A tiny octopus flails about in a soup bowl. A woman with chopsticks picks an insect out of a wine glass. Medical personnel in hazmat suits lead a sick person into an ambulance. These aren’t the kind of visuals you’d expect to see in a hit music video, but singer Chandan Deewana’s Phaila Bharat Mein Coronavirus (Coronavirus Has Spread in India) has them all.
The video, which has been viewed more than 1.8 million times, has no hesitation about how the pandemic gained ground. “The Chinese do not eat what is meant for eating,” Deewana sings. “Instead they eat snakes and insects and spread disease.”
It’s just one of several Indian music videos that have spread across the internet over the past few weeks which blame Chinese food habits for the spread of Covid-19, playing off reports suggesting that early cases of the disease could be traced to an animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
These songs – in Hindi, Bhojpuri, Punjabi and Haryanvi – imply that vegetarians are the unfortunate victims of a crisis for which they bear no responsibility.
Chandan Deewana says that he did some research before blaming Chinese eating habits for the pandemic. “We sourced our information from the internet,” he said in a phone interview from Uttar Pradesh’s Mainpuri, where he lives.
The lyrics, he said, came to him in a tumble of creativity: they were written in only 30 minutes. It took him three days to compose a melody, record the song and then shoot the video.
The internet was also what Patna-based Khushboo Uttam and Pravin Uttam said they consulted to write their song Hello Kaun (Hello, Who’s That?), in which a woman refuses to meet her lover, recently returned from China, because he has eaten snakes and bats and contracted Covid-19. The video has received over 4.8 million views.
Of course, pop songs about popular events or phenomena aren’t exactly unusual. In the digital era, especially, easily accessible recording technologies have allowed musicians to produce music about current events very quickly. “Making songs about current events almost instantly is something popular or urban artists have always done,” ethnomusicologist Shubha Chaudhuri said.
Added Ratnakar Tripathy, who has researched the Bhojpuri music industry, “The coronavirus got popular because of the propaganda machinery constantly feeding us images of the virus, the lockdown, the isolation, all of which first made their way into memes, so then it became an easy theme to exploit.”
The virus has inspired musicians around the world to write tunes about pandemic. A playlist of coronavirus-related songs on the music streaming app Spotify already has over 2,500 entries .
In India, of course, some of the creativity took on a very subcontinental edge. Early in March, as the number of Covid-19 cases in India began to rise, proponents of vegetarianism decided to push their cause online. The hashtag #NoMeatNoCoronavirus began to trend on Twitter.
Mumbai-based Vicky D Parekh, who makes music celebrating the strictly vegetarian Jain community, jumped on the bandwagon. His song Corona Se Darona (Don’t Be Afraid of the Coronavirus), based on Ghunghte Mein Chanda Hai from the 1997 Hindi film Koyla, claims that true Jains would never have to worry about the coronavirus because they were protected by their abstemiousness.
“Not eating meat was always part of our culture,” said Parekh. “So I thought this was a good way of celebrating those values.”
The paranoia connecting meat-eating to the spread of the disease is also the focus of Uttar Pradesh-based singers Mahesh Nirmohi and Abhishek Singh’s Murga Badnaam Huwa Corona Tere Liye (The Chicken is Disgraced because of Coronavirus). It notes that chicken consumption has been unfairly blamed for a disease spread by bats and snakes.
Other Indian pop musicians have used the deadliness of the virus as a metaphor to reflect their purported machismo.
Among them the Punjabi singer Dilbar. “I will give you sleepless nights, make you toss and turn at night,” he declares. “I am like coronavirus, I’ll only let go when I’ve taken your life.”
The Chandigarh-based Punjabi singer-producer known as Yanboy has recorded Yaar Tera Corona Warga (Your Lover is Like the Coronavirus). The song deftly employs “corona” as a bilingual pun, making much of the fact that the Hindi/Punjabi phase “karo na” means “do it”.
“Your lover is like the coronavirus, when I attack there is no cure,” he sings. “The people at the Chandigarh government hospital are stumped, they can’t fathom how I attack.”
Yanboy, the stage name of Ritwik Madiya, shrugged off criticism that he was making light of the pandemic. “We know coronavirus is a serious situation, and everyone is taking it seriously, but that doesn’t mean an entertainer cannot entertain as he pleases,” he said.
The frivolity is, of course, the point of the songs, noted the researcher Tripathy. “The tone of these songs also suggest defiance in the face of a calamity, similar to how teenagers organised coronavirus parties in Europe,” he said.
With the lockdown extended till May 3, musicians have lots of time on their hands to produce even more coronapop.
Khushboo Uttam and Pravin Uttam of Hello Kaun say they are already working on some ideas. Vicky D Parekh already has a new theme in mind, taking off from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to Indians to stand in their balconies on March 22 and applaud doctors, nurses and other frontline workers in the battle against Covid-19.
Said Parekh: “My next song will be on how Modi ji has made the entire world clap, but no one is clapping for him, the commander who’s keeping a watch over all of us ensuring we are safe.”