How Kolkata’s gully boys are going viral
Young rappers are finding a new audience with their edgy and explicit music, in a dialect that’s unique to the city’s migrant population
Kidderpore in Kolkata is best known for its docks, cheap mobile phone stores, and shabby houses. Some erudite bhadralok would also know it for St Thomas School — possibly the second oldest school in India. Named after the patron saint of the seas, Khwaja Khizr, Kidderpore suddenly woke up one day to a song that mentioned it with a goofiness missing from its desolate buildings.
“Achha achha ka phate Kidderpore ka naam se,” raps its creator Minaj Khan. Kidderpore’s very name strikes terror in people, says the line. The song ‘Kidderpore Basti’ garnered over 1.7 million views on YouTube and pitchforked Minaj into instant stardom. “I had to borrow a T-shirt from my friend for two days so I could shoot the music video,” says Minaj, whose second name is actually Ahmed and whose father works in the docks.The suffix Khan was added for style, he confesses.
A slow rap with rhythmic beats, the song starts off with two boys, one of them flaunting his abs, grooving to the chorus next to a railway track. “People think Kidderpore is a bad place and wrong things happen here. I was unhappy with that. Since I rap in gangsta style, I wanted to flaunt our locality and get back at those people,” Minaj says. Gangsta rap is a genre characterised by talk of gun violence, drugs and use of expletives.
However, another subaltern rapper, Awessum Frankie aka Mohammad Huzaifa Raza believes the language they use is not really abusive. “It is how we talk in our bastis. It may sound crass and not
Minaj Ahmed Minaj
|23 Song: appeal to the refined public but locals appreciate it,” says Huzaifa, whose father has a shop in Raja Bazaar.
Both Huzaifa and Minaj are at the forefront of a street rap revolution in Kolkata’s ghettoes and suburban neighbourhoods — particularly those with a sizable Bihari and Muslim population. A number of rappers are making their voices heard, their songs riddled with a language that speaks of discrimination towards the poor, of neighbourhood pride and character. “We speak about our food, our localities and how people survive,” says Huzaifa, who flaunts street aggro in lyrics that go, “Ek call kaam tera tamaam hai (One call and your game is up).”
While their localities are their inspiration,
17 lakh views on YouTube
Mohd Huzaifa Raza Awessum
|21 the styles have been developed after songs of Lil Wayne, Eminem and other anti-establishment singers known for their ‘hard’ lyrics. The dialect is radically different from the Hindi spoken in UP and Bihar, but common in suburban Kolkata. Many call it Calcuttiya — a jhaalmuri-style mix of Bengali, Bihari, Urdu and Hindi.
Deep inside Burrabazar—the Marwari heart of Kolkata—Prashant Jha, 21, raps in Calcuttiya. “This is a market hub with people from all over India. The language spoken here is unique and revolves around dhanda,” says the businessman’s son, who’s known as Kat Jr when performing. His song ‘Bada Burrabazar’ is about just that — business, karobaar and a bit of dhandhli (sly tactics).
The song, Prashant explains, is a blend of Marwari, Bihari and Hindi — something he considers his heritage. “My father has worked here all his life and I have picked up all this by observing him,” he adds.
Many of these rappers feel the city’s music scene is slow to change. “People in Mumbai and Delhi take to new music quickly. In Kolkata, people are conservative about music,” says Prashant. Huzaifa is more optimistic, talking proudly of their growing audience among Kolkata’s “unseen population”. “Soon, the whole city will listen to us,” he says. 5 lakh views on YouTube