Ali Saffudin, an independent singer-songwriter based in Srinagar, talks to G20 about his upcoming 10-track album with Azadi Records, his musical journey, songs, influences, and the importance of sticking to the roots of one’s culture.
Q. Before we go ahead with anything else, tell us about your recent release Asaan Gindaan. Will you enlighten our readers about the single?
A. The song is anthemic, for instance, the groove is inspired from The Queen’s We Will Rock You. However, there is an oxymoron in the composition of the song—it is based on the combination of major and minor keys both. The song speaks about the beauty of the Kashmir Valley, love, generosity, and the resilience of the conflict-torn people. It is important to note that the social fabric of the people of the Valley has remained intact, despite witnessing the violence for the past three decades. Nonetheless, the song is inspired by the forefathers of the Civil Rights Movement, like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Mohammad Ali. However, to translate the essence, and the feeling of the song visually was a herculean task, wherein the video team—comprising of Syed Shahriyar, Nausheen Khan, Faazil NC, Imad, and the impeccable editor Nizaam Kadiry— played a vital role
Q. How did you discover your Kashmiri Roots? Because, every song of yours is rooted, you have not forgotten about your ethnicity?
A. During my college days, I made unending exploration sprees into the different eras and genres, like funk, rock, jazz, blues, metal and folk and finally the circle of my journey was complete after finding Kashmiri music. Kashmiri music has the proper characteristics as other genres. It is as harmonic as jazz, there are symphonies akin to classical. It is spiritual; there is mysticism in the poetry. The most important thing in the Kashmiri music is that it is ineffably melodic, which gives it a popish feel as well, the melodies are hooking. If you analyze, Shaakh’Saaz, a Kashmiri folk Sarangi player, was essentially a lead player, for instance just like Slash of Guns ‘n’ Roses. Moreover, musicians orchestrate in Chhakkerand Sufiyanamusic just like in any classical symphony orchestra.
Q. Tell me more about your music, and the musical sensibilities your records pertain to. How do you manage to build a bridge between western music and traditional Kashmiri folk?
A. Kashmiri compositions like Cholhama, Maayi Chaani, orRah Bakhshtam, are essentially succulent and melodic. They have a hooking feature as the songs of contemporary pop songs have. I knew that if I manage the acoustic arrangement precisely and incorporate the vibe of Rock and Roll, people would love it. So what I have done is that I have attempted to create a rudimentary sonic bridge between western and Kashmiri tradition. Moreover, the content of the lyricism is mostly mystic, which is the prime characteristic in Kashmiri folk.
Q. Considering the sound of Rock and Roll is almost in the stage of its death, what prompted you to make an album which is strictly classic Rock?
A. My next album is what I have always wanted it to be like—a full-on Rock album. I wanted the sound like the proper and basic Rock music sounds and didn’t want to make any experimentation with electronic music as such. Yes, I agree, somewhere it is a bold statement, but I don’t care whether or not the Rock ‘n’ Roll is done and dusted, I just wanted to be honest about two things—I have always wanted to make the sort of music which I have grown up listening to, and regardless of the fact whether it sells or not, I wanted to say whatever is important to be said. An artist’s duty, you see? I am talking about an array of topics —inner and outer conflicts, whether personal or political, faith, activism, perception of life. Moreover, many of my friends have told me that the album is like a turnaround, reminiscent of the music that we grew up listening to. You would be able to listen to the variety of influences like Tool, Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, and System of a Down. And there’s a fun fact, it just took us 20 days to record 11 songs of the album.
Q. How is it to work on an album under a record label? Is it any different from going solo?
A. It is like switching from playing lawn tennis to cricket—while as in former you are completely independent, the latter involves discussions, decision making, and cooperative inputs from the fellow players. Though independence is up to a large extent restricted, I believe that is the right way of making music. It was not difficult for me to adjust. Earlier, during my college days, when we found a band ILHAAM, I learned a lot about the tonal, rhythmic, chordal, and harmonic aspects of a song. I understood that good music is always collaborative. Working for this album under a producer was an indispensable metamorphosis from being a solo artist to a collaborative one.