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Kashmiri Singer-Songwriter Ali Saffudin’s ‘Dal Sessions 2021’ Bridges Folk and Contemporary Sounds

A three-track live EP prefaces his upcoming untitled, grunge era-informed studio album

Muneef Khan Jul 17, 2021

Kashmiri singer-songwriter Ali Saffudin. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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In 2016, the video of a young Ali Saffudin reciting his version of 16th-century Kashmiri poet Habba Khatoon’s “Chol Hama Roshay”  – by the banks of Kashmir’s Dal Lake – had shot to fame across the valley; skip to June this year, and the Srinagar-based singer-songwriter is back with a refined version of what he calls Dal Sessions 2021.

The three-track EP, shot and recorded live (by vloggers Imad and Junaid Dar) on the banks of the Dal, revolves around themes of resistance, existentialism and spirituality. Saffudin explores the depth of Kashmiri poetry on “Karyo Maz Jigras.” He adds, “Although one might get lost in translation, the song revolves around the cycle of life where you arrive into this world, endure suffering and go back. Songs like these help you during dark times.”

While “Karyo Maz Jigras” and “Sahibo”are profoundly influenced by the Valley’s fabled poets and spiritual in nature, “Ehad Karo” is a track that Saffudin claims “nobody wants to listen to.” He adds, “There was a personal moment that led to the making of ‘Ehad Karo’; it was the recent uprising in Palestine. What struck me the most was the resilience shown by the Palestinian people in the past 60 years — their movement has been an inspiration to never be silent about what you believe in. The lyrics were directed towards people who think along similar lines, but unfortunately, I do not feel that the masses want to go down that lane.”

Apart from the stunning visuals that add to the audio-visual experience, one is witness to a dense instrument arrangement as Saffudin shifts between acoustic and electric guitars, finishing things with a rare performance on the keys. “Unlike the previous Dal Sessions, this time around, there was a lot of post-production and layering – which is the secret spice. There are many live music sessions in India and Pakistan, but very rarely is it a stripped-down and outdoor set,” he says. The idea behind Dal Sessions was brought to life by cinematographer Fazil N.C. from Kerala, who documented these moments in his short film In the Shade of Fallen Chinar (2016).

Watch the video for “Karyo Maz Jigras”

While Saffudin is known for his unique blend of Urdu and Kashmiri lyrics, the artiste is currently gearing up for the release of his upcoming untitled 10-track studio album; a revisit to his lesser-heard grunge influences.

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Before shooting to fame in 2016, Saffudin spent his years as a student at Delhi University (D.U.) where he was a part of Ilhaam – a three-piece rock outfit who were inspired by the Seattle Sound of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, among others.

Enamored by the likes of Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder, Saffudin asserted that Dal Sessions and similar projects were solely an effort to help bridge the gap between Kashmiri folk and a modern-day sound.

“The actual music that I write comes down to this 10-track album. It has songs which were written during different points of life. From my days in D.U. to coming back to Kashmir and witnessing the occupation and lockdowns, this album says it all. The album is still untitled, but I might just call it Songs In The Key of Chaos,” Saffudin says. Producer-guitarist Ritwik De, drummer Suyash Gabriel, bassist Amar Pandey and more have collaborated on the album that he seeks to release in October this year.

Saffudin says he never anticipated that he would do it under the banner of a record label (Azadi Records), but the abrogation of Article 370 – and the events that followed – changed his perception of being a “one-man team.” The singer-songwriter adds, “It made me realise how unequipped I was, as a person and as a citizen. The central government had snapped every form of communication in Kashmir, they caged our existence and our rights were stripped away. Such events damage your sense of self-respect. They turned the whole of Kashmir into a detention center. So, being in a record label empowers you, especially Azadi Records; they believe in telling your story.”

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Watch the video for “Ehad Karo” below.

Despite the events following August 5th, 2019, Saffudin went on to release two singles – “Asaan Gindaan” and “Reham Karain.” While the former spoke of hope beyond the conflict in the Valley, Reham Karain reflected on the pain and hurt inflicted by years of strife.

Written by young Kashmiri poet Zeeshan Jaipuri and directed by Musa Tramboo, “Reham Karain” and its visuals were widely appreciated by critics and viewers, especially with the whole project being executed in Srinagar with a local crew. For Saffudin, representing his roots remains an essential part of his music. “A few years ago, [filmmaker] Imtiaz Ali had seen me perform live and told me that while he had briefly heard of the Kashmiri youth’s resentment against the state; my performance had cleared his doubts on people’s feelings towards the state. I do face backlash and end up in controversies, but I stay true to myself and that helps me sleep at night,” says Saffudin.

Watch the video for “Sahibo” below.

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