Sounds of dissent

How rock ’n roll, rap and pop artistes are writing songs to inspire everyone to join the revolution

Updated - November 28, 2021 11:48 am IST

Published - January 10, 2020 06:18 pm IST

Ankur Tewari performing at the recent protests in Mumbai

Ankur Tewari performing at the recent protests in Mumbai

The night when Jawaharlal Nehru University turned into the red-hot epicentre of violence against students, singer-songwriter Ankur Tewari was in a green room in Mumbai, waiting to go up on stage. “I was shaking as I saw the videos, shocked at the audacity of those who felt they could barge into JNU. This was instigated violence [against those who had the courage to speak up against the National Register of Citizens and Citizen Amendment Act] and I felt I had to do something,” says Tewari, who wrote ‘Woh Hum Nahin’ right there in the green room and later uploaded a video recording off his phone. The song has his stamp, with the lilting notes of a ballad rather than the angry fire associated with a protest anthem. “I want to protest with love,” he says. “I don’t want to write songs that are hating on others. I performed the song at the Carter Road and Gateway protests recently and people were singing along,” adds Tewari, who was the music supervisor of Gully Boy , a film which captured India’s burgeoning hip-hop music scene.

Here's what artists on social media brought out during the recent CAA, NRC and NPR protests


Voices in union

The voices may be new and the vocabulary different, but the fire once lit by Ambedkarite shahirs in Maharashtra (Dalit singers who sang against casteism) and the Burra Katha musicians from erstwhile Andhra Pradesh (who rose to prominence during the pre-independence period, performing on themes of colonial oppression) seems to be blazing now. “You can’t live in India and not write protest songs,” says Tewari.

Taru Dalmia, aka Delhi Sultanate

Taru Dalmia, aka Delhi Sultanate

However, artistes across the country are cautious. Not everyone wants to create a polarising narrative. Independent music label, Azadi Records, released the track ‘Scalp Dem’ in the week that the Delhi police reportedly assaulted and fired tear gas at the students of Jamia Millia Islamia. Rap and reggae artist, Taru Dalmia, who performs as Delhi Sultanate, co-wrote the song with Delhi-based hip-hop group, Seedhe Maut. It was released as a lyric video last month, but it is unlikely that it will be performed at any of the protests. “The song can be misinterpreted as hurting Hindu sentiments, which is not our intention,” says Dalmia, who has been attending protests in Delhi. “This is about Hindutva and extremists, and the song is a play on how people have used this as a license to exercise violence.”


Inspiring the masses

On its own, music may not have the power to convince or convert those who are pro-CAA and NRC, but it can perhaps contribute to a groundswell of public opinion and inspire more people to join the protests, believes Dalmia.

Bruce Lee Mani and band members of Thermal And A Quarter

Bruce Lee Mani and band members of Thermal And A Quarter

Bengaluru band Thermal And A Quarter’s lead vocalist Bruce Lee Mani says his biggest achievement has been to have rational conversations about the protests with his followers and convince his 15-year-old son to participate. “He’d stayed away until now. The first thing he said when he came along [to the Town Hall protest] was that there should’ve been more people,” says Mani. At the Music For Harmony concert in Bengaluru a couple of weeks ago, TAAQ performed tracks such as ‘No Mo-Shah’ and ‘A World Gone Mad’, a song that was written almost two years ago but the lyrics of which seem more prophetic than ever now:

In this world gone mad

Choose the lies you want

Choose the hate that's closest to your heart

In this world gone mad

How do blurring lines suddenly tear you apart

In this world gone mad…

The idea of the nation in the throes of an apocalyptic madness is one that has also inspired Kolkata hip-hop collective Park Circus’s rapper BC Azad to write ‘Krantikari’. “For six years, I’ve been watching the world go crazy. At the moment, there’s a battle for the consciousness of India, where idealism seems to be lost to our generation. But a lot of people have begun to question their status quo. I wrote this song so that people could step out and reclaim their country,” says the rapper. Azad’s subtle yet reflexive lyrics take down everyone from politicians to god men to actors who support NRC and CAA. As rallying cries go, ‘Krantikari’ is the laal salaam that this generation of protesters have been waiting for.

Lalitha Suhasini is an independent journalist who has covered the Indian music scene for two decades.

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