Songs that emerge from water or are performed near water bodies have a magical allure to them—making them the subject of and point of reference in vast poetries, tales and studies of music and literature throughout the world. The image of singing and water goes back to the origins of literature from the emergence of various mythologies and folktales to poetic expressions for longing and freedom. From the songs of the sea to the river songs, the association of music with the flow of water finds a significant place in every culture among people who have known melody, grief, lament and spirituality.
Water perhaps sets the coordinates for spaces meant for refuge and escape, and for solitude and contemplation. It is in this spirit that one can approach Ali Saffudin’s latest installment—three lakefront songs performed and recorded live on the shores of Srinagar’s most visited water body. As much as it is considered a site for tourists, Ali here makes it a setting for his musical delivery and in doing so perhaps reclaims its meaning away from the exotic image that the Dal evokes from outsiders and in some cases, insiders. Coincidentally, the earliest Dal Session by Saffudin took shape in the 2016 cover of the most sung song from Kashmir adapted from a poem by 16th century poet Habba Khatoon, with that memorable verse Walai weis gaswaai aabas. Years later, Ali returns with not one, but three such songs to bring his fans and listeners back home to the Dal.
The result is Ali’s Dal Sessions 2021, with the year in the title indicating that in the future there might be more of these coming after the first ones by the artist appeared circa 2016. In this 2021 edition, Saffudin teams up with Imad and Junaid Dar for three exquisitely shot and studio-quality renditions. Needless to say, Dal Sessions 2021 reflects the young musician’s ability to produce quality that he has refined over the years while also spearheading a culture of creative collaboration among his peers by bringing in exceptionally talented videographers whose documentation of Kashmir’s landscape and scenery in the internet age will be a matter of academic study—in the field of cultural studies—in the years to come.
What these three creatives share in common is that they perfected their skill over the years as part of a Kashmiri internet generation without internet access at times—with the summation and combination of their diverse skillsets and talents on display in this unified series called Dal Sessions 2021. If it were not apparent to new listeners, in the Dal Sessions we get to see Ali’s aptitude as a self-producing artist and a multi-instrumentalist who brings out his skill not just on acoustic and electric guitar but on the keys and drum programming as well. The production reflects the rawness of a live performance by Saffudin coupled with the raw talent of young videographers from Kashmir (Imad and Junaid) who in their own digital spaces have reclaimed their homeland through their lens and the cinematography and photography they produce.