By Amna Kapur:
Music is an odd entity that has the extraordinary power to invoke emotions and make you relive memories. Often, melodies can transport you back in time and lyrics can bring about full-on tears. This is why activists are now turning towards song to inspire the masses. While there will always be the more famous singers with somewhat frivolous lyrics, a whole genre of relevant music is being born and Indians are at the forefront of it. It is heartening to also see the already famous artists, such as John Legend and even Kendrick Lamar utilising their vast influence for a good cause.
Fifteen years ago, multinational consumer-goods company Unilever dumped toxic mercury waste in the southern town of Kodaikanal. This act has affected the city since and children are being born unhealthy. 29-year-old Tamil rapper Sofia Ashraf, however, did not stay put and her version of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’ has gone viral. The song, called ‘Kodaikanal Won’t‘ emphasises on the damages caused to the people and the town due to mercury poisoning and urges Unilever to make swift amends. With almost four million views on her video, Ashraf succeeded in making a difference and the company has agreed to clean up their mess. Also called the ‘Burkha Rapper’ by the media, Ashraf’s music covers a range of social and environmental issues. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “No work is insignificant,” and we see this in such situations where every share, like and view on the video has contributed to creating a vast difference.
The Ska Vengers are a Delhi-based band of eight ‘well-seasoned’ performers who are not afraid of sharing their opinions. The band pulls back no punches in their song ‘Modi, A Message to You,’ a critique aimed at Indian PM Narendra Modi accusing him of being part of the 2002 Gujrat riots. The political leader is compared to Hitler with the video ending in swastikas. Though the evidence for this is unproven, the case is such that one may never know the real truth especially as it concerns an extremely powerful and connected man. “In 2002, we had terrible riots in the state of Gujarat; some people have described it as a pogrom in which more than 2,000 Muslims had been killed. Many people are convinced that he (Modi) played a direct role in these riots,” said the band’s leader, Delhi Sultanate. The song reprimands Modi for his repressive views on women’s safety, LGBTQ rights, and artistic freedom. Though the song may be radical, it is crucial for people to know all sides of the story, not just what they are being fed by the media.
An American rapper from California, Kendrick Lamar is known for his wildly popular club anthems and radio hits. Closer examination, however, illustrates the thought that actually goes into the writing of the lyrics with heed given to social issues as well. The rapper has mastered the art of inconspicuously embedding profound messages into catchy tunes with songs like ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ which talks about alcoholism and his recent album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ which includes laments about racial inequality in America. Lamar, 28, has established himself as a unique voice of his generation in hip-hop.
It takes courage and strength to step up and fight for what you believe in. Bruce Springsteen’s game changing song ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ created the biggest backlash of his career. The track, released in 2000 was one of the first by a major artist to talk about police brutality. It makes a direct reference to the killing of unarmed Guinean 23-year-old immigrant Amadou Diallo by four NYPD officers the year before. At a performance of the song at Madison Square Garden the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association ordered the city’s 27,000 policemen to boycott the show. The subject of the song is a delicate one and approaching as sensitive a subject as this is not an easy chore. Springsteen was able to raise awareness, which is the first step towards solving a problem.
Indian Ocean, the ‘environmentalists with guitars’ are prime examples of spreading messages through song. Rahul Ram, the vocalist and guitarist of the band says that he, being an ardent supporter of Narmada Bachao Andolan in the early 90s, was inspired to make a difference with his music. ‘Cheetu,’ their first activist anthem was written by Ram when he was in jail for being involved with the aforementioned movement. Indian Ocean is known for their motivational protest songs that are stimulating and vitalizing.