Composer, singer, lyricist for Kashmir, Bilal Ali talks about his recent solo songs and the ideas behind each of them.
f 2023 is an important year for mainstream pop culture and its cooler cousin, the counterculture movement, it is equally important in an individualistic sense for many who are taking risks in specific manner.
Without beating around the bush, one such name is that of Bilal Ali, Kashmir’s chief singer-songwriter. You may be thinking about the group as another one bites the dust if the vocalist is doing things in singular fashion. If so, you’d be wrong.
Bilal Ali is first and foremost the face of Kashmir and not only does he know it, he is a mitigating factor if you hone in on the group’s continuous success in the post-corona world. The band is working on their second album, Zindagi, from which a slew of songs have released including the addictive title song.
Kashmir is also playing shows whenever they find an opportunity to do so which means the band is not getting neglected.
However, Bilal Ali, a very soulful singer who puts everything in a song as a vocalist, whether he is performing live or recording in a studio. He has found a doorway to write about the corrosiveness that this society is cloaked in and what it feels like as you try to find the right steps to survive. With his songs for Kashmir and his own solo tracks, Ali has given away the fact that he is a sensitive soul and hasn’t become desensitized to his surroundings.
A case in point are the solo songs for his upcoming album such as ‘6 Mahine’, ‘Har Qadm’ and ‘Saath’. Even the collaborative efforts are as sincere as they are drenched in a range of emotions such as ‘Nazaray’ with Uzair Ahmed, ‘Be Nishan’ (with Kashan Admani for a feature film called Carma), ‘Aazma Le’ with Young Stunners and ‘Pyaar Banto’ (presented by KDSP) with Ali Hamza.
With his solo work, Ali has also explored a side of music he hadn’t handled in entirety with Kashmir. While the group has had different producers between their first album – Khwab – and the upcoming second album called Zindagi, Bilal Ali has experimented in his solo work, co-producing ‘6 Mahine’ (with Sinnan Fazwani), the first song off his solo album. If ‘6 Mahine’ was the start, the next two songs, he admits, are equally precious.
Speaking to Instep at length about his own music, Bilal Ali explained that ‘Har Qadm’ is about the struggle as he pushes himself to reach his destination.
Said Bilal Ali, “Despite counting the steps I needed to take to reach my destination, I felt like my feet were falling like they were heading somewhere else and I was running out of time. The sand in the hourglass ran out before I reached my destination.
Like the Tetris game I had been playing where the wrong pieces were filling the game even though I was selecting all the right ones. That’s how I felt when I wrote the song.”
In other words, Bilal Ali astutely noted that these metaphors were depicting how he had written the first part of the song ‘Har Qadm’, which goes to acknowledge that the clock has run out of time. These are very personal ideas Ali is putting to paper and turning them into songs; it is always a brave effort when an artist shares their inner thoughts that we obviously cannot see, but that define their realities.
Bilal Ali, a very soulful singer who puts everything into a song as a vocalist, whether he is performing live or recording in a studio, has found a doorway to write about the harshness of the times we live in, and what it feels like as you try to find the right steps to survive.
‘Har Qadm’ is one example.
The song is a collaboration between Bilal Ali and Zahid Qureshi. And if there is one idea Ali is admittedly open to, it is that of collaboration. With Zahid Qureshi, he co-produced, composed and wrote the song, flexing his muscle as a modern-day poet.
But since 2023 has begun, Bilal Ali is living on an alternative plane when you compare his own songs to Kashmir songs. There are six different minds at work in Kashmir, and it is more egalitarian than elitist.
While ambitious, Ali’s songs are anything but elitist. They are a rich canvas through which he can learn about his growing musical capabilities and specificity in his narrative when we speak of his music.
His third solo song, ‘Saath’ is another case in point, which is backed by a short film by Ashar Khalid. Speaking about the collaboration, Bilal Ali noted, “Ashar and I have collaborated on multiple projects and our ideas align closely. Thus, when he shared the narrative of his short film with me, it immediately resonated with me. I composed a heartfelt song centered around the themes of love, care, and compassion.
“The film depicts a couple where the female character suffers from a panic attack. Despite her distress, she plays the song and attempts to hide her emotions, yet she continues to break down.”
Who doesn’t know that feeling of panic nowadays?
The political and economic climate at the moment is enough to make anybody feel jumpy, distressed and in some cases, violent if you’re keeping up with the news. Pakistan is Gotham without Batman because mobs provide vigilante justice as it is often reported in the news.
As for Bilal Ali, who collaborated with Zahid Qureshi for the song, ‘Saath’ in addition to other songs as well, it is the result of a short film by Ashar Khalid called Haibat. Sometimes songs lead to visual storytelling and sometimes a film can lend itself to outstanding, poetic melodious music. ‘Saath’ falls in the latter category.
Ashar Khalid, who made the short film, ‘Haibat’, in context of ‘Saath’ also spoke to Instep as he briefly explained, “The idea of the song came from the story and the conflicting mood it was supposed to bring in the film. We needed a sweet song which would be juxtaposed against a complex scene and what Bilal and the team came up with really helped create an impactful visual.
The lyrics and melody are universally enjoyable and hence they give the song a life of its own. But as part of the film, they truly become strong.”
It is good to see that Bilal Ali has also formed a connection with Zahid Qureshi with whom he co-wrote the song and composed it. This camaraderie between directors, producers and musicians is also important because remove the top tier of artists and you need their younger counterparts to fill the space that they have inadvertently created by being super selective in everything they do.