The Poetics of Resistance Music

IN the recent times, Kashmir has seen a flourishing of artistic expressions, among which music has emerged one of the prominent expressions of a besieged people. Music is one of the most universal forms of expression that transcends the boundaries of nation and region, and has often been employed to crystallize expressions of resistance. Resistance Songs have often been employed to negotiate with power structures in an attempt to make space for the counter-narrative. However, Resistance Music is not a linear or a single category as is presumed. Infact, the genre has atleast two paradigms of the genre - the Militant Songs and Protest Songs. The Spanish term ‘Nueva Camcion or Nueva Trova’ is loosely translatable as militant song.

In her introduction to the book ‘Militant Songs Movement in Latin America: Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina’, Pablo Vila draws attention to the complexity of the politicized music-making in Latin America in the twentieth century. She draws attention particularly to the term militant suggesting that “because militant prefigures without determining or narrowing it, (it is) a committed political position”. She argues that these songs offer a broader paradigm of resistance as they are not merely restricted to adopting an oppositional position. Rather, they performed a broader function including but not limited to offering tidings of a “scientifically secured” better future through Marxism, or asking for concrete political actions like encouraging people to vote for Popular Union’s candidates in 1973 Chilean Elections. As Vila notes the songs denounced (in the double sense of making public and alerting about) a situation.” (Vila 3). The militant songs incorporate a diversity of subjects, e.g. in the Chilean context openly political songs such as El Pueblo Undo Jamas Sera Vencido (The people united will never be defeated), to combination of political reality with romantic elements, as Recuerdo Amanda. These songs serve as a reminder in popular memory as references to a time in which “dreams of liberty and social transformation confronted military dictatorships throughout Latin America.” (Ureva 298). In this category comes, Mehjoor’s poem put to music like: Come, O Gardner would be a perfect example of this paradigm, since it imagines a truly postcolonial state where the ideals of freedom and dignity reign supreme.

Protest songs or Protest music, on the other hand, has a restricted scope as it adopts a deliberately confrontational position. There is no universally agreed definition of a protest song, since the genesis and evolution of the song have been frequently entrenched in situational contexts completely diverse and far from each other. Yet, if a definition were sought, it wouldn’t be amiss to define a protest song as a “creative endeavor undertaken under the conditions of authoritarianism that creates a multitude of cultural clues and points of reference to help define a societal sense of common identity, the injustice the community suffered, and the need for social mobilization to remedy the undesirable.” (Payerhin 6) Byerly reasons that protest songs are able to create this mobilization owing to the immense power manifest in music. She writes:

Music is the ultimate local and international communicator, transcending language barriers and undermining censorship unlike any other medium of protest. It has the ability to initiate, motivate, collaborate, communicate, instigate, nurture, dispute, repulse, and reconcile. It is an unparalleled site for creativity and expression—containing infinite options for the configuration of melody, harmony, lyrics, languages, code-switching, rhythms, style, genres and forms. It is malleable and transposable, and can transform itself with chameleon-like agility, from being militaristic and confrontational to progressive and inclusive, jarring and accusatory to serene and conciliatory, discordant and dissonant to melodious and harmonious. (Byerly 230-31)

True to the intricate nature of Music, protest music and songs have sprung up in diverse situations across the world. While as protest songs have been sung all over the world, resistance movements for decolonization have found it particularly useful. During the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya against British colonial regime in 1952, several songs were composed that spoke of the Kenyan desire for independence, and the need to rally together. A famous song ‘aria meendirie nyumba yaao’ (Those who sold their people) by Nyagiko, praises those engaged in the fight against the British and simultaneously denounces the local corroborators who side with the colonists:

We agreed to carry this log together

    And when we reached the middle of the river

    Those who ran away and sold their people

    And burnt our houses

    Now their children are like those of Goliath


    Let us praise those of us in Nyandarua forest

    Dedan Kimathi and General Mathenge

    General Kago and General Waruingi


    Our people have you forgotten

    The Gikuyu proverb that

    One cannot eat what he has not sweated for? (Kabĩra and Mũtahi 65)

The song follows all the characteristics typical of resistance poems, outlined by Harlowe, including a simplicity of form, expression and a committed political standpoint. It also functions as a framing device in the sense intended by the social psychologist Bert Klandermans in his essay "The Social Construction of Protest and Multi organizational Fields”. He suggests social activism necessitates framing, which he defines as “"assign meaning to and interpret relevant intended to mobilize potential adherents port, and demobilize antagonists." He observes framing occurs through three ways (a) denouncing state of affairs is due to some specific indignation), (b) constructing a politically consciousness or a sense of who "we" are in our affliction), and (c) providing a sense exaggerated - projection of the chances of the movement to succeed.” (Klandermans 80). The first stanza reminds the people of their collective resolve to fight, and denounces the betrayal of some local corroborators. The poem uses the term “Goliath” to refer to the children of these ‘betrayers’ to indicate the ill-gotten wealth acquired by them. However, the term is also a reminder of the failure such collaboration is doomed to suffer, as Goliath eventually lost to the frail David. The final stanza too refers back to the first stanza, reminding the people of the necessity of fighting. The proverb reminds the people that decolonization can only be achieved through a struggle, and fruits of freedom can be enjoyed only by those who strive for it. It can also be read as a warning to the antagonists suggesting they are excluded from collective consciousness since they have made no contribution in its evolution.

MC Kash, a young rapper from Kashmir, similarly employs the genre of rap to protest. A particularly suggestive sample of his work is his song ‘I protest’ which voices the ground level reality of living in a conflict zone, as well as the despair, and disgust at the apathy and cruelty of oppression:

I protest Against the things you have done, for a

Mother who lost her son!

I protest, I will throw stones and neva’ run! I protest until my

freedom has


I protest, for my brother who’s dead! I protest against the

Bullet in his Head!

I protest, I will throw stones and neva’ run! I protest until my

freedom has

come! (Kash)

M C Kash

MC Kash exemplifies the tendency of protest music to be resident in a very personalized political experience. The song ‘I Protest’ for example was written as a response to the 2010 uprising. Suvir Kaul comments “MC Kash’s combination of protest and remembrance, indictment and memorialization, anger and sorrow, is a powerful testimonial to the Kashmiri suffering that shapes its politics today.” (Kaul 109). The refrain ‘I protest’ itself acquires a great emotive force since it appears after cataloguing the different manifestations of state tyranny that include targeted killing, suppression of symbolic forms of resistance like stone pelting, and adds to the element of defiance by promising to stand ground, and not flee thereby asserting his belongingness as well as the right to protest. His personal journey is immediately intertwined with the larger historical process external to him, yet thoroughly internalized. A similar intertwining occurs in Ahmer who raps about the turmoil and subjugation of Kashmir. In a song Sarfaraz as part of his album Inqilab he sings:

Patience flows in your veins, O Kashmir

How can this courage be snatched from you, O Kashmir?

You have seen the tumult of judgment day,

You have seen catastrophes night and day

Your boat still rows, O Kashmir

Your eyes testify to umpteen atrocities

You have not surrendered before tyranny

In chains is captured your beauty

Why are you still content then, O Kashmir?


The excerpt extolls the resilience of subjugated people, as the refrain O Kashmir becomes an evocative cry of both grieving lament and wounded praise. Personifying Kashmir, the song relies on apostrophe to address Kashmir and demonstrate its stoic resistance. Its resistance is of a patient acceptance of the atrocities inflicted on the body, a reference to the umpteen tales of interrogation, thrashings and maiming of the Kashmiri subject. Yet despite these myriad forms of subjugation, the subject stands up in defiance by continuing to go about its routine, frustrating the endeavours of the subjugator to completely paralyse the subjugated. However, behind this veneer of normalcy lies a dark and terrible reality that Menime (stage name of Mehak) – 19 year old rapper, raps about:

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


Moving from particular to the general, Memood-ul-Hassan emerges as a paradigm of the oppressed Kashmiri who suffers the trauma of losing offspring to subjugation. Denouncing the killings, the song evokes pathos by exhibiting the fate of mother, father and sister – the family, living in depression. Moving from there, the song addresses the core issues of Kashmir – alienation.  Thus, all the three examples emerge as paradigms of protest song. In both forms, thus, resistance music emerges as a natural ally of resistance poetry, and demands that future theorists and historiographers of Kashmir pay as much attention to it, as they do to resistance literature to understand how it contributes to the narratives of resistance.

Be Part of Quality Journalism

Quality journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce and despite all the hardships we still do it. Our reporters and editors are working overtime in Kashmir and beyond to cover what you care about, break big stories, and expose injustices that can change lives. Today more people are reading Kashmir Observer than ever, but only a handful are paying while advertising revenues are falling fast.



Huzaifa Pandit

Huzaifa Pandit is the author of the recently published ‘Green is the Colour of Memory’, which won the first edition of Rhythm Divine Poets Chapbook Contest 2017. He holds a PhD on poetry of resistance from the University of Kashmir.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.