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Kashmir's first female rapper is documenting the turmoil for future generations

Kashmir's first female rapper is documenting the turmoil for future generations

Mehak Ashraf aka Menime believes that music is an effective form of peaceful resistance that transcends boundaries, creates impact
Updated 03 Dec, 2020

Srinagar: With her hair tightly tucked in a pony and clad in a loose, long denim shirt, Mehak Ashraf from [India-held] Kashmir comes across as just any other young girl from Srinagar. However, in the twinkling of an eye, an expression of utmost concentration appears on her face, as she transforms into a confident rapper, and sings:

Mehmood-ul-Hassan whose two sons were killed
On spot, it is full of oppression
Cries mother, father and sister, they are living in oppression
Their loved ones are no more, now they are living in depression
In Kashmir, it is a policy of alienation and deprivation

Mehak is not a seasoned voice, but is only 19, and articulates the suppressed feelings of the next generation that feels itself isolated and alienated from the mainstream.

Mehak is known as [India-held] Kashmir’s first female rapper, a voice for the people’s struggles and political consciousness in a valley that has been torn by turmoil for the past three decades. Mehak’s songs are full of anguish and despair that the gen-next of Kashmir feels about the unabated violence and killings of Kashmiris.

I’m from Kashmir, they take us for funI saw a big killer with a gun
Saw my friends body in a slum
I miss him, I need him, I love him, I’m sorry, I miss Tasleem
Glad his death wasn’t glorified on film
My valley smells like death alley
Death angel aiming at another individual
Darkness mess up any individual’s visual

She has emerged in a nascent hip-hop scene in [India-held] Kashmir, where so far only male musicians have garnered a following. Over the years, rappers such as MC Kash, Ahmer Javed and Muazzam Bhat have garnered a following, while singers such as Ali Saiffudin and Zeeshan Nabi are feted and idolised.

To break into this male bastion has been far from easy, but Mehak has taken it all in her stride and continued to sing on. Her young audience appreciates her and that fires her up. She makes her own videos in a very creative way.

Hailing from the old city of Srinagar’s Hazratbal area, the teenager popularly known by her stage name Menime is pursuing her Bachelors in Arts from Srinagar’s Women’s College.

Her tryst with rap began in 2016, when the political unrest over the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani ensued in the valley.

“I was in Class IX at that time. Due to the situation, the schools had been shut for six months. It was during those endless days of curfew and strike, I happened to come across the songs of Eminem.” Her rapper name — Menime — is her idol’s name in reverse.

Besides, she is also inspired by the music of other artists such as Nicki Minaj, Drake and 50 Cent.

Eminem’s story impressed her. “Eminem had a troubled childhood and failed multiple times during his school. His story really moved me. Besides, he never talks about sex, drugs or girls in rap. His music reflects the societal problems and struggles of the masses. This motivated me to sing and write rap songs,” she says.

A quick rise

Mehak was first noticed in 2016 by RJ Sameen of Red FM radio channel, who wanted to give budding singers who sang hip-hop or traditional music a platform to perform on the channel. He was immediately intrigued by this young teenager who sang Eminem like a pro.

He recommended her to a local band AHM Dexterity and its Kashmiri record label created by two local youths, who heard Mehak and offered her to join them as a vocalist. Since then, there has been no looking back for her.

No sooner did her rap make a presence on social media, that Mehak’s gender drew attention from various quarters and butted heads with the more conservative elements within her society.

“Yes, I have faced a lot of criticism, especially from men and religious quarters who consider rap and music to be an ignoble pursuit for a Muslim girl. Others compared me to Dhinchak Pooja, and suggested I am rapping just to earn attention.”

She faced opposition even from her parents, who thought it was “inappropriate for a girl to shout and sing like this.”

But Mehak remains unfazed and says, “I take criticism, good or bad, head-on and make myself better with time.” Her parents eventually realised her love for the art form and support her in her endeavours now.

For Mehak, one of the important dimensions of rap is the element of storytelling as resistance to established ideas, of relaying suppressed truths that need to be heard.

“I have learnt on my own through YouTube channels and reading extensively about rap music. There are two-three verses in a rap. A verse in a rap comprises 16 lines. It takes a long time to think of the chorus, intro, outro, beat and different rhyming words,” she says.

She believes rap is a potent voice for the marginalised and a form that offers the chance for forceful voices to lend a public narrative to suffering.

Through her art, she aspires to inspire others of the younger generation to take up music and render their lived experiences through it. Her firm belief is that music offers an effective form of peaceful resistance that can transcend boundaries, and create an impact.

At the moment, Mehak wants to expand her fan base on her YouTube channel Menime.

“I have composed 15 songs so far and given three stage performances. Production and recording is a challenge. There are few good recording studios here and each session of recording takes around 1,500-2,000 [Indian] rupees. For a student to arrange this sum every time is a big deal. So whatever pocket money I get, I spend on that,” she says.

She has also found innovative ways to add music to her vocals.

“There are several applications through which I add my music — voloco, inshot, videosuite17, rapfame. I record vocals first and then add the music via the apps,” she says.

Asked if her singing has any impact on her studies, she replies, “It doesn’t affect my studies, as I write songs only on weekends and practise daily for an hour. However, my studies have been badly affected due to the shutdown after the August 5 decision last year to revoke [India-held] Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and the lockdown imposed due to Covid-19.”

Other than rap, Mehak is also an avid nature and animal lover. She is planning to compose some songs on climate change and animal abuse in the future.

“The environment is always the least prioritised issue in a conflict zone. Besides, I am also interested in rescuing animals,” she says.

— By arrangement with The Wire, India

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 29th, 2020

Comments

1000 Characters
Zak Dec 02, 2020 11:23am
Wonderfully expressed how her beautiful country, IOK has been turned into hell, by alien foreigners. Stay safe.
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Chrís Dăn Dec 02, 2020 11:45am
At parralel,she should start our iriental music learning lessons-raags and dadhras to refine her voice quality . She will touch more hearts. An unbalanced and amateur voice does not effect hearts so much. Music is a power if used correctly.
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Parvez Dec 02, 2020 11:55am
Way to go .... good girl.
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Dr. Salaria, Aamir Ahmad Dec 02, 2020 01:52pm
For how long could racist, bigot, biased and liar Modi and his cunning, crooked, cruel, criminal and fascist R.S.S. and BJP cronies suppress, oppress and depress the true and penetrating voices of the people through its million plus brutal, shameless, gutless and ruthless Indian army in the India-attacked, India-invaded, India-occupied, India-held, India-abused and India-annexed Jammu and Kashmir? Not forever.
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Noel Dec 02, 2020 05:03pm
It’s great that she has continued with her art despite raised eyebrows from religious fanatics who unfortunately exit in J&K as well, but thankfully are kept at bay by security forces. It’s people like her, who spend their time on creativity and art, rather than terrorism, which gives hope for a troubled region.
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Ishant Dec 02, 2020 06:31pm
Good. But it will be better to be singer.
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sultan Dec 02, 2020 07:54pm
good singer of rap. sounds much like the USA rap artists.
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Khan Dec 02, 2020 09:26pm
She was not born when lacs if people were threatened to leave their own homes where they had lived for hundreds of years...
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Zak Dec 02, 2020 11:20pm
@Khan 'She was not born when lacs if people were threatened to leave their own homes where they had lived for hundreds of years...' Why these lacs of people did not stay and fight along side the freedom fighters against the foreign invaders and occupiers of their Kashmir nation. Why they went and cohorted with foreign enemy against their own people.
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FS Dec 03, 2020 01:11am
Yeah Eminem is dark . I have heard his Rap to understand a certain clientele
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Multani Dec 03, 2020 05:43am
I am surprised she is not rotting some indian prison and tortured for her songs, either she goes underground or else we smuggle her family to Azad Kashmir and she can rap in freedom from atrocities of Hindu BJP India.
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Utter patriot Dec 03, 2020 08:29am
Kashmir's first female rapper is documenting the terrorism for future generations to abjure it.
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Utter patriot Dec 03, 2020 08:51am
Mehak is known as [India-held] Kashmir’s first female rapper, a voice for armed terror and sedition in a valley that has been torn by terrorist atrocities for the past three decades. Mehak’s songs are full of promotion of violent separatism. Her heros are terrorists who were slain while engaged in armed cobat with the Indian Army. She extols, in her hate mongering songs, the selective genocide of Kaffirs in Kashmir and all over India. She cloaks her exclusivist and supremacist mindset in deceptive songs penned by her in apparent innocence of a teenager. She uses the tender mercies of democracy to finish off democracy itself. She is hankering for a theocracy of the most intolerant kind using her songs whereas singing itself is considered sinful in her sort of theocracy. She is so dumb that she does not see the irony of her posturing and treason.
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Utter patriot Dec 03, 2020 09:02am
In the silly drivel that teenager Mahek dishes out as songs, she is rooting for the most dictatorial, exclucivist, genocidal, history-negating and supremacist totalitarianism and that fact is entirely omitted by the writer.
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JudtSaying Dec 03, 2020 03:41pm
At least she has Freedom to Sing and make a Career of her choice... Reminds me of Qandeel Baloch...
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JudtSaying Dec 03, 2020 03:44pm
@Zak " foreign invaders and occupiers .. " Do Read the Centuries Old History of Kashmir.. Not the Madressa Propagated one...
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