Unlike most bands in India today, an unabashedly liberal political outlook separates The Ska Vengers from their contemporaries. The video above is a documentary on their lead performer, Taru Dalmia, who also goes by the name Delhi Sultanate.
The 25-minute Al Jazeera feature, titled India’s Reggae Resistance: Defending Dissent Under Modi, directed by Vikram Singh, focuses on Dalmia’s efforts to take music to the streets. “If you playing the people’s music, you have to find a way to take it to the people,” Dalmia says, outlining his mission.
Over the past three years, since the BJP-led government came to power, there has been significant turmoil in universities, with freedom of speech becoming a victim. In this hostile atmosphere, Dalmia turned to the Jamaican Sound System culture, which had reggae musicians take their music to the streets by building their own sound systems.
So in his solo avatar as Bass Foundation Roots, Dalmia, a former JNU student, goes to his alma mater to perform for students on a hunger strike. This section in the documentary also includes an interview with student leader Umar Khaled, who describes the carnivalesque aspect of a revolution.
Initially, the audience is unsure how to react, but eventually begins grooving to the music, only for it to stop. Dalmia’s most serious challenge comes when he goes to Pune. Originally scheduled to perform for the FTII students, he finds his event cancelled by the director. He eventually performs for Lokayat, an NGO, but members raise doubts about the elite quality of his music, which is largely in English. So they decide to bring in a mix of Hindi and Marathi lyrics and invite Swadeshi, a trio of rappers who rap about revolution.
“Even if you don’t understand the music, your body will reel with the vibrations of this music,” says one of the organisers of the event. And that’s pretty much what happens.