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News |  04 Jul 2016 16:25 |  By RnMTeam

Based in Pune, rooted in Kashmir, drenched in Sufi

Almost everybody has that one Kashmiri tale that describes its beauty, and the silent valleys, and tiny homes and the boat-ride that captures the scenic beauty of Srinagar. In my case, the tale involved Amarnath Yatra. Throughout the yatra, a horseman accompanied me on foot, while I sat on the pony (or the horse, I am still confused) for eighteen straight hours. Be it Amarnath, Sonmarg or Gulmarg, the horsemen carried their responsibilities dutifully while ensuring the tourists have fascinating stories to remember them by. The stories were indeed fascinating, and so were their voices. These horsemen, in a way and more, reflected the art, the philosophy, the ideology, the history, and the financial status of Kashmir. Every Kashmiri grew with Sufism, and one such Kashmiri left home and found another (or tried to) in Pune.

"There was nothing but Bollywood music on the radio, back then," recollects Muneem, a Kashmiri engineer, and the vocalist of the band Alif. Muneem's voice remained uniform for most part of the interview, but when asked about childhood, the voice attained an excited tone that only motivated me to ask more. "The entire week used to be dull, but Sundays used to be a day of education as the programme 'Sunday Request' on the FM continued to expose me to western artists like The Doors, Queen, AC/DC … you name it. Curiosity led to more information about these legends and a journey that eventually brought me here." In 2001, Muneem left Kashmir and settled in Pune for higher education; the city where Muneem met Hardik Vaghela and the others to form Highway 61 - or now as it's called - 'Alif'.

“It’s important for a poet to write in the language he thinks” - Muneem

In no way does this stand as a comparison of the magnitude of legacy or the journeys, but Alif's first impression reminded me of Stillwater. Yes, the American southern rock band 'Stillwater'. An eccentric vocalist with stories to tell, backed by a team of equally expressive individuals who clearly understand and accept the importance of the lyrical significance that has potentially become the identity of the eight-year-old band. Often sung in Kashmiri Urdu, Alif has composed over a hundred original singles. But it's the Sufi single 'Jhelumas' and the collaboration with Kashmiri rapper MC Kash 'Like A Sufi' that garnered the attention of the youth otherwise disconnected with Sufism or the music of the valley. With sonic influences from modern day rock and staying true to the Kashmiri roots (of the vocalist), Alif acts as the bridge between two diverse philosophies of music.

Alif’s live performances include guest appearances from Shruti Jakati

There is no debating the fact that Alif must receive every credit for its content and the romanticism it has developed. However, Mumbai-based online youth portal deserves a good deal of that credit too for acting as a catalyst in Alif's recent success. With the two latest singles, 101India ensured every bit of promotional and artistic demands were met and with its 'in-your-face' outreach on social media, Alif reached more desktop screens than it ever did before.

The collaboration with 101India and MC Kash that boosted Alif’s success

Music is how Muneem interacts with the outer world. And, on that front, there's no one better. Denied of a rented home for being a Kashmiri Muslim, the vocalist utilised the backseat of his car as a bed. The interaction with the outer world began in Kashmir and while Muneem had a guitar and a voice, the communication never brought him enough satisfaction. The void was filled by Alif. Vaghela, the backing vocalist and keyboardist of the band, sings the Urdu/Kashmiri parts as fluently, and the similarities with Muneem extends to romanticism as well. "Alif has always been about the poetry and the words," says Vaghela. (The band's Twitter account is addressed as @wordsofalif). Alif resounds with the members' individuality. For example, in 'Like A Sufi' - the country's first Sufi Rap composition - Vaghela drops keyboard chords during the groovy chorus so subtly that its sound effectively becomes a part of Muneem's voice. What Vaghela manages with Muneem's voice in the composition, guitarists Sabestian and Moroney achieved the similar impact through acoustic and guitar solos during MC Kash's rap.

India’s first Sufi Rap

For a listener, 'Jhelumas' aptly describes what makes Alif more than an act filled with five musicians carrying diverse musical and religious backgrounds. 'Jhelumas' sounds like the effort of a single soul and a single mind. There's no way five different brains can achieve something as poetic and mystic as Jhelumas. Throughout the song - the ode to the river Jhelum and the women of Kashmir - Amit Gadgil, the bassist, engages my ears through his consistent bassline, and he does a commendable job in 'Like A Sufi' as well. Vaghela and Sabestian have managed to express their artistic best without snatching the attention from the ode's primary cause – the lyrics. And just when you think the song had it all, jumps in Ashish Manchanda (the drummer for the song and the founder of 'Flying Carpet Productions' – the agency associated with Alif for over three years) with roaring drums at the outro to carry the entire sound on a different sonic level providing a heavier conclusion to it.

The ode to river Jhelum, an effort that reflects everything that Alif stands for

Through ‘Like A Sufi’, ‘Khair’, ‘Jhelumas’, ‘Bulsara’, Muneem manages to pay tributes to factors that influenced his musical upbringing that includes his family, Kashmir, Sufi sages and even Freddie Mercury. There’s a romantic outlook to Alif’s approach. And the approach has called for its debut album, slated to release in August, resulting in another association with Flying Carpet Productions. “Never had a doubt about achieving success,” Muneem takes a pause, “it just took some time.”