Galiyon ke race main sabse aage daudta
Main baziyon ko jeetta, Main Jeene ka tareeka,
Main Seekha ye hiphop mere hi dum pe
Pathar and kate honge, mere har kadam pe
Mian chala apne dum pe, Musibi\aton se ladke
Hazaro seedi chadke
Hazaro seedi chadke!
Unlike other rappers, Benjamin finishes his rap with a huge smile on his face. Sonu, sporting a snapback, helps end it with a few last beats from his mouth. Shankar, Sam and Vicky provide a powerful finishing roll on their vibrantly painted drum barrels, while Sheetal gives an upbeat accompaniment shaking a plastic bottle filled with rice. The performance ends but the lyrics of the rap stay with me. They define the story of every single one of these 20 teenagers from Dharavi, (one of the largest slums in Asia) who are part of the largely percussion junk band called ‘Dharavi Rocks’.
As the band groups together for a practice session for their upcoming performance in less than a week, Harsh Karangale (30), the kid’s mentor joins us in the little room. Situated inside the bylanes of Dharavi dotted with colourful hutments, this tiny Dharavi room has an energy of its own. Series of musical instruments made entirely out of junk — drum barrels, plastic bottles, paint buckets, metal lids, wooden crates and sticks line the corner. Towards the entrance is an old computer connected to a mixer and a microphone while the farther end of the room has bookshelves stacked with colourful childrens’ books . Harsh grabs a stool and tells me about Dharavi Rocks, a project under the aegis of The Dharavi Project started by ACORN Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that works with ragpickers in the field of waste collection and management. With an initial aim of developing skills among poor children and giving them opportunities for some recreational activities, ACORN’s director Vinod Shetty came up with the idea of creating music with junk items that will resonate with the organisation’s core theme, that is campaigning for better waste management in Mumbai.
The sound of the drum barrels echoes in the room and I find myself tapping my feet. My excitement is shared by 3 dancers of the troop; Durgesh, Manjesh and Rohit who break into an energetic hip hop jam session to the beats. Another mind-blowing performance unfolds as I see each band member meticulously creating music from clutter.
Talking about the enthusiasm of the members of Dharavi Rocks, Harsh says that the bunch has lots of energy. “Coming from a community that is known to play the Dholak on all festive occasions, they already have a sense of rhythm and beat. The challenge is just to polish the skills and channel them in the right direction. It’s a task to collect them all at one place. But once they are here, they all give their hundred percent,” he explains. Just a few months old in the organisation, Harsh, a drummer and a producer found himself easily adapting to the idea of using instruments made of junk. I see him teach them the basics of sound and explain to them patiently how each part of the barrel drum produces a different sound. He aims to develop a passion for music in the kids. “I do not want it to be just music for music’s sake. I want it to be an integral part of their lives. Music should flow through their veins,” he says intently as he demonstrates a perfect 6/4 drum beat for me.
“Dharavi is an entirely different world and we find our inspiration in its bylanes.” says Sonu, the beatboxer. They write all their songs themselves. 19-year-old Sam Melvin with spiked, blond streaked hair started rapping after listening to Eminem. “They inspire me to write about my own life and politics,” he says breaking into a rap song on all the filth in the country. Sheetal Rathod (17) who has been playing the drums since five years now says she never saw herself as a drummer but absolutely loves it now. “It’s very liberating and so much fun,” she adds. Though she wishes to become a social worker like her mother, drumming is something she will hold on to forever. Their shining star though is Benjamin Yangal, the 19-year-old rapper who was part of the Amazon Prime Video Laakhon Main Ek and has now been signed by Yash Raj for a film titled Ichki starring Rani Mukherjee releasing next year where he will be seen acting and rapping.
The members of this junk band gather in the room at least twice a week to practice. Having given many performances now, they are all rockstars. “The idea is to have fun on the stage and make sure the audience enjoys it too. We make sure we interact with the audience before and tell them about the idea behind Dharavi Rocks,” says Benjamin. When asked about their favourite performance, they unanimously murmur, “TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences).”
“We were really overwhelmed when a really elderly lady came up on the stage and started dancing to our beat during our performance at TISS,” Sam tells me. “It was very encouraging!” he adds. Most band members of Dharavi Rocks seek to pursue music professionally. Though they are veterans of playing junk instruments, it wont be long before they start playing the actual instruments. Having faced a little resistance from their parents in the beginning, they now enjoy unconditional support from their family and peers given the number of opportunities that Dharavi Rocks has opened up to them.
It is time for one last practice session and the band members take their position. 1,2,3 and 4 — they look at each other and break into funky beats; the rappers and the beatboxers join in and the hip hoppers fascinate me with their moves. They are soon collaborating with grammy award winner Angelique Kidjo and are currently in the process of creating something big, an entire song and performance on the life in Dharavi. When I ask them to perform a little for me, they smile coyly. “It is a secret but you will hear it soon,” says Benjamin.
As I make an exit, I still hear the barrel’s beat in my head and the bottle shakers resonate in my ears. The tune and the music stay with me, as does the passion of these underprivileged yet talented teenagers, who are not just making the most, but rocking the world with their meager resources.
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