MC Kash: That Bayonet of a Voice

Music is the beautiful struggle of sound into expression. Because we feel, we sing. When we speak, when we scream, when we laugh, when we wail, there is a soundtrack to our thoughts that iconic music can render into songs.

The summer of 2010 was a contest between bullets and stones in (Indian Controlled) Kashmir; a violent season for the valley in which over a hundred, mostly young, people were killed by the armed forces. Having endured decades of humiliation, repression, restrictions, and injustice at the hands of the military and militants, the people of Kashmir – especially the current generation, of which MC Kash is a part – used everything from stones to words to music, to let the occupying forces know that what they were doing was, plain and simple, wrong.

“Roushan’s music reaches out to the young, the educated in Kashmir. But, it also takes the issue of what’s happening in Kashmir out to the world.”

‘I Protest’ (Remembrance) is one such rap song by the Kashmiri artist Roushan Illahi a.k.a MC Kash. Kashmir and Rap are not easily associated; the traditional music of Kashmir is lilting and melodic, conveying the ancient echoes of mountains, the plashing of water. But harmony befits peacetime; in the militarised zones of war, music too becomes urgent, arousing thoughts, requiring answers, refusing to be complacently contained in barred rhymes. The news bulletins of lives lost, the daily stop and search routines, the perpetual uneasiness in the sense of false calm when uprisings are ‘quelled’ – this is part of the political machine, but it is equally part of the ‘sentiment’ on the real street. Young people read it in the bloody scrawls of ‘Go India Go’ on the walls of Srinagar, and hear it in the staccato forceful rhythms of rap, with its hooded face and its insistently repeating refrains.

Roushan’s music reaches out to the young, the educated in Kashmir. But, it also takes the issue of what’s happening in Kashmir out to the world. His music is anti-Indian for some, his studio has been raided, but his popularity is beyond doubt. Born in 1990, he is an icon whose music has had over 15000 hits on You Tube, and there are over 6000 members on his Facebook page. Lyrics from his ‘I Protest’ form the title of a recently released collection of writings on Kashmir called ‘Until my Freedom is Come’ (subtitled The new Intifada in Kashmir, edited by Sanjay Kak, Penguin, 2011) He has been interviewed in prominent world media; according to his profile on BBC (BBC online, 20 December 2010): ‘he is studying business, and hopes to go on to an MBA abroad; his father is a doctor and his mother is a teacher. He has never left Kashmir, but he speaks excellent English and has taken a strategic decision to rap in English’.

The internet, digital media, and social networking sites like Facebook and twitter have made it possible, internationally, for creative endeavours of protest to connect up the dots of resentment and raise consciousness within and against the efforts of the state and conventional media. Functioning in this way, Roushan’s music is meant to make people aware of the tragedy of Kashmir. Other songs by him (for example, Moment of Truth, Feel It, Beneath This Sky) appear on the site ReverbNation. As his Facebook friend, I can see that his ‘likes’ range from Hamlet to Manchester United, and thanks to a recent status message of his, I went googling for Che Guevara and Rocinante’s ribs!

Perhaps the day will come when MC Kash will no longer need to protest, but rap to celebrate a better Kashmir. Till then, this conscientous and talented rapper reminds us that  even when we are beat, we must not lose the beat.

Nitasha Kaul is a Kashmiri novelist, poet, academic, artist and economist who lives in London. Her debut novel Residue (Rupa/Rainlight, 2014) was earlier shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize. Aside from fiction and poetry, she comments in the media and has written in edited collections, journals and newspapers on the themes of identity, culture, economy, gender, social theory, technology, democracy, Bhutan and Kashmir. She has a joint doctorate in Economics and Philosophy, is the author of the book 'Imagining Economics Otherwise: encounters with identity/difference' (Routledge, 2007), and has previously taught Economics, Politics, and Creative Writing in the UK and in Bhutan. She has travelled to over 55 countries across 4 continents documenting the strangeness of the everyday and the otherness of the present. More at

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