This tribute is so beautiful it breaks your heart. Kashmir’s latest release is the setting to minimalist music of the late legendary Pakistani poet Munir Niazi’s lament about procrastination, Hamesha Dair Kar Deta Hoon Main [I’m Always A Little Too Late], and they gave it their own spin, in what can be described as ethereal alternative rock music.

The band has apparently been working on this for over a year-and-a-half. They posted on their social media that Hamesha Dair Kar Deta Hoon Main is “a poem that Bilal [the lead singer and main songwriter of Kashmir] was extremely inspired by and especially one that moved us a lot.”

But first, a disclaimer: Bilal’s somewhat affected, western-inspired grunge-style of singing of a popular poem such as this may be slightly disconcerting initially. But, trust me, the feeling doesn’t last, and you cease to notice it. A simple two-tone acoustic riff starts the song and continues for most of it with the bass gently filling the background. At the part where Bilal first sings the refrain, Hamesha dair kar deta hoon main, the keyboard joins in almost seamlessly along the same initial riff and baseline and with some minimal electronic distortions, which adds to that ethereal feel of the song. The electric guitar slide also makes a token appearance with only minimal distortions.

Kashmir pays tribute to the late Munir Niazi in their ethereal, minimalist version of one of his most popular poems

Most of the music goes quiet when Bilal sings this line from the poem, ‘..Bohut daireena raston par, kisi se milne jaana ho [When I have to meet someone on well-trod pathways]’ with a two-tone riff mimicking a heartbeat. The music comes back on when, following this, he sings the main line. Despite being one of Pakistan’s most well-known contemporary rock bands, they’ve kept the music part of the song very, very restrained, allowing the listener to focus on the voice and the poetry. It is obvious they understand the words that are being sung and are paying them the respect they deserve, though one wishes the song had musically gone somewhere beyond its initial set-up.

In the past decade or so there’s been a global movement among the younger generation that has seen them move away from a purely ‘white western’ pop culture towards accepting and celebrating their own ‘coloured’ and diverse culture and history. It’s no different in Pakistan — we’re now home to endless covers from our folk and classical music heritage. Some hit the mark, and a lot don’t, but at the very least it points to a renewed interest in our roots, in what at one point used to be our pop culture, albeit ages ago.

Having done my O’ and A’ Levels at school, I wasn’t exposed much to our own Urdu poetry and literature — other than the odd poem or two by Iqbal that we sang in primary school. It’s something I’ve often felt has proven to be a disadvantage. It’s only through the covers of such poetry in our pop music that helps me discover our literary heritage, leading me to the source, subsequently often — though not always — finding the new interpretations somewhat shallow and wanting more. If Kashmir’s Hamesha Dair Kar Deta Hoon Main only helps you discover the beauty of Munir Niazi’s poetry, it will have done its job.

Published in Dawn, ICON, November 1st, 2020

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