The Rage & The Rap

Four men with a conscience, No blood, no bomb, yet no nonsense.
From J&K to the Northeast, they talk to a beat, When Garima Jain hits their streets.
But just ’coz you rhyme words wearing a cap, Does that mean you can really rap?

This is a slightly strange moment, the kind that would make some hip hop nostalgists very happy and others confused. Politics is the biggest preoccupation of a growing group of Indian rappers. In English, Bangla, Punjabi, with turntables, microphones and words, rap allows the creation of protest music. In rhyme they hate. In rhyme they love. In rhyme they protest — the Man, the US, the Indian State, fuddy-duddies, the sexually repressed, the genteel. Playing at nightclubs, seeking refuge online, wandering in Odisha, collaborating with the dyed-inthe- wool rebel voices like Bant Singh and Bhagwan Majhi, these artistes are all working hard to forge an idiom. One that will allow them to tell stories, raise their fists, provoke the smug and agitate the apathetic. Their audiences are growing, almost alongside the musicians — both in search of something beyond the Ramlila.

GANDU CIRCUS Hit the bhadralok where it hurts them most. Qaushiq Mukherjee, 38, aka rapper Q’s music is not for the faint-hearted. “When writing the lyrics, I think like a gandu and voice his anger,” says Q. Gandu the rapper comes straight from the 2010 black-andwhite Bengali film Gandu, directed by Q. Following the film’s release, Q and guitarist Neel Adhikari, of the band Five Little Indians, organised many live acts to promote the film where they performed songs that were a heavy mix of aggressive grunge sounds, reminiscent of alternative rock bands of Seattle in the 1980s. In the past one year, Gandu Circus has performed in East Europe (Romania and Poland) and across the country.

As a young boy, Q suffered from a speech defect and spoke slowly. Now he raps a 100 words a minute. Gandu the rapper is the quintessential loser on the peripheries of the power structures in a society. The songs talk about personal and political identity of the underdog. Much of the provocation in their lyrics lie in the area of sexual politics. “The birth of Gandu comes from the repression I suffered in my childhood. When my friends and I were teenagers making music, we were made to believe that there is no future in it. This drove most of my friends into doing smack. I’ve tried to tap into that trip, of being lost in the city where no one understands you,” says Q. Their angry rapping over a mélange of trash metal riffs, thumping drum and bass and funky electronic sounds subverts gentility. “I too belong to this middle-class. They will do all kinds of things but will not admit to it. The song Neel Chhobi (Blue Picture) was created because of the love of pornography, things that are underground and dirty,” says Q. Another song, Horihor (Harihar), “celebrates jerking off and the futility of it”. The music is influenced by dub step and sounds of bands like Asian Dub Foundation, Rage Against the Machine and The Prodigy.

When it comes to music, Bengalis are into melody and that’s what moves them. But the gentle melodic structure has nothing to do with the life lived in West Bengal today, argues Q.

TARU DALMIA At a Delhi nightclub, attention suddenly turns away from beer to a man on the stage spitting words: “Chidambaram has money in Swiss bank.” The voice belongs to 30-year-old poet and MC Taru Dalmia aka Delhi Sultanate. Off-stage and on, Dalmia rages about State repression in Chhattisgarh, the violence caused by multinationals and the Salwa Judum massa cres. His lyrics are violent and oen peppered with political references. “The idea is to make people introspect. Many don’t know the reality of Salwa Judum and the Koya Commandos,” he says.

Influenced by Jamaican dancehall music, Dalmia’s engagement with music started in Germany. He rapped freestyle at street corners and community centres. As a politically sensitive 15-year-old, he remembers a distinct colour bias. “If I was riding my bike, the police would stop me and accuse me of riding a stolen bike,” he recalls. Later in the US, Dalmia got exposed to the dark underbelly of America thanks to his brother who, he says simply, “was a thug”. At 20, he moved to India. Soon he was actively doing performance poetry for the Delhi-based theatre group Jana Natya Manch. He later went on to do his MPhil in history at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Last year, Dalmia along with DJ Chris McGuinness and musician Samrat Bhardwaj embarked on Word, Sound and Power, a project that has them travelling across the country, mixing electronic beats and Dalmia’s lyrics with songs of revolutionary singers such as Bhagwan Majhi, an Adivasi leader from Odisha. The sound is fresh, experimental and mixes dub step, reggae and electronica. Their maiden endeavour, The Bant Singh Project, a collection of four bilingual songs (English and Punjabi) and a titular short film, has had 20,000 hits on YouTube. Dalmia’s next collaboration is with revolutionary singers in Chhattisgarh.

MANDEEP SETHI As a 13-year-old in California, Mandeep Sethi would often stare at the DJs at his relatives’ wedding parties, imagining himself in their spot. Around the same time he was hit by the autobiography of Malcolm X, the songs of Peter Tosh and Project Blowed. So, Sethi became a rapper.

Today, Sethi, 22, is a well-known Sikh-American rapper based in San Francisco. He has a strong base of followers having performed at clubs, protest rallies and international music festivals. He has collaborated with the hip hop duo Dead Prez. His music is full of the drama of being a Sikh in a post-9/11 US but not limited to it. “After 9/11, the Homeland Security has become oppressive to the point where they can remove turbans to check if there is a bomb,” says Sethi.

Bright and well-informed, Sethi’s music is charged with revolutionary fervour and asserts clearly that the US is the enemy. Take the albumPoor People’s Planet, which received good reviews for being mature and not banking on his heritage for interest. The song Guerrilla Tactics talks about farmer suicides in Punjab due to GM seeds and juxtaposes this with the devastation caused by the Haiti earthquake. The sound is brought alive by dhol drums layered over Punjabi gypsy vocals. Today, Sethi raps in Punjabi, hoping young Punjabis will listen and question the status quo too. Janus-like, Sethi critiques the West and looks eastward. In 2010, he founded Slum Gods, a hip hop collective that brought together MCs, breakers for the young people in Dharavi and a similar community called Tinydrops in Delhi.

MC KASH Unmarked graves. Stonepelting. Police atrocities. Roushan Illahi aka MC Kash has a song for each hard, Kashmiri reality. Twenty-one year-old Kash is a student of business administration in Srinagar who raps in English only so that “people living outside Kashmir can know what is happening in the Valley”. His songs challenge the State machinery and the lyrics o?en invoke images of those who have suffered at its hands. On 30 August, the International Day of the Disappeared, he paid tribute to the unmarked graves that were recently found in Kashmir through his songSing Me Lullaby. An older song I Protest (downloaded more than 10,000 times) named the people killed in a clash between the security officials and Kashmiri youth when the latter took to streets protesting and throwing stones. “One of the people I talk about is my friend Inayat Khan, a Class X student, who was first shot and then run over by the police van.They even stomped on him, leav ing a bootmark on his chest,” says Kash.

Kash was drawn towards hip hop at the age of 12. Deeply influenced by American rapper 2- Pac, he has been rapping for six years now, but his first public performance happened this year in March at One Young Kashmir, a youth leadership summit held in the Valley. Last year, the police raided the studio Kash was recording in, asking if any separatist leader was backing him. This was enough for other studio owners to keep Kash out. He knows he can easily end up in a jail but is far from giving up. “I prefer staying at home. Sometimes people who go out to play cricket or buy milk never come back. When my teachers ask why I don’t attend college, I tell them that the kind of work I do is dangerous. The biggest struggle of my life is to stay alive,” says Kash.

From Tehelka Magazine

Garima Jain

Garima Jain works as a Photo journalist with Tehelka Magazine. she has studied design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi and photography for a year in the Nilgiris. She is based in New Delhi.

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