“Political hip pop” as religious collections?

By India Patel, UCL

Whilst music involved in prayer and reflection has been considered a crucial part of the religious experience, the album Cashmere (2016) produced by the Swet Shop Boys raises interesting questions about what is considered a religious collection. The inclusion of religious imagery in music artwork is not a new phenomenon, with Jimi Hendrix, portrayed as various Hindu deities on the cover of Axis Bold of Love in 1967 or Stormzy’s nod to the last supper on the cover of Gang Signs & Prayers (2017). Cashmere continues this tradition, as the outline of the mosque on the cover alludes to the themes of religious and racial intolerance which the artists Heems and Riz Ahmed explore throughout the album.

Album art for Jimi Hendrix: Axis Bold of Love (1967)

The album offers a social and political commentary on the experiences of the South Asian diaspora in the West, blending traditional with modern. The opening track, T5, begins with what resembles a Mosque’s call to prayer before engaging in a discourse about racial profiling at airports, encapsulating the heightened political climate and religious intolerance following 9/11, Trump’s presidency, and Brexit. The album’s name ‘Cashmere’ is a nod to the tensions over Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Yet, instead of focusing on the discord between the two communities, the album offers a different message and instead is a melting pot between the two countries, referencing both Islam and Hinduism.

Album art for Swet Shop Boys: Cashmere (2016)

The album’s political relevance is evident, as the V&A interviewed the artists as part of their digital offering for their You Say You Want a Revolution exhibition in 2017, dubbing their work “political hip-pop.” Whilst indisputably important as a political message, does the album and its message fit a religious collection? Religious collections often evoke an image of grandeur and reverence, to be viewed behind glass. However, this album offers a much-needed dialogue, that reflects the lived experiences of many South Asians who are battling religious and racial injustice.  The music and the album’s artwork offer a commentary on contemporary religious issues, a piece of protest and activism against religious bias, so does this qualify the album to be considered a part of religious collections?


References

Listen to the album on Spotify via https://open.spotify.com/album/0wL2jTDIlsPrvwEm7Le0ML?si=rw0bAOZSTEm0LdZ1Vmfjug

Adhikari, A. (2016). ‘The charged protest of the Swet Shop Boys’, The Atlantic, 15th October. Available via: https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/10/the-swet-shop-boys-cashmere-review/504248/

V&A (2017). ‘Swet Shop Boys – Political hip-hop’. Available via: https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/swet-shop-boys.

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