Music

When hip hop met gaana for Rajinikanth’s ‘Kaala’

Tony Sebastian clearly remembers the day his band was called for an audition in Mumbai. “We knew we were selected for a movie, directed by Pa Ranjith. But, we had no clue who the hero was. Ranjith sir explained to us that the film’s subject revolved around the Tamil diaspora in the Dharavi slum in Mumbai. And, then he casually said the film’s name is Kaala and that it would star Rajinikanth. We did not know what to say for a minute. We were shocked.”

Sebastian (aka Stony Psyko) is one of the members of the rap collective, Dopeadelicz, a Dharavi-based band. Their videos, which blend hip hop music with street dance moves, such asLegalise It’, has over a lakh views on YouTube. They have been roped into the Kaala project to work with Santhosh Narayanan and come up with a few rap video tracks. “These numbers will appeal to all age groups. When I was in Chennai, I was curious to find an organic gaana culture here. Their lyrics are catchy and funky. We have infused hip-hop with gaana in the album. It has a country feeling with a Western touch to it.”

They have also written these songs in Hindi. Writing rap verses in two languages was challenging, says Sebastian. “We had to make sure of the rhyme scheme, and convey the same message in both the languages. That was a task.” Working with the superstar on the sets was fascinating, he recalls. “We were nervous. But, the first day, he told us to feel free and act. But, every shoot you see him, you tend to fall back on the same mute mode,” Sebastian says with a smile. “It is the first time we are performing for a Kollywood film. And, we’re lucky that we got to act with the greatest man in the industry.”

Finding a voice

The collective that started off with three to four members, now has two rappers, Sebastian and Rajesh Radhakrishnan. “We could identify with Kaala’s premise —it is about the struggle of the Tamilians living outside the state. We have experienced that first hand, the economic struggle, low job opportunities and the regional cultural struggle as well.”

When hip hop met gaana for Rajinikanth’s ‘Kaala’

A majority of the people from Dharavi are migrants from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, he says. “People see Dharavi as a slum. But, it is also a centre that thrives in small scale industries, and garments, textiles, recycled goods and snack companies. Business thrives here and products are exported to international tourist destinations. None here has grown up by someone’s grace. All of us have struggled in our way up.”

Grit and passion

Sebastian says as a young boy he had no training in Western music. It was their sheer grit and passion for music that urged him and his friends to explore the medium, practise in garage spaces and terraces, re-invent with street dance moves and brainstorm catchy song lyrics. “I grew up listening to Snoop Dogg, Bob Marley and West Coast artistes. We had no money or record labels to promote us. So, we marketed ourselves on YouTube. Soon, we were called to perform at MTV Coke Studio and Global Indian Music Academy Awards (GIMA) shows.”

Even though they began by imitating the Western artistes, soon they made music in their native idioms like Tamil, Malayalam and street Hindi. Sebastian says he speaks multiple languages every day— be it when he is at home or while conversing with the cops. This multi-lingualism is reflected in their music as well.

In the hood

Dharavi has an image in the popular perception of the urban residents and tourists— a place filled with poverty, garbage and house flies. It thrums with a rich cultural life, which not many are aware of, says Sebastian. “There are festivals every month. There are some cool graffiti artistes, skateboarders, beatboxers etc. We also have the Dharavi United, made of 17-year-old rappers. There is also the popular Slum Gods, the brake dance club here. And, a rock band called Dharavi Rocks, which uses recycled tins and cans for percussion. We have none to teach us. Or a space for training workshops. But, we have created a community that can sustain itself and help each other’s growth.”

 

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 7:22:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/where-hip-hop-meets-gaana/article23413903.ece

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