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On World Music Day we explore contemporary Sufism

To celebrate World Music Day, online content portal 101India is releasing a music video titled ‘Like A Sufi’, a collaboration between Pune-based Sufi rock band Alif and Kashmiri rapper Roushan Illahi a.k.a. MC Kash. The video is part of a new, ongoing project, 101 Sufi, which traces modern Sufi musicians and enables collaborations between them.

While Sufi rap is an emerging form globally, pioneered by French rap star Abd al Malik, ‘Like A Sufi’ is the first Indian example of the genre.

This isn’t the first special music project by the digital platform, which also brought us Hip Hop Homeland, focusing on India’s fast growing rap scene. MC Kash also featured in Hip Hop Homeland and, in fact, it was while they were working on that project that the seeds for 101 Sufi were sown. “[MC Kash] told us about this band in Pune and we met them and thought this would be an interesting collaboration,” says Cyrus Oshidar, 101India’s managing director. “It will be continued with other original music, there will be travelogues and documentaries. We’ll go to other interesting places and create a few collaborations. It’s a modern Sufi project, not focused on the tradition. I think there’s enough about that. This is about creating new music and telling stories.” Oshidar is a former MTV Networks creative head, but for 101India, he says, “Music is a new area; we’re not a label or anything, but I think if you tell a story around the music then people will listen.”

Alif started their musical journey as Highway 61 in 2008. Two years later, Highway 61 was voted among the top five bands in the Indian edition of the Hard Rock Calling competition. They went on to perform on platforms like Coke Studio and Kappa TV before signing a record deal and changing their name to Alif.

Vocalist Mohammad Muneem, an engineering graduate and MBA, worked in the corporate world for six months before packing it in to try his hand at music. Why Sufi rock? “Being from Kashmir, I really liked the mysticism of Kashmiri culture. Everyone who goes to Kashmir would agree that the mountains have a little bit of mysticism around them. The word Sufi actually means ‘mystic’, and it seemed like a perfect fit for me.” The group was already in touch with MC Kash, who rose to popularity in 2010 with ‘I Protest’, inspired by the unrest and human rights abuses in his home State. “101 called us and broached the idea of a collaboration,” says Muneem. “It felt right, so we did it.” The actual song is very personal to the band. “With MC Kash, we’re talking about our truths,” he says. “Different people will absorb it in different ways. Some would interpret it as the guilt of not expressing love to someone when they’re around and then realising it’s too late. These are stories we have felt and we wanted to write about that feeling.”

The video for ‘Like A Sufi’ was shot in Kashmir, which is a challenge in itself. “There was a curfew, everything shut down at 5 or 6 p.m.,” says Oshidar. “But it’s also a beautiful place, so the video came out very well.”

“In today’s world, to find someone who will patiently listen to you and understand what you want to do is fantastic,” Muneem says. “101India really understood the vision of the song, why we wanted to shoot it in Kashmir, and they made it happen. It was great.”

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 11:56:01 AM |

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