Social Activism & Music: 12 Indian Artists Making Their Voices Heard - Homegrown

Social Activism & Music: 12 Indian Artists Making Their Voices Heard

Cultural activism has long accompanied political and social activism in India and the world. For decades, it has acted as one of the most effective tools to mobilise people into making a social change in the country. Protest music, poetry, and art fill people’s movements with life. They provide identity to people and unite them.

In contemporary times, protest music has become a regular feature of social movements in India, bringing to the fore all the injustices and deep-rooted issues that plague the country. Many musicians have expressed their angst through songs in the wake of numerous protests that have rocked the nation in the past couple of years.

Here’s a list of 11 contemporary Indian musicians who have attempted to voice their protest through their art.

I. Aatmnirbhar Majdoor by Madara X Spectra

In the wake of the recent news of 16 migrant workers being crushed to death on the train tracks in Maharashtra, Madara has teamed up with Spectra and Seven & Seven and composed a track to throw light on the heartbreaking incident. The track starts off with a grim truth; Madara’s haunting voice echoes and reaches each fibre of your being– “Kati padi, track pe train ke dekhi aatamnirbhar laash! Fati Aediyaan, unglion or maans khoon se sani ye roti, zindagi ki is kasauti main dafan.” Madara remembers his disbelief at how the migrant populations’ collective voice was hushed in a matter of days.

II. ‘Baari Hamaari’ by Sumit Roy

Sumit Roy is a 25-year-old visual artist and rapper based out of Delhi. His songs are rife with subtle undertones of political commentary on the ‘current broken state of our democracy’.

A hard-hitting, anthemic track called ‘Baari Hamari’ from Roy’s debut album, HEROCK is a reworking of a self-titled song for his art show in 2018 called I Hope To Match Your Furniture.

Roy hopes for his music to disrupt and disturb the status quo, something which is clearly evident in his songwriting.

III ‘Chitta’ by Prabh Deep

Chitta, the first single off Delhi-based artist, Prabh Deep’s sophomore album, lays down the sonic foundation upon which one of Asia’s most anticipated albums is built. As the follow-up to his seminal debut album, Class Sikh and his critically acclaimed EP, KING, Prabh’s second offering, sees the multi-faceted artist dive deep into the human psyche, creating an overarching story about the conflict between good and evil that each one of us experiences over our lifetimes. Chitta plays a pivotal part in this narrative, with Prabh’s production and lyricism emphasizing the immediacy and gravity of this impending conflict in the protagonist’s life. The idea for Chitta emerged from multiple writing sessions where Prabh was trying to explore writing from the perspective of a fictional character – a concept and process that he’d been keen on exploring since this character started taking shape in his head. The energetic, club-friendly beat is built around a captivating flute sample and features Delhi-based virtuoso and frequent collaborator Hashbass, who decided to jump on the project as soon as Prabh played him the beat.

IV.‘Fight. React. Be a part’ by The Down Troddence

Bengaluru-based folk metal band, The Down Troddence released their song, ‘Fight. React. Be A Part’ two weeks after the government’s hardline stance in implementing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Known for their menacing groove metal that draws from Sepultura, Lamb of God and more, this new song – featuring vocalist Akhil Unnikrishnan aka Kel from fellow Kerala metal band Heretic – was recorded in two days and completed within six. According to Munz, the guiding factor was not just the anger surrounding the government’s stand on the CAA-NRC issue, but also the fact the band hadn’t been able to voice their opinion in the way they wanted as individuals and a group.

V.‘Hara Hara’ by Street Academics

Street Academics is an Indian alternative hip-hop group from Kerala, known for their songs blending Malayalam, English, and Tamil lyrics. The collective of rappers based out of various districts from their home state are noted for emphasizing on contemporary, socio-political and philosophical themes in their works to familiarize their audience about hip-hop subculture. In 2019, they released a song called ‘Hara Hara’, incorporating very explicit words condemning the newly passed bill and what it meant to the religious minorities. They performed it live during the Citizenship Amendment Act protests at Kozhikode.

VI. ‘Kasheer’ by Ahmer x Sez

‘Kasheer’ is the second single off Kashmiri rapper Ahmer and Sez On The Beat’s debut album Little Kid, Big Dreams. The first few words from Ahmer arrive in Kashmiri on “Kasheer”: “Crackdow’nas manz zaamit, curfew manz maraan/ Haqoomat yi haptan hunz, nindrah karaan (We’re born in crackdowns, we die in curfews/Governed by bears, who sleep on us every day).” The 24-year-old is rightfully proud of this couplet and counts it amongst his most favourite on Little Kid, Big Dreams, which released on July 5, 2019, via Azadi Records.

VII. ‘Krantinaari’ by Ashwini Hiremath

Mumbai-based rapper Ashwini Hiremath’s latest single ‘Krantinaari’ is a collective outcry against patriarchy, which has dominated the mainstream cultural discourse since aeons. The fact that every woman, irrespective of her social and economic stature, has grappled with the incapacitating effects of patriarchy in one form or the other, is something that the track reflects. The track was born out of the detailed observations in Ashwini’s daily life. It aims at motivating and bringing all women together to put up a strong front against patriarchy. ‘Krantinaari’ is not just a song, but also a documentation of a woman’s life in contemporary times. The moot point in the track is the rapper’s disillusionment with a world where we have forgone our humanitarian ideals, but are waxing eloquent about our travails to venture into outer space.

VIII. Madara’s Tukde Turkde Gang

Chennai-based rapper Rahul Negi, who goes by the name ‘Madara’, has recently released a single titled ‘Tukde Tukde Gang’, which rages against the system and its ineptitude. This is not the first time the brave Madara has put out his fury. His earlier single ‘Madara-Mareech’ is another political satire with the refrain “tu chup kar” punctuating his depiction of all the ills that plague our society.

IX ‘The Police’ by Rahul Rajkhowa

Released in 2019 in the wake of the anti-CAA protests, Assamese rapper, Rahul Rajkhowa’s new single, ‘The Police’ highlights the protests against the CAA and the police brutality against students across the country. This was composed in the context of the recent protest by students of Jamia Millia Islamia against the CAA when police allegedly thronged the university campus and thrashed students black and blue. In an interview with The Telegraph, Rahul the meaning of the first couple of lines of his track: “ ‘I’m back I’m back’. It actually means ‘revolution’ personified as a human being and who is back. The dark times have asked for it.” He had composed the track with two Los Angeles based musicians, Sudeep and PBoy.

X. ‘Voice of Voiceless’ by Vedan

Known by the name ‘Vedan’ (hunter), this artist from Kerala had composed this song long before the country reacted to the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). He wrote it as a reaction to being at the receiving end of longstanding discrimination that people in his community too had been through. Vedan grew up in a colony named Swapnabhoomi, near the Thrissur railway station. After having finished school, he joined construction work with a dream to ‘someday be something’. For a while, he worked as a studio boy for film editor-director B Ajith Kumar in Thiruvananthapuram, where he came across a lot of people. It was during those years that he got influenced by the late American rapper Tupac Shakur, after which he started taking rap seriously. His music seems to be the coming together of Marx, Ambedkar and Periyar, three anti-caste/class warriors from history. Vedan believes that his music is his politics. And the politics is not subtle. He is flagrant about the political climate of the country, and alludes extensively to it in his music.

The song was shot and released on June 13, with the title ‘Voice of the Voiceless’.

XI ‘The Warli Revolt’ by Swadesi

Socially conscious hip-hop collective Swadesi’s 2019 release, ‘The Warli Revolt’ is a clarion call for resistance and a war cry of sorts against the cutting down of trees in the Aarey forest in Mumbai. The fierce video and track features the globally famed Warli art in animation. The video was made by Dinesh Barap and animated by Janmeet Singh. It warns of a revolution in the face of such widespread destruction, and calls out the rampant corruption, consumerism, and hypocrisy of the government, accusing them of “fake progress”. Over the last month, The Warli Revolt has been found going viral, courtesy TikTok and WhatsApp statuses.

XII. ‘Zor’ by Ahmer Javed

This year, Kashmiri rapper Ahmer Javed has returned with a scorching new single that embodies the resilience of the Kashmiri community currently experiencing one of the most brutal crackdowns in recent memory. Titled Zor, the self-produced single features veteran MC and social activist Delhi Sultanate who draws parallels between the state’s violent dismantling of the resistance in Kashmir and the anti-CAA protests that spread like wildfire across the country, prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. With the unlawful and arbitrary detention of activists such as Safoora Zargara, Devangana Kalita (Pinjra Tod), Asif Sultan, Sudha Bharadwaj, Mahesh Raut, and many others, the full extent of the state’s fear of people trying to hold it to account is finally out in the open. In times like these, voices and efforts on part of artists like Ahmer and Delhi Sultanate help preserve the principles that we fight for.

If you enjoyed reading this article, we suggest you also read:

Indian Protest Rap Is On The Rise – Here Are 5 Artists You Need To Know

#UnileverPollutes: A Protest Rap Song From India Seeks To End 14 Years Of Injustice

The Politically Charged Sounds Of Five Independent Kashmiri Musicians

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