Menime: The class 11 girl at the forefront of Kashmir's hip-hop scene
Decades of conflict notwithstanding, Kashmir has had a rich history of music and singing. Traditionally, Kashmiris have embraced Sufi music and songs. But with the time, singers have evolved both in terms of their style as well as content. The conflict has played its part too, with the new crop of singers deeply moved by what is happening around them, and moving towards new genres to convey their feelings.
With gen-next at its heart, rap music – an alien concept in the Valley not too long ago – is one of the genres that has found a voice, both powerful and trendsetting. MC Kash (Roushan Illahi) introduced it way back in 2010, at a time when Kashmir was in the middle of unrest. His song, ‘I Protest’, became the unofficial anthem of those protests. He became a household name and inspired many others to become hip-hop artists.
Seven years after 'I Protest', the hip-hop scene in the Valley has evolved, and there's an unlikely artist at the forefront of the scene. Mehak - an Urdu word for fragrance – is a student of class 11 in Srinagar, and she's making waves as the Valley's first female rapper. Going by the stage name of Menime, her songs about the pain and agony Kashmiris have suffered during the decades-long conflict have really resonated with a large audience.
In this free-wheeling conversation, Mehak talks about how she began rapping, the influence of Kashmir's crisis on her music, and how she wants to be a voice for oppressed. These are the edited excerpts:
Auqib Javeed: You burst onto the scene with your rapping. Tell us more about you?
Mehak: My name is Mehak, but I go by the stage name of Menime. It's a reverse of Eminem's name. I got into hip-hop at the age of 12. Currently, I’m studying in the eleventh grade at Kothi Bagh Higher Secondary School, Srinagar. I live in the outskirts of Srinagar and was born during the 90s when the armed uprising was at its peak.
AJ: What is hip-hop to you and how did you choose it?
M: Hip-hop is a movement, a culture, as well as a genre of music. It's a medium through which we can express our feelings and thoughts. Hip-hop means reality. When I was 12-years old, I listened to Eminem's songs and rapped on them. He is my inspiration - his rapping style, vocabulary, accent. Then I started writing my own stuff and started to rap.
AJ: Tell us about your label?
M: AHM Dexterity Records is the very first hip-hop record label of the Valley. It was started by my friends - Aamir Ame and Husteer - and I. Aamir and Husteer started their career in music when they were in the class 10. They are into this genre for the last eight years and have always been at the top of the hip-hop scene.
The record label was created to promote and push hip-hop culture in the Valley. This record label has its own set up for recording audio and video. We have our team. The aim of the record label is to provide a platform to all local rappers in the Valley. Local studios charge them a huge amount which they are not able to afford. This record label provides them everything professional at affordable prices, plus tips to improve as well.
AJ: How much has the Kashmir conflict affected you?
M: Conflict does affect everybody in one way or the other. I am a victim of the conflict.
AJ: As you told us that you are a political rapper, what is your view on the Kashmir conflict?
M: As you know, many people have been killed, tortured, blinded, and arrested in Kashmir. We have faced a lot of problems which make us unhappy with the administration. I think people's voices need to be heard and resolved. We surely want a solution which is peaceful and brings normalcy back.
When I have to write a political song, I read the stories about the conflict and then I decide to write my lyrics. I am doing it for my own people. I am a Kashmiri citizen. I am born here, we are politically oppressed, and I am doing my best to speak on behalf of our people through my rapping.
AJ: Does singing help you to vent out your anger?
M: Yes, obviously, when I experience anger I like to listen or song to extreme music that can match my anger. Rap helps me to explore what I feel and I freely express my anger and emotions through it. People resort to music as a form of protest in fearful and intimidating situations
AJ: How difficult is it for you to rap in a society where it is unacceptable, especially for girls?
M: It’s really difficult, but I have to do it, and I'll do it regardless of what anybody has to say. This society is the mixture of various thoughts - some are supportive, some are not. People appreciate, but some even hate.
What I have to do is to look at the positive things around me and not give a damn to haters and those who oppose me. They are to be ignored and I have to move forward, like they say, “Haters make me famous.”
I don't care whether society accepts me or not. I know what I'm doing and I'm sure they are going to support me too. However, these days more and more youngsters from our generation are breaking stereotypes to give it a try.
AJ: How did your parents react to your rapping?
M: In the beginning, I didn't have any support from my parents. They used to scold me, because they knew that if I chose rap it'll be difficult for me to become a rapper in a conservative society like Kashmir, which prefers women in conventional professions.
Still, I didn't give up. I was very passionate towards my work and I made them understand that girls have every right to do when men could do. Now they're supporting me and have no issues with what I'm doing.
AJ: How have Kashmiris reacted to the message you put out with your rapping?
M: I'm glad they are appreciating me. I really wasn’t expecting such a huge positive response from the people. I don't only rap about one theme. As I told you, I am a political rapper as well as an entertainment rapper. So I rap about different themes like revolution, human rights violations, deception, gangs, love, motivation, life stories, etc.
AJ: How do you see your future in rapping?
M: Umm, well it's a pretty tough question. I don't know what's gonna happen next, but I will work hard, and I hope I can, one day, see myself as a successful rapper.