From Kodaikanal To Kashmir: How Artists Across India Are Turning Music Into Activism

Posted on August 6, 2015 in Culture-Vulture

By Ankita Ghosh:

Singer/Rapper Sofia Ashraf’s brilliant video, Kodaikanal Won’t, recently gone viral, has been sung to Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda, and unexpectedly was re-tweeted by the singer. The song simply talks back to Unilever’s most savage way of handling mercury contamination in the water bodies of Kodaikanal from a thermometer manufacturing facility, shut down a decade ago. The song attacked the irreversible, malignant damage inflicted upon erstwhile factory workers and locals, while inarguably, demanding amendments. Environment groups, like Greenpeace, has long been building up resistance however this formidable rap video singularly catapulted it onto the map, directing public attention to an issue that screams for urgent societal intervention.


Although Music Activism is not a new phenomenon in the World Music scene, contemporary innovations in genre, music, lyrics, percussion and acoustic instruments have taken the world by storm. One such fierce and unorthodox trend can be found or better still heard, in Rap/Hip-Hop. Having proliferated in the Americas of the 1970’s, Rap originally owes patronage to Africa and the Caribbean’s-West Africans used Rap primarily for storytelling, with minimal instrumental accompaniments, that was later adapted by American teens to odysseys of personal crises.

Today Rap artists have become widely accepted as post-modern poets; as an overwhelming number of them use music a tool for social protest against everything from fundamentalism to capitalism, from sexual liberties to disarmament. Societal misgivings have been satirically, sometimes quite tragically identified and targeted by Rap artists and groups. Equally gripping is the other side of Rap music, Non-conformist to the point of defiance, and often dark and pathological, in a bid to explode out of the mainstream commercial ordinance. Horrorcore, Drill, Grime, Gangsta Rap and Underground Rap are derivative and subgenres that have abundantly dealt with macabre themes, with a profusion of grim, almost violent, lyrical content drawing inspiration from gritty lifestyles. Micro studies on the subject of listener-response to music have also exposed rising rates of suicide and clinical-depression, particularly among young adults.

Rap Music in Asia has been most prominently led by Philippines and Japan while in India it has been a direct import of Globalization in the 1990s with greater free and unsanctioned flow of transnational culture. An impressive number of rappers work actively in the sub-continent today.

Young, unapologetic rappers like Viraj Manjrekar, Manmeet Kaur and Ashwini Mishra are professionals who rap in English, Hindi and Marathi and refuse to sign up with record labels, unwilling to compromise on their lyrics. Upcoming rap duo, that call themselves the Bombaebs, are up on the map for their smart campaign- Rap against Rape. Fiery Kashmiri street poet M C Kash is known for bringing Hip-Hop to Kashmir Valley and sings for Kashmir, Gaza Strip, and Palestine among others. Another rapper, a youth based in Punjab that calls himself Dalit Gabru, hails from the marginalized often ostracized Dalit community and doesn’t make apologies for being a ‘Chamar’, despite the governmental ban on the word. Word Sound Power recently cut an album with another Dalit singer- a double amputee and a labor rights activist- Bant Singh. Gritty, hard-hitting and inexhaustibly passionate lyrics, strung together in an alternative manner accompanied by equally evoking visuals, draw focus on a plethora of varied subjects, ranging from rape and violence to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and Nuclear engagements. It seems that young India is taking rap literally against the nonchalant conscience of a certain section of society.