Sunday, Dec 04, 2022

Rage Against the Machine

In 2015, while popular music found political renaissance, the independent attempted activism, and the world of classical went a step forward and engaged in political commentary.

sofia ashraf, kodaikanal A still from Sofia Ashraf’s Kodaikanal Won’t video.

TM Krishna

On October 10, this year, Carnatic classical vocalist Thodur Madabusi Krishna wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemning violence, in the wake of Dadri lynching and the killings of MM Kalburgi, Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. “What has astonished me is not just your silence, but the spoken and written words with which we citizens have been abused, ridiculed and trivialised for asking the elected leader of this country to respond,” he said in the letter. Here was a man who belonged to the word of ragas, talas and krithis, and felt that it was his moral responsibility to engage with the politics of the nation. Not many of his predecessors from the world of classical music had made political statements such as these. It was the year when a classical musician spoke for the masses. He also highlighted all that was wrong with his own world. Owing to issues with the Brahminical set-up of the December music season, one that made a star out of him, Krishna also decided to never perform during the Margazhi season again.

Dhruv Ghanekar

Who are these men behind the mask/, selling us bulls*** in the guise of a light/ while they rob us slowly of all our rights, sang musician Dhruv Ghanekar at the Pune edition of NH7 Weekender this year. In an India where modern protest songs are far and few between, Ghanekar attempted Rock revolution, a piece where he used repeated choruses of three words — revolution, solution and retribution — that were used in opinion columns and writings around Dadri lynching. It became one of the few times when political turmoil in the country caused counterculture to engage with the masses and react quickly. Ghanekar’s song avoided cliches and veiled attacks and took on the current government and the Prime Minister directly.

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Sofia Ashraf

The government was not the only one being taken on this year. A 38-year-old Indian Tamil rapper, Sofia Ashraf, turned heads with her music video Kodaikanal Won’t. A parody done to popstar Nicki Minaj’s song, Anaconda, the former creative supervisor at Ogilvy & Mather, Ashraf alleged mercury poisoning of former workers in Tamil Nadu and blamed corporate giant Unilever for dumping toxic mercurial waste in Kodaikanal. Unilever, clean up your mess, went the rap. The video went viral on YouTube and got more than 1.5 million hits within a week in turn getting Unilever’s global head Paul Polman to clarify on Twitter.

S Sivadas (Kovan)

In October, Dalit folk singer S Sivadas aka Kovan sang in criticism of Jayalalithaa’s government. The track Oorukku oorukku directly remarked at the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, suggesting that while she rejoiced in her residence, people were dying from consumption of alcohol in her state. The 45-year-old was soon arrested from his house near Tiruchi on sedition charges. Soon, the incident gathered a lot of attention from international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, asking for the musician to be released.

Ghulam Ali

If 2015 became the year when Pakistani ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali sang at Varanasi’s famous Sankat Mochan Mandir to pay homage to Ustad Bismillah Khan, it was also the year when he was ousted from Mumbai for a series of concerts scheduled in the memory of Jagjit Singh. Music acquired a discordant note when members of Shiv Sena threatened to let his show not happen despite the local government’s assurance. The forced cancellations of his concert led Delhi government fix a date with him. But Ali eventually decided to not come to India until the atmosphere became amicable.

Aisi Taisi


When Rahul Ram, while being part of the outfit Aisi Taisi Democracy (ATD), along with writer Varun Grover and stand-up actor Sanjay Rajoura, sang Mere samne wali sarhad par kehte hain ki dushman rehta hai, the reply came from the other side of the border from a serving Army major named Muhammad Hassan Miraj. A musician named Mujtaba Ali crooned Ali’s lines and sang, 70 baras hone ko hain, kuch ukhda ukhda rehta hai, from Karachi. India and Pakistan sang at each other through the internet and tackled the subcontinent’s politics through poetry and music. While ATD’s song came out on August 14, the reply came right after Pakistan External Affairs Minister Sartaj Aziz and India External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj briefed the press in Islamabad and Delhi respectively on the failure of NSA-level talks. Titled Aisi Taisi Hypocrisy, the political satire was a counter-narrative and both songs were poetic parodies-cum-messages set to the tune of RD Burman’s Mere saamne wali khidki from Padosan.

First published on: 31-12-2015 at 01:23:29 am
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