Music has the ability to persuade without argument and Dying Breed, the Valley’s first rock band, want that note to echo, says Riyaz Wani
DYING BREED is the name that came to them. They insist they don’t subscribe to meanings — political or otherwise — that may be implicit in the name. The band itself was conceived through the tumult of 2010, which shut Kashmir down for five months and took 120 lives. But the members of the Valley’s first rock group didn’t form the swollen ranks of stone-throwers.
While Kashmir was in turmoil, the four friends were jamming in a “rat-infested attic” in uptown Rajbagh, Srinagar. Yet this was not turning a deaf ear to the world outside, but a rebellion, which, they say, can’t strictly be interpreted as political.
“We would prefer to be seen as making a cultural statement,” says Muiz Miraj, the topi-sporting long-haired lead guitarist. “But at the same time we do want to stand for rebellion, protest and a certain degree of departure from an established sense of complacency in the society, which promotes apathy, corruption and environmental degradation”.
That’s a razor-edged walk across Kashmir’s trip-wires, but their music may have forged a path. The quartet — Maajid Kirmani on vocals, Muiz on guitar, Samad on drums and Zohaib Kathwari on bass — had their first concert on 1 April 2012 at the traditionally designed Sangarmal shopping complex in the heart of Srinagar. Their tracks had the youthful crowd, 400-strong, whooping, hollering and singing along.
They sang the mystical poetry of Sheikh-ul-Alam, whose 14th century verses presaged the contemporary conflict. The political charge of a couplet like “When rivers run dry, deserts will overflow, then trust me my friend it will be the apes ruling this place” is undeniable. The band also composes its own lyrics in Kashmiri, melancholic and rife with anxieties. The young audience, adrift in an uncertain time, clearly connects with their psychedelic mix of Sufi, rock and blues.
Maajid, in his black leather jacket and faded green jeans, says that Kashmir offers enough creative space not to make them self-conscious about their music. “From our parents to the society we haven’t come across any opposition.”
The band members all began with an individual fascination for the ghazals of Mehdi Hassan, Sufi renditions of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen, but were united by their interest in Western music. “Led Zeppelin is an abiding inspiration. Somehow their song Kashmir seemed to evoke a mystical connection to our Valley,” says Maajid.
For Muiz and Zohaib, a month’s stay at Shantiniketan in Kolkata, in 2010, was a major stepping stone. Muiz says that there he saw an image of India he never thought was possible sitting in Kashmir. “We played guitar, learnt to be ourselves and pursue the realisation of our individuality.”
“We use Kashmiri to suffuse our music with a feel of the place.” The ambition, Zohaib adds, is to take Kashmir to the world. “It is about being steeped in our roots and then branching out all over the place. It is about upending stereotypes, and projecting an image that shows us as a normal society.” With some financial help the band hopes to hold a concert in New Delhi soon.
They’re not interested in evoking a sense of lingering joylessness about Kashmir, instead there is an underlying notion of a “romantic melancholy, a style statement and about the resonance of the phrase, Dying Breed,” says Muiz. “Our music, in fact, is about doing what you love to do. It is about breaking free. It is about mystical poetry. Four different people coming together and expressing their thoughts, ideas and visions through their music.”
Whatever the sub-conscious impulse of the name, their music is a record of a living culture.
Riyaz Wani is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.