It’s been a good week for audio-visual focussed activism, riding on the unharnessed power of music and videos to get voices that need to be heard, heard; and stories that need to be told, told. As far as the former is concerned, Sofia Ashraf just catalysed a massive amount of awareness surrounding Kodaikanal’s almost-buried Mercury poisoning case that puts Unilever right at the centre of the catastrophe, responsible for the damage they caused. The latter, however, sees indie-music favourites, The Ska Vengers, choose to make an activist from the 1940’s actions heard, through an animated retelling of the story of Udham Singh. His deed? He shot a colonial British officer for verbally concurring that the 1919 Jallianwallah Bagh Massacre was justified.
On July 31, the two-piece ska band released a new song and video titled ‘Frank Brazil’ to commemorate the 75th death anniversary of Indian freedom fighter, Shaheed Udham Singh, who had several aliases just like this one. He was branded a terrorist and executed for the assassination of Michael O’Dwyer, the British Lieutenant Governor of Punjab at the time of the horrific Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, on April 13, 1919, in which 1, 000 people were killed within 10 minutes of firing.
Watch the video below:
The band’s lead singer, Taru Dalmia, says he wanted to make a song about Udham Singh, “ever since I learned of him and have been researching him over the years.” Echoing a sentiment of many millennials in the country, he also admits, “Part of what drove me to write the song is that upon first learning of Singh I could not believe that I had never heard of him. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. The song is our attempt to pay tribute to one of our national heroes.”
While the lyrics of the song capture the powerful spirit of Singh himself stating that he doesn’t care if he spends 99 years in jail, or is sent to the electric chair for his actions; the stunning animation (created by Kunal Sen and Tisha Deb Pillai) follows the 21 years of Singh’s life after the massacre to the point of his assassination of Michael O’Dwyer, and his consequent execution in Pentonville Prison.This is, however, by no means this group’s first foray into socially and politically conscious music and video-making. They’ve gotten our feet moving and minds working with socially relevant themes in the past such as ‘Badda,’ which laments the censorship of our media that is so rampant today, and talks about the manipulation of the Indian news media to suit personal interests.
They didn’t mince any words with the animated video titled “A message to you, Modi” in 2014 either, when - through a cover of The Specials’ 60’s tune ‘A Message to you, Rudy’ - they blasted Narendra Modi, then political frontrunner for the national elections, for his oppressive views on journalistic and artistic freedom, women’s safety and the rights of the LGBT community and other minority groups - and most of all, his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, highlighting that all of these should be issues of concern for everyone in the country, including BJP supporters.
Watch Badda below:
In fact, Delhi Sultanate went on record to say, “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 played a direct role in these riots.And this man has a huge, very well-funded PR campaign.”
Additionally, Delhi Sultanate’s organisation ‘Word Sound Power’ has also done some incredible socio-political work, and they also played at the largest rock concert to be held in a prison, playing for 2, 000 inmates inside South Asia’s largest jail, Tihar, in 2012.
When you take their formidable track record into account, we can only hope that artists like these continue their fight against the powers that be through their art, regardless of the rampant censorship spree that our current government seems to be on. It just goes to show that they can ban beef, and porn, and anything else they please, but they can’t ban people from making (musical) noise about it.
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