MAM author Ameet Bhuvan in conversation with freestyle rapper A- List on Indian Politics, Dissent, Hip-Hop, Consumerism and Modi.
Have always been in this zone…
I always have been a political artist, a number of my songs earlier have spoken of political issues. Take for instance my song “The Tale of Afzal Guru” which was about what we thought was a wrongful execution. Then there was this song called “Ishrat Jahan is not a Terrorist” about Ishrat and her fate and then “Iron Lady” about Irom Sharmila. So I have been into this zone of political art.
Muck Fodi came very naturally …
A number of people have been asking me to make a song on Modi especially in the light of the huge campaign and the massive hue and cry about Modi. People have been saying there should be a reply from the progressive liberal artists. I always kind of avoided it because I thought there are a lot of people talking against it and it is quite mainstream – I generally do not espouse mainstream interests.
The funny story is where I live in Bandra, there is this huge billboard of Abki Baar Modi Sarkaar, which came up out of the blue and that got me thinking that all this media overdose was little too much. Muck Fodi came very naturally to me as a statement. The propaganda relentlessly being pushed on me as a citizen and as a consumer, I felt I needed to push back. Honestly if that hoarding had not come in front of my house I wouldn’t have made the song, it was a very primal instinct. So then I started writing the song, I contacted Shayan my producer who was on board.
One of the major motivation of making the song was to present a lot of facts that are being overlooked in the campaign, things that actually happened. There is a huge misinformation campaign that is on and this song talks about this. For example development, there is a line in the song that argues against the development model touted in Modi’s favour. Are we talking of inclusive development or for those who are already rich? Does it at best ignore or at worst crush the underprivileged? These are ideas that we have tried to put in fairly simple terms through the song.
It is effectively an argument against a lot of points raised as part of this misinformation campaign.
All knew the risk we were taking…
Everyone involved in the project was informed well in advance that there will be a backlash, and there was one also. Shayan , my producer on this song, has been in this situation earlier and was very ready to be a part of the process – he is a soldier and he was always up for it. I recorded it in Mumbai and released it. The song has got us a lot of positive impact. Negative has happened, we were expecting it and I am used to it as well. My songs say a lot of uncomfortable things.
The backlash was Freudian in its nature…
There the rolling stones article on the song. The first comment on the story says wait till Modi comes to power and he F**** you’re a**. A lot of the backlash actually centres on me getting raped by the man once he comes to power and how they will shove things up my back. There is something very Freudian about Modi fans in that sense.
Yet the fact is a lot of these people know me already, I have a history. What happened with this Modi movement is that a lot of people who have spoken on it are not known to have a political view earlier. They never ever before had an opinion in the past. But I am a guy who is always known to rebel- either that or an ISI agent- that is what I am known as. So the backlash was not new. The most common thing they assume is that I am not me, my name and twitter account is a front for some Pakistani agent to bring down the nation.
Criminalization of dissent is rampant today …
I think there are two things- along with being an artist, I am an activist. I am involved with the activist community, I actually involved with the issues that I rap about, not that I read about them on Wikipedia and start singing, I am not in some ivory tower and making music. So I can see what is happening on the ground as well.
And I see that the criminalization of dissent is from across the spectrum not just the BJP. The congress, the state all are at it. A DU professor was arrested for sympathising with Naxals, then there are Ferreira and Kabir Kala Manch– dissent is systematically being curbed and criminalised. This is not a BJP monopoly, any government is doing this.
When people say India has been tolerant liberal country, I do not know what they are talking about; we have a history of getting people who say stuff we don’t like to shut up. Look at M.F.Hussain, Salman rushdie – fascism is in fashion.
With the coming of Modi and his entire campaign, he has changed our decentralized democracy to a two people fight. We have changed, our ideas of what is dissent has changed. Dissent is inconvenient, and easiest reaction is to shut it down, and that is what is happening. What Modi represents is a mirror of the middle class biases. A lot of heat we get is from middle class. He represents the development paradigm. He represents Ronald Reagan kind of leadership- fascism, development at any cost, that is non inclusive- these are things that somewhere is also what the middle class wants and hence he is popular. Shutting down dissent makes this popularity amplified. Shutting down dissent is part of what he is. He shuts down dissent, you like him, so to be like him, you will also shut down dissent.
I got a lot more positive support for Muck Fodi, since it is mainstream…
I had a lot of positive feedback for this song as well though. What has happened is unlike Modi, some of the stuff I have written in the past is against the state (Iron lady I have accused the Army of rape. In Tale of Afzal I have accused the Indian state of committing war crimes in Kashmir). There I have gotten support from the region. I have a significant Kashmiri listener base because of Tale of Afzal. A lot of Indians necessarily do not like that song. Similarly with Iron Lady a group called Indian Army fans launched a vicious campaign against me, saying people like me bring bad name to a group that defends the country, much like the speech from Jack Nicholson’s A Few Good Men. So I have gotten a lot more negative feedback from mainstream audiences in the past as opposed to Muck Fodi.
There is a popular anti modi movement- it is very mainstream. But there is no mainstream popular Pro Irom movement or Pro Afzal voices. So the backlash there was much more. Actually in a way I got a lot more positive support for Muck Fodi, since it is mainstream. It is a much safer song for me to make.
The community I belong to ensures I am safe…
Well-wishers have told me I am on a hit list. What protects me is that I am middle class, English speaking, Hindu, these things help me- targeting me would lead to a lot of noise. So they (state and power) have learnt their lessons in the past and will not adventure on arresting me. But there is a criminalization of dissent and others who do not have my protection are being targeted. Tomorrow if a dalit is arrested on such ground, no one will give a shit. It doesn’t look good though to trouble a Brahmin boy who is rapping about things. I am aware of this privilege. A Kashmiri journalist had once said thank god my name is Mishra, and I know what she meant. These things make a difference.
There is a studio I record at, till now largely there are no issues, there was just one studio that refused to let me record since the song was about Thackerays. Plus my songs are decent in following but not at a stage that people (state) are worried, the numbers are less. Plus I will make noise on twitter – if they try doing something, censor me, they will just make me ten times more famous.
It still doesn’t stop people from making mischief, it is a matter of time they will start attacking me, but then you know there is also this idea that I am not yet that harmful.
Art need not always be just entertainment or complete lecture…
I am not an activist rapper. I am a Rapper activist. Music comes first for me. You can say the most profound truths in the song, but if it is bad to listen what’s the point? You need to have the craft. I don’t see why it can’t be entertaining and informative? Muck Fodi has parts that make people laugh and clap.
There is no rule that you need to be a hundred percent mindless entertainment or a complete boring lecture. As artist I want to use my craft to make something interesting. Poetry is the soul of hip hop and that is my core. This is what poets did, Kabir, Faiz, and incredibly entertaining, arty, real skill is at the heart of their politics. I am conscious of that. We need to be very careful the songs don’t become a rant. I listen to some of my older songs that people love, I realise I would make it less catchy and less lengthy today. Even I am learning, evolving, so it is a process.
Art is a place for these things. Art is the one place for anything, one just needs to feel it from within and be true to it.
I fell in love with my first cause…
I began with hip hop in Kolkata. I did the gigs scene for a few years was an indie artist. Then in 2007 I felt I didn’t have anything interesting to say. I felt I needed to shut up. I was free styling. In 2012, I read about this story about Chhattisgarh and its issues, I knew of them and was informed as much as most of us liberals do. Something about the story clicked in me, it was like falling in love. I had to write about it, I made songs and then the journey kicked off. People started liking it, I got in touch with some activists, JAPA, and I work with them. I generally perform as well, but mostly I am into culture activist scene mostly.
The economics of an artist like me not just bad but terrible…
The thing is right now, hip hop hasn’t happened in India. Rappers do not have the scene that rock bands have. When we do have stuff it is few and far between. And top of that in my case the problem is I have to turn down a lot of stuff since I am told to tone down the politics and I will not sell out.
This is my second innings with music, I make my own money I do not depend on music for money, the other work I do is linked with the music I make, but financially I can afford to turn down work and not sell out and perform at an event that is sponsored by the company I am singing about. The economics are quite bad, especial a rap artist and a political rap artist is a triple whammy.
Internet helps me spread my songs…
Artist like me back in times would have to travel place to place to get his message. I just have to upload a song, and people listen. If I get arrested, the news will spread. Internet is changing things. The war of dissent has always been there, grassroots dissent in India is a tradition, just that the mainstream has not been exposed to it so much. We are just talking about a bit more now because of the internet. What is changing is that a generation like me is finding new ways to revolt. The earlier generation also rebelled, but they became naxalites. Today, we use the internet. It is urban mostly, but war on dissent in the rural parts has also been getting online.
A lot of activists have online accounts, they too recognise the power of Facebook and social media and they are using it to leverage. We must remember though that the Internet is also in many ways an instrument of the same corporate state nexus, though it does help today in getting the reach.
I want to give a narrative that is an alternative to corporate media…
A lot of people who listen to me have no idea of the issues I sing about. A lot of people have changed their point of views after listening to my songs; they are brainswashed by corporate media. I have a responsibility to use my voice to give an alternative to the corporative media. I am working on a few songs, a video as well. I am collaborating with a fellow artist on the issue of acid attacks. My first video earlier this year was about the LGBT community called Say no to 377. I intend to make my second video that talks about the fairness cream mafia, pushing the message of Brown Pride. That is also what the song is called, addressing young girls and women.
Why Modi, why not Rahul?
My song is also about him, the opening lines of Muck Fodi starts with Guck Fandhi as well. I use twitter heavily to comment against congress as well. I have no love lost for either BJP, Congress or even AAP. Anyone who follows me as an artist or online would know it is wrong to accuse me of any bias in that sense.