India has a rich history of protest music. When Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote the lyrics to ‘Vande mataram’ in his book ‘Anandmath’ in 1882, he was only building on a tradition of protest already present in folk music. As Chatterjee’s example demonstrates, today’s protest music is tomorrow’s patriotism. Stay ahead of the curve on India’s 65th Republic Day.
1. Swarathma: Aaj ki Taaza Fikar
The Bangalore-based folk fusion band tackles the issue of media sensationalism with humour and minute-long riffs à la Led Zeppelin. “Itna bhi math socho, jo main kehta hoon, bas wahi satya hai,” the song goes. (“Don’t think so much, the only truth is what I tell you.”)
2. Kabir Kala Manch: Bhagat Singh tu zinda hai
In this song composed by 28-year-old Sheetal Sathe, she repeats Bhagat Singh’s comment on freedom: “This is not freedom, it is trickery; this is not complete freedom.” Sathe is a singer and poet with the Dalit activist group Kabir Kala Manch. The police accused them of having Maoist links, after which they were forced to go underground. She and her husband Sachin Mali publicly surrendered in Mumbai in April 2013. She was released on bail in July 2013, but Mali is still in prison.
3. MC Kash: Orchestra of War (Beethoven remix)
Kashmiri hip hop artist MC Kash composed this song after a controversial Zubin Mehta concert in Kashmir last year, where the world-famous conductor claimed he was playing for peace. Kash gives him a dose of reality. “You selling peace? You stupid? In a land that’s still disputed/Your vision’s all polluted if you can’t see the persecuted.” Kash, known in daily life as Roushan Illahi, is 23 years old. After his first song, “I Protest” went viral, police began intimidating him. He has since been obliged to travel clandestinely from studio to studio, record his music and then clear their systems of any evidence of his having been there.
4. Imphal Talkies: Eche
This 2010 song by the Manipuri group expresses support for Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike since 2000 to demand the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act across the country. Imphal Talkies, set up in 2008 by Akhu Chingangbam, Sachin Angom and Riki Chingangbam, released its debut album in 2009. They have a fair mix of political songs, with piercing lyrics and sung without any fanfare.
5. Gaddar: Amma Telanganama Akali Kekala Gaanama
This will be the state song of Telangana if it ever becomes a state, according to activists. Gaddar is a prominent folk singer and composer in Andhra Pradesh who has led the struggle for Telangana from the front. He and his group Jana Natya Mandali had to go into hiding in 1985 after they protested the murder of Dalits in Prakasam district. They soon became regarded as the cultural wing of the banned Maoist group, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). He returned to Hyderabad in 1990 after a general amnesty was offered. He has since continued to perform across the state.