In tune with justice

Siddharth Hande Photo: G. Krishnaswamy  

It was 6.30 p.m. at Spaces, and the small place was so crowded that people were spilling out of the venue.

There were children stomping their feet to the tunes, there were adults clapping to the rhythm. And then there was Sofia Ashraf, the host, exploding with energy and excitement, as she announced the different acts for the evening — school bands Aditya and Krsna, stand-up comedians Shyam Renganathan and Bhargav Prasad, mimicry artiste Harish Rajendran, beat-boxer Gokulakrishnan and other artistes, who created magic with their music.

The eighth edition of the Justice Rocks concert, organised by Vettiver Collective, proved to be a fantastic evening of music and live acts. But that is not all that the event was.

At the heart of it, it was a collective of young artistes, who had gotten together over a desire to learn about, and lend their voices to, issues of social and environmental concern. “Entertainment is the key to the whole affair — this not about brain-washing or preaching. This evening is born out of the spirit of irreverence,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, conservationist and researcher, one of the organisers of the event.

He went on to add, “The artistes themselves have attitude. What matters now is how they voice out against these issues they’ve been exposed to.”

The rapper takes the stage

“When Justice Rocks wanted us to perform, we thought why not form a band? But asking someone if they’d like to form a band with you is like asking them out on a date — you don’t know if they are going to say yes, if they really want to, if they are in your league…” laughed Sofia Ashraf, the rap artiste who opened the performance for the evening with her famous ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’.

After she recently quit her advertising job in Mumbai and moved back to her home city, she formed her band, Mallipoo & the Alwas, over Facebook. While she’d known Suren Vikash (vocalist) and Sailesh Ratnakumar (lyricist) from a while ago, she met Anish Joseph Chacko (guitarist) a day before the event and Vinay Ramakrishnan (Cajon) joined them on the day of the gig. “Before this programme, we had a lot of meetings, where we talked about different issues; they changed me. I used to be a hardcore consumerist, but then I realised I don’t need half the things I use,” said Ashraf, right before she launched into ‘Useless’, a song about using less. The troupe also performed a catchy and interactive song, ‘Maratha vetti pota’ (they cut the tree), which was inspired by a tree that, instead of being cut down, was uprooted and rescued.

Sofia explains that the benefits of being part of the concert have been two-fold. “I’ve been reading a lot about the issues I’ve been exposed to, and more importantly, I’ve been reading with a critical eye. This has also taught me a lot as a musician, because it is an encouraging platform to perform.”

An acoustic affair

Siddharth Hande has been performing at Justice Rocks since he was in the first year of college. Today, Siddharth is part of a project in Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh, which tries to address female infanticide and foeticide. He is also the founder of two Chennai-based social initiatives — Kabadiwala Connect and Supportive Cities. “It’s been a great space to come and talk about issues. In turn, I think it’s greatly influenced the way we think about a lot of them,” smiled Siddharth, just as he picked up his guitar and created a little magic with his voice. He performed three original numbers, and wrapped it up with one cover — Bob Dylan’s ‘The times they are a-changin’. “Dylan was one of the first artistes I heard when I was getting into the social and environmental justice space; it felt apt.”

Some monkey business

Kurangan, a Tamil rock band, is a four-member outfit. At Justice Rocks, half the band made an appearance, with singer-songwriter Kaber Vasuki on vocals, and music producer and bassist Tiburtius V. Rubin on the guitar. “Most of our songs are about individual tendencies and biases in modern society. ‘Manitha Subhavam’, for example, is about our acceptance of ignorance, while ‘Arasan Enbavan’ tries to empathise with the difficulties of being a ruler and maintaining power,” said Kaber, whose soaring vocals and witty lyrics got people whistling and cheering, till Tiburtius snapped a string. Their collection also included the fun ‘Chennai Paadal’, the riveting ‘Sudhandhiram oru dabba’ and a forceful ‘Samudhayam oru maayam’ which had the whole crowd clapping to the beat.

In the right trade

Prodigious guitarist Vishnu Ramprasad didn’t just perform at the concert for the first time this year; he was also part of the organising committee. “We want to discuss issues which are usually brushed under the carpet. But you can only talk, write and protest so much. The real change stems from within each one of us; there is no better way to express that than through music, dance, art or something that connects everyone.” The Vishnu R Collective, which comprised of Vishnu on guitar and vocals, Soundar Rajan on multiple percussion and Kiran Pai on the mridangam, performed some spell-binding notes. Their music, a fusion of Carnatic music with western influences, was, as explained by Vishnu, their idea of an ideal import, export and perfect collaboration between the east and the west. Their intense performance held the audience in a trance, so much so that when the music died down, the applause refused to.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 11:05:34 PM |

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