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Kashmir's tools for peace in conflict: Led Zeppelin and rap

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Led Zeppelin’s 1970s classic rock song “Kashmir,” with soaring violins and the ethereal voice of Robert Plant, evokes an exotic land. But for Kashmiris, the song never resonated: The lyrics are more about the deserts of Morocco, and rock music was never big here, anyway.

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Now some Kashmiri artists are recording a new version of the song that they hope will bind together a generation of youth raised in a conflict zone.

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“We are taking it back. We are using Kashmiri instruments like the rabab, sarangi, noot,... to make a rendition,” says Roushan Illahi, a Kashmiri rap artist known as MC Kash. “It will be for the youth, about their dreams and inspiring them that the future is on our shoulders.”

Two-thirds of Kashmiris are under age 30. These youths grew up witnessing street fighting between Pakistani and Kashmiri militants and Indian forces. The resulting police state has prevented Kashmiris from voicing their intense drive for independence. (See related story.) Security forces killed 117 protesters last summer. Most were young people, some of whom were throwing rocks.

“A lot of young people say they have no other way to express themselves except with stones,” says Usmaan Ahmad, Kashmir director for Mercy Corps. His group held a youth conference in March to highlight Kashmiri traditions as a means of expression. “A stone just expresses anger,” he says. “It also gets you killed.”