‘Saffron Ablaze’ — Two Young Musicians Respond To BJP’s Gully Boy-Inspired Rap Songs

‘Saffron Ablaze’  —  Two Young Musicians Respond To BJP’s Gully Boy-Inspired Rap Songs
Artwork by Aditi Athreye

If you haven’t been following the hype around Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy, which released just yesterday and is a fictionalised drama loosely based on the lives of Mumbai rappers DIVINE and Naezy, then you’re probably living under a rock. Soundtrack, film posters, interviews where Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt unabashedly declare their ‘apolitical’ attitude in a country that is presently rife with political tension — Gully Boy is everywhere. And it isn’t all that surprising to watch the powers that be jump on the Bollywood bandwagon as well. About a month ago, we watched Narendra Modi enthusiastically embrace the crème de la crème of Bollywood. Around the same time, the Modi government also dropped its (cue sarcasm) first single of 2019 — a rap song filmed in black and white that basically lists all its ‘achievements’ and asks the public to vote for “Modi Once More”. A month later, BJP dropped its second single “Banda Apna Sahi Hai” in praise of the Prime Minister.

Possibly a part of BJP’s larger campaign in anticipation of the upcoming General Elections, the tracks garnered a lot of reaction. From Modi supporters to Congress supporters, and everyone else who fits in between or outside these two extremes. However, the rap battle that ensued as a domino effect of Modi’s rap song is what truly took the internet by storm.

About a week ago, India’s two mainstream political parties, the BJP and Congress, both released a video targeting the other. Using a popular social media platform like Twitter and an even more popular song called ‘Azadi’ from Gully Boy, both the parties have created a montage that takes a dig at their rival political party. While BJP’s video which released first uses the tagline “Congress se Azadi” to put forward their stance, Congress has tried to be a little more subtle by endorsing “Darr ke agey Azadi”. And while it’s all fun and games, with even a harmless AAP butting in with a GIF reaction, the attention once again has been diverted.

As a response to BJP’s rap song, two emerging musicians from Ashoka University have released their own rap song on YouTube that sheds light on the flip side of things - the one that BJP conveniently wants to erase. The song, called ‘Saffron Ablaze’, is a collaborative effort of Armaan Yadav and Shaayak. A befitting combination of upbeat tunes and honest lyrics, Saffron Ablaze is a grim reminder of what the last five years have looked like. From numerous cases of lynchings to the beef ban to the Kathua rape case, the song is loaded with keywords that will make you cringe and nod in agreement — think “Urban naxals”, “free speech”, “anti-nationals”.

“Instances of saffron terror and religious violence come by as regular news items on the daily. When I read about Asifa, I was feeling a lot of different emotions and I thought of writing it down to vent out. So I hit Shaayak up and asked him to produce the song for me. He felt the same way about a lot of things and the project clicked together”, says Armaan about his inspiration behind the song. “It’s been scary but I am glad I said what I said on the track”, he adds.

Armaan and Shaayak

According to the duo, the main purpose of Saffron Ablaze was to voice their views regardless of the fear that comes attached with free speech today. To best describe the sentiment behind the song, Armaan simply picks up a line from the track itself — “My country’s up in flames and the flames look saffron. Sentiments ablaze in the haze of violence.”

As musicians, Armaan and Shaayak, both believe in the power of music, especially hip hop, calling it a “voice of dissent” and “medium of revolution”. Which is why they feel wronged by the government’s appropriation of the song ‘Azadi’ which originally stands for something completely different.

“The response [to Saffron Ablaze] has largely been positive and even though it’s a little scary, a lot of people stand behind me in solidarity and that’s really empowering, especially in terms of the kind of content I want to create in the future. The fact that you have people coming forward to support sane views regardless of anticipated consequences is beyond reassuring,” Armaan signs off.

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