FREE­DOM FROM AN OCEAN OF TEARS

From Kash­mir to Ker­ala, new voices are echo­ing is­sues that aren’t ex­actly mu­sic to the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment

India Today - - THE ARTS - By Gay­a­tri Ja­yara­man

Palkon pe nami, saans hai thami, o’ mere rabba, sukoon hai gham kahin, and­here ki aghosh mein hai leti sar za­meen, lauta de zara Shahid- eKash­mir ( The eyes are moist, the breath­ing has paused, peace is lost, the land is numbed by dark­ness, please re­turn this mar­tyred Kash­mir).” — Shayan Nabi, Kash­miri rap­per As Kash­mir al­ter­nates be­tween vi­o­lence and peace, har­tals and cur­fews and, on a good day, peace con­cert and par­al­lel soiree, Shayan Nabi, 24, plugs away at his mu­sic in­side his home in Sri­na­gar’s Up­per Town area. Be­ing locked in, he says, is an ev­ery­day les­son in the im­por­tance of ex­pres­sion. Nabi has few op­por­tu­ni­ties to per­form live, hence he up­loads his mu­sic online, col­lab­o­rat­ing with artists from around the world. He has given away more than 25 self- com­posed back­ground tracks free to rap­pers who need it. His songs, ‘ The Ocean of Tears’, ‘ The Preacher’ and as­sort­ment of un­re­leased tracks have one leit­mo­tif: Free­dom.

Mum­bai- based rap­per Ash­wini Mishra, 25, who of­ten col­lab­o­rates with Nabi, quit his cor­po­rate day job to delve into mu­sic full- time. He has been at it since 2004 but it’s only in 2012 that his mu­sic, he says, “grew a con­science”. A freestyle rap­per who uses Vimeo and YouTube, he’s rapped at JAPA ( Jus­tice and Peace for All) events and at clubs. Echo­ing Nabi, Mishra says the online plat­form al­lows one to vo­calise sen­ti­ments that main­stream me­dia dis­al­lows or does not pro­vide enough se­cu­rity for. His tracks like ‘ Nax­al­bari’, ‘ Pray for Gaza’, and ‘ The Tale of Afzal Guru’ are avowedly po­lit­i­cal and anti- es­tab­lish­ment. “I make a dif­fer­ence be­tween elec­toral pol­i­tics and so­cial pol­i­tics. I try to steer clear of elec­toral pol­i­tics as a rule be­cause the larger is­sues are usu­ally else­where,” says Mishra. He has, how­ever, penned tracks like ‘ A Let­ter to Raj Thackeray: I am a Bi­hari in Bom­bay’ and is work­ing on a song on Naren­dra Modi as PM can­di­date.

With Bol­ly­wood mo­nop­o­lis­ing the main­stream mu­sic space, and clas­si­cal tak­ing up the rest, the new space for the dis­sent­ing cho­rus is the home­grown mu­sic video. Am­a­teur or

com­mer­cial, young mu­si­cians from Kash­mir to Ker­ala are un­afraid of talk­ing about po­lit­i­cal is­sues in lyrics that aren’t ex­actly mu­sic to the rul­ing elite’s ears. No group is more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of this than Swaang, a group of ac­tors, writ­ers, di­rec­tors and academics all in­volved in the film in­dus­try in var­i­ous ways. Swaang burst on to the online space in De­cem­ber 2012 af­ter the New Delhi gang rape when they com­posed ‘ Maa Nee Meri’, a mov­ing let­ter from a daugh­ter to a mother. They had com­posed over 15 tracks by then, some point­edly po­lit­i­cal, and most per­formed live at schools and gigs across the coun­try. The over 20odd mem­bers had come to­gether or­gan­i­cally in 2011 dur­ing one of the filmi par­ties at which they dis­cov­ered a mu­tual fond­ness for the mu­sic and poetry of protest. They’ve just re­leased their sec­ond solo song ‘ Bekaar Kutte’, adapted from Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem of the same name. Their work is edgy, sar­donic and po­lit­i­cally provoca­tive. “We’ve even re­ceived threats like ‘ Go back to Pak­istan’ be­cause peo­ple are not used to the sar­casm, the tone, the wit in the song. Protest mu­sic has not yet gained ground, it is fight­ing to carve a space for it­self,” says Ravin­der Randhawa, 36, writer, singer and video di­rec­tor with Swaang.

Taru Dalmia, aka Delhi Sul­tanate, the 32- year- old rap­per and reg­gae dance hall singer who ex­presses him­self via the mu­sic projects Ska Vengers, and the more raw Word Sound Power, points out that mu­sic has had a long his­tory of in­volve­ment in po­lit­i­cal strug­gles in In­dia. “Maybe it’s more vis­i­ble to­day, but there has al­ways been very po­lit­i­cal mu­sic in In­dia,” he says. There has been Gadar, the Maoist rev­o­lu­tion­ary, street bal­ladeers as­so­ci­ated with the In­dian Peo­ple’s The­atre As­so­ci­a­tion, and singer- ac­tivists such as MC Kash from Kash­mir, Bant Singh from Pun­jab ( with whom Dalmia has col­lab­o­rated for Word Sound Power project), and cul­tural ac­tivist Jatin Marandi, from Jhark­hand, jailed in 2008 and ac­quit­ted in 2011 for an al­leged mur­der. A huge point of in­spi­ra­tion for ur­ban

kids has been the Pune- based Kabir Kala Manch, var­i­ous mem­bers of which have been in­car­cer­ated since 2011 for their songs of protest. “What is chang­ing for kids like us, the an­gli­cised mid­dle class, is that while po­lit­i­cal mu­sic was once re­stricted to those who vol­un­teered for a move­ment and those im­pacted by it, that ex­pres­sion has a wider range of au­di­ence to­day,” says Dalmia. “The more pop­u­lar you are, the more you can get away with.”

Back­lash does not worry Map­pila Lahala, the Kozhikode- based group of rap­pers. Their ‘ Na­tive Bappa’, a bit­ing satire made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with lo­cal group Street Academics in Malay­alam about a young Mus­lim boy framed for plant­ing a bomb in the mar­ket­place, went vi­ral in Jan­uary 2013. Though the 20- mem­ber group com­prises Hin­dus, Chris­tians and Mus­lims, it faced tremen­dous crit­i­cism for the song’s sup­posed stance against the stereo­typ­ing of Mus­lim boys. They are work­ing on their sec­ond song, an equally provoca­tive one, based as it is on ‘ Kozhipankhu’ a poem on af­firma- tive ac­tion by Malay­ali poet K. Satchi­danan­dan. Muhsin Parari, di­rec­tor and spokesper­son for the band, says ide­ol­ogy is ev­ery­thing in an ide­o­log­i­cally bank­rupt time. “We stand for equal­ity, for pro- peo­ple move­ments. We stand for a stand.”

Over in Imphal, Ma­nipur, Akhu Chin­gang­bam, 27, front­man of the band Imphal Talkies, is en­gaged in com­pos­ing and record­ing a song ti­tled ‘ In­dia, I See Dirt in Your Hands’, part of his next al­bum that will re­lease in Novem­ber, ‘ When The Home Is Burn­ing’. Imphal Talkies’ first al­bum, Tid­dim Road, re­leased in 2009, was en­tirely in Ma­nipuri while the col­lab­o­ra­tive Imphal Mu­sic Project, be­gun ear­lier this year, in­cludes Naga, Ben­gali and English lyrics. Chin­gang­bam sings of lo­cal is­sues, the im­pact of the Armed Forces ( Spe­cial Pow­ers) Act ( AFSPA), and of Irom Sharmila, who has been on fast since Novem­ber 2000, de­mand­ing re­peal of the Act. “I blame both state and non- state ac­tors. In­sur­gency is the re­sult of peo­ple sim­ply not be­ing left alone. We

have not been free enough to know what we want, what is good for us,” he says. He rues the fact that ur­ban In­dian mu­sic has been taken over by young peo­ple im­i­tat­ing Western lyrics, songs and con­cerns. “Why would a young man with the free­dom to grab a mi­cro­phone sing ‘ Ho­tel Cal­i­for­nia’ rather than about his own burn­ing back­yard?” he asks.

Chin­gang­bam’s mu­sic reaches the small Indie mu­sic cir­cuit through fes­ti­vals and online re­sources but plat­forms for cre­ative ex­pres­sion are spring­ing up else­where. Cul­ture Shoq in Mum­bai has been or­gan­is­ing Big Mic nights in clubs across Ban­ga­lore, Hy­der­abad, Chen­nai and Kochi for around three years now. Run by the trio of Sudeip Nair, 33, Ra­jeesh Marar Nair, 28, and Pramod Sippy, 33, it has groomed artistes in­clud­ing Vi­raj Man­jrekar, 28, who sings of what it means to be a man in times of sex­ual as­sault in Guwahati, New Delhi and Mum­bai, in tracks like ‘ Kaise Main Sahu’, and of In­dia- Pak­istan ties.

In­spi­ra­tional rap artists like MC Kash, the 22- year- old Kash­miri po­lit­i­cal hip- hop artist, who came to light with his first solo ‘ I protest’ in 2007, are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of ur­gent new coun­ter­cul­ture voices that sing of tales the main­stream never will.

“... for now I con­tem­plate on ev­ery song I make

no rub­bish brother mayn, there is a mes­sage to take

like never givin’ up and still dyin’ for the truth

’ cause if you dance with the devil you’ll jump off the roof.” —‘ I’ll Never Fall’, MC Kash

Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter@ SellingVi­o­lets

MEM­BERS OF MAPILLA LAHALA

AJEEB KO­MACHI

( FROM LEFT) PANKAJ BADRA, RO­HIT SHARMA, RAVIN­DER RANDHAWAAND PRAB­HAT RAGHU­NAN­DAN OFSWAANG

ABID BHAT

CHANDRADEEP KU­MAR/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com

TARU DALMIA ( IN WHITE KURTA) WITH MEM­BERS OFSKAVENGERS

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