Released in July, Little Kid, Big Dreams is a visceral document of what it’s like to grow up in a state grappling with decades of insurgency and counter-insurgency. Javed raps in English, Hindi and Kashmiri, switching effortlessly between the three as he invites the listener into his world, a landscape blighted by decades of curfews, crackdowns and violence.
Opener Sifar charts his own journey, from a shy introvert with few friends to a confident young rapper spitting bars of defiance. The third track Uncle is a conversation with the uncle he never met, detailing the daily horrors of life in Kashmir. The second half of the track features an older relative narrating the famous “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” monologue from Shakespeare’s Macbeth in Kashmiri.
“This is like a message to him, even though he isn’t with us,” says Javed. “But still, I feel that I’m somehow in touch with him, in this world, right here, everywhere. You know whenever I’m doing something, I feel like he has his hand on me, I sort of get inspired just by hearing his stories because he was really righteous.”
On lead single Elaan, Javed raps about life in a land where “insaaf hi mana hai” (justice is always denied), with all the swagger and menace of classic 90s gangsta rap, over a beat that shuffles and prowls with unrestrained urgency. Halfway through, he’s joined by Azadi Records labelmate Prabh Deep, who comes in like a runaway wrecking ball. Over a breathless two minutes, Prabh Deep calls out everything from the recent war hysteria, to the rising spectre of communal violence, to the apparent spinelessness of Indian media. It’s a blistering attack on the state of Indian contemporary politics, delivered with a fervour that surprised even Javed.
But the heart of the album is Kasheer, a manifesto of resistance delivered entirely in Kashmiri. Javed sets the tone with the opening lines of “we’re born in curfews/we die in crackdowns”, and never lets up from there. The track has become a crowd favourite at shows in Delhi and Mumbai, despite the fact that few understand the lyrics, because Ahmer delivers it with such vehemence and conviction that translation seems almost unnecessary.
The album ends with the titular track, a rare moment of optimism on a record that is suffused with despair. It reflects Javed’s conviction that music can bring about the change in Kashmir that guns or stones could not. It’s a conviction that has been sorely tested in recent weeks, as he’s shuttled between a home state that has been turned into a prison, and a country that seems indifferent to the trauma that it is inflicting on its own citizens.
This optimism, it seems, is in short supply. “I still believe that picking up the pen is more powerful than picking up something else,” says Javed. “But I don’t know, man. Right now I feel so let down and hopeless that I’m not sure it’ll do shit. I’m really in a state where I don’t know what to do. I’m very sceptical about music as well. I don’t know what to do next.”
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