution stalled.

The music—composed by Ahmer, who also co-produces along with a small group of young Kashmiri and mainlander producers—is relentlessly oppressive: Blown-out bass thunders and pummels like distant artillery, minor-key synths keen in funereal harmony, all filtered through a haze of menacing distortion. Snatches of Kashmiri folk song drift in and out, brief flares of light and joy that are quickly extinguished by the storm clouds. Even the brief moments of respite—like the birdsong in the background of an interlude featuring a verse in Koshur (the language of Kashmir) by resistance poet Madhosh Balhami—only serve to highlight the rest of the record’s nihilistic mood.

In front of this grim backdrop, Ahmer intertwines personal and familial struggles with Kashmiri history into compelling witness testimony, documenting physical and psychic violence barely acknowledged, and waiting for justice that is unlikely to come. Rapping in Hindi and Koshur, he grapples with the corrosive effects of his own anger (on opener “Gumrah”), and the shared psychic wounds of growing up in a society where thousands of young men have been disappeared by the state (“Nishan”), all trace of them erased, their families left waiting decades for closure.

“Janaza,” whose title refers to the Muslim funeral prayer, takes aim at another way the Indian state denies closure to Kashmiri families—the secret burial of those killed as militants to prevent funeral processions that often evolve into protests. The three-minute track starts with a distorted vocal sample of a man wailing in Koshur, dogs barking in the background, before a chorus of disembodied voices accompanies Ahmer’s pointed, incisive rhymes about being gaslit by the state. “Aaj phir ek janaza par laash abhi mili nahi/Phir goliyo ka shor, sunna main, chali nahi (Another funeral today, but the body hasn’t been returned/I heard gunshots but they want you to believe no bullets were fired),” he snarls, his tone deadpan but dripping with angry disdain.

Another highlight is “Rov” (“Lost”), a song about the many losses that accompany decades of conflict—of both loved ones and the capacity to love—that revolves around Faheem Abdullah’s haunting, heartbreaking vocals. “Nyuham janaan adijan mea soor goam (They took my beloved [son], and my bones became ash),” he sings, distilling 30 years of intergenerational trauma into one evocative line.

If there is a redemptive thread on Azli, it’s in the way Ahmer and his team of collaborators—young Kashmiris like prxphecy, Junaid Ahmed, and Hyder Dar—sprinkle odes to Kashmiri art and music throughout. Two skits feature Madhosh Balhami, the Kashmiri poet who was imprisoned and tortured by Indian security forces for the crime of singing elegies at militants’ funerals. And pioneering Kashmiri rapper MC Kash (Rousan Illahi) triumphantly returns on “Kun,” making his first appearance on a record in almost eight years.

Kash is an inspiration to Ahmer and other Kashmiri rappers, who grew up listening to his defiant anthems like “I Protest” and “Take It in Blood.” But since grabbing international headlines in 2010, the rapper has been repeatedly targeted by Indian police, who raided his studio, shut down his shows, and eventually forced him into early retirement. To hear him pop up at the end of pugnacious resistance song “Kun”—his verse preceded by a cheeky “Did someone call my name?”—is a poignant reminder of the strength of Kashmiri resilience in the face of occupation, constant dehumanization, and endless violence.

This resilience finds its fullest expression in “Shuhul Naar” (“Cold Fire”), an almost seven-minute Kashmiri folk-rap ballad that transmutes the painful reality of erasure into an iron will to resist. Over lightly strummed folksy guitar and strings, Junaid Ahmed sings of finding strength in defeat: “Na rudum me naav, na rudum zameer/Jaise jee utha hun zinda phir se (They erased my name, they erased my conscience/It feels like I’m alive again).” Ahmer’s voice too, loses much of its venom. “Ye mere haqooq ka naara (This is my broken, shattered war cry),” he raps, with the world-weariness of much older activists who have seen their beloved revolutions falter and fail.

“Kehne nahi wala ye zulmi zamana, kya sehlegha tu aur kya sehne nahi wala/Par kaash, hota ye sach/Hota na sapna ye bas (Tyranny won’t command us and we won’t be enslaved again/Alas, I wish this was the reality/I was this wasn’t a dream),” he continues a few bars later, capturing the enduring tragedy of Kashmiri resistance and resilience. Under the occupation that the world forgot about, resistance stems not from hope or blind optimism, but from sheer determination.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Ahmer - Azli Music Album Reviews Ahmer - Azli Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, July 08, 2022 Rating: 5

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