Revolutionary Playlist Episode 23: Shmyla

By Shmyla

10 October 2021

“What’s the point of the revolution if we can’t dance?” – Jane Barry and Jelena Dordevic.

The act of protesting is an exercise in expressing rage, joy, grief, solidarities, resistance and love all at once. The streets aren’t made for many of us, yet we come out with the sounds of azadi because we have no other choice. The songs in this playlist are expressions of that lack choice, they are laced with an urgency, a desperation you can only find in protest.

Kenrick Lamar’s refrain “We gon’ be alright” is a reassurance to the self but also a defiant slogan in the face of violence and oppression. A similar defiance can be heard in Faris Shafi’s “Jawab de”, though he’s asking questions the refrain jawab de is both a demand but also a resignation because he knows the answer won’t come. Noor Jahan performing Habib Jalib’s “zulm rahay aur aman bhi ho” for the movie “Yeh Aman” expresses the grief of all those living under crushing oppression and occupation. Nina Simone expresses a similar lament in “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”. The “hasti jaati, roshan waadi” Noor Jahan pictures blanketed in darkness echos Nina’s desire to fly so she can “soar to the sun and look down at the sea”. From Kashmir to the streets of Ferguson, the desire for freedom and liberation reverberates. Both Noor Jahan and Nina are defiant, understanding the chains that hold them, but knowing what it feels like to be free without ever experiencing it. In a poem dedicated to Neelo Begam, Mehdi Hasan sings of this defiance in chains, the feminist resistance of women who stand up to the violence directed at their bodies, and the breaking of collective chains heard in the songs of the feminist movement in Pakistan that proclaim pleasure in “tor tor ke bhandnanoon ko daikho behnian aati hain”, it’s a call to action for women to break free from the traditional bonds that oppress them and invites them to form new feminist solidarities. Sung in a collective voice, it’s a song of hope and a vision of society that can only be realised through the collective.

In all the art forms I’ve encountered, music has space to hold all these emotions together. It captures both the singular and joins us to a collective. It can help us mourn the past, process the present and heal so we can imagine a better future.


The Playlist

  1. Kendrick Lamar, Alright
  2. Faris Shafi, Jawab De
  3. Noor Jahan, Zulm Rahay Aur Aman Bhi Ho
  4. Nina Simone, I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free)
  5. Mehdi Hasan, Raqs Zanjeer Pehan Kar Bhi Kiya Jata Hai
  6. TLC, His story
  7. Iqbal Bano, Hum Dekhenge
  8. DIVINE and Dub Sharma, Azadi
  9. Rage Against The Machine, Know Your Enemy
  10. Bob Marley & The Wailers, Redemption Song
  11. Bob Dylan, Maggie’s Farm

Shmyla is a feminist researcher, organizer and teacher in Pakistan who works on questions of technology, violence, privacy and equitable systems. She tweets at @apniISPdot.

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