Arivu, the rapper, is on a high.
His latest track, ‘Sanda Seivom’, raked up over 11,000 Instagram TV views in six days. On YouTube, the song has been viewed over 53,000 times since its release on January 14.
The song, which expresses solidarity with nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), also evokes the principles of unity and rationality combined with the spirit of Tamil pride. “I first performed it at a protest in Chepauk, the day after I had written it. A lot of local musicians and artists were present, and I sung it to the beats of the parai. Only much later did I decide to turn it into a rap [song],” says the musician, who has also composed songs for the Tamil film industry, as part of The Casteless Collective.
In the nationwide context, Arivu is not alone. Protests that have extended for days in various cities are attracting spirited indie artistes like moths to flames — like Shahroz Ahmad in Delhi and Ronny Sen in Kolkata. While many among them exude pure defiance, or even anger, in their compositions, others are taking the Arivu route — lyrics with heightened socio-political awareness and historical context set to a beat that is very raw. Because what good is protest music if it does not keep you moving and motivated?
In Chennai, however, the situation has been a little different. Protesters are having a tough time finding space where they are allowed to protest peacefully. Nevertheless, music has still managed to hit the streets, mainly via the city’s determined hiphop community.
“We are not social rappers. We are just rappers. We rap about social issues only if it really hits us, if it makes us feel something. And this issue definitely made us feel,” says Vaughn Pinto, one of the two rappers of the one-year-old hiphop crew Voltage B.
The crew, which includes three beatboxers, recently found itself at the forefront of dissent in Anna Nagar Tower Park. They put together Chennai’s edition of the All India Human Rights Cypher, an initiative which brought together musical talents in 11 different cities to sing their way to protest. “It was originally supposed to happen in 15 cities, but a few had to drop out because of political tensions, police issues and scared families. That, more than anything, spurred us to go ahead with this,” adds Vaughn.
So on a Sunday afternoon earlier this month, Anna Nagar Tower Park saw a gathering of what Vaughn describes as “Chennai’s entire underground hiphop community, as well as beatboxers and breakers [break dancers].” Those present included rappers like Sam Dot, Devoid, Rapbot VK, YashX, Asal Kolaar and Jackie Ranka, besides other artistes like the Underdogz, Dudez in Madras, PEACE Hip Hop and FWPT.
The music included not only songs of dissent written long before the CAA issue came up, but also compositions tailored particularly to the current political scenario. “A social activist also brought in experts who gave us some education about the Act. Everyone was welcome, including people supporting CAA. We were open for debate,” says Vaughn.
For Varun Kumar aka Rapbot VK, an event like that is simply par for the course. “My genre is protest poetry,” says the rapper, who has lived in Chennai for over a year, and brings out music in Hindi. For instance, one of his songs called ‘Aatmahatya’ was about the suicide rate, especially student suicides. Varun points out that Kashmir, the economy and poverty were also brought up at the event in addition to CAA. “I performed my original ‘Bazaar’ that I had released last year. I also performed a song I had written a day before the event. It talks about the problems that the Government could have been focusing on instead of this, like the economy and corruption,” he adds.
It is a number that he also performed at an open mic a week ago at Goddy’s in Nungambakkam. This was a different event from that at Anna Nagar: not all the performances were contentious and each piece was rehearsed and deliberate, as against the spontaneous spitfire of four to eight lines that spilled into each other back at the cypher.
“It doesn’t matter,” says Varun, adding, “What matters is how far your message reaches.”