Monday, April 24, 2006

They kem, they saw, they rapped

The idea of a Gujarati rap song might seem as unlikely as Tarla Dalal coming up with a recipe for fish flavoured dhokla. But the Karmacy Brothers have done it and what's they've come up with is actually very cool. Their album "The Movement" was released in 2005 but only now is it getting airplay on Indian music channels. Sony BMG is releasing the album in India.

The most inspired song by the group is Blood Brothers, which they describe as "one of our most important pieces, both emotionally and sociologically".

Says Swapnil Shah aka 'Swap': It utilizes two languages, Gujarati and English, to paint an honest picture of the often overlooked hardships involved in leaving one’s motherland. This story of two brothers, one who emigrates to America and the other who prefers to remain in his native land, is presented as a dialogue that spans both time and place.

The initial portion of the song is mostly in Gujarati, but you get a sense of it from these two lines...

Mare tho America javuche ne millionaire thavuche...
Thane kabar nathi pardthi, India maa kasu nathi...

The brother who goes to America reports:

dear bro its been a long time since we talked,
four years since I stepped off that plane, how’s mom and pops
as for me I’m workin’ hard learnin’ the ropes of the game
I went from a nobody to lots of fortune and some fame

Later, the brothers have a pretty interesting 'conversation'.

Hello my brother how are you
Bhai kem che
You like my new suit just got it tailored Sergio Valente
Ah mari vow meena ne apri baby chivani, besija kasu kah, cha, nasto ke pani
Here’s a gift for your wife, a baby doll for your girl,
I can’t wait till its my turn to bring a new life into this world...
Tho lagan kyare karis, threes varus pathigaya
There’s no time for all that and I refuse to do a biodata..

But the crux of the song lies in the chorus:

Maru dil, my heart, maru loi, my blood from the start
Mari nath, my family two worlds apart,
How do I move on bhai,
Kevirithe jais, cuz no matter where I go,
My soul is in the same place

It does not really matter if you don't understand Gujarati, because like all good music - the track speaks for itself.

A Brief History in Rhyme
I think 'Blood Brothers' is a very heartfelt and genuine attempt at rap with an Indian flavour. A couple of years ago there was a really sad effort by a guy called Sameer Dada. This guy released what he called "the country's first gangster rap" music album called Salaam.

The idea was not bad but Sameer Dada forgot one important thing. Rap may contain expletives but it's also about Rhythm and Poetry. I heard that album once (as part of my job!) and it was absolute torture. Sameer, incidentally, is the son of 'beauty queen' Shahnaz Hussain - which kind of solves the mystery of who would be senseless enough to fund the release of this ear splitting piece of work.

Mummies can be blind to the faults of their children, and deaf as well!

The more successful attempt at rapping after that came from the Big B + Blaaze collaboration on Bunty aur Babli. The idea there was to do something 'different' and it worked. Both the rhythm and the storytelling element were up to the mark but I think the 'Blood Brothers' track has has a lot more soul in it.

The crux of the matter: Delivery and wordplay can be indicative of a rapper's skill, but the subject of a rap is equally, if not more important. A rapper who has an excellent delivery but lacks substance is frequently perceived as less skillful than a mediocre rapper who has a message or story.

And the message is where 'Blood Brothers' definitely scores.

Look, it's not a Punjab ka puttar!
Another interesting point is that so far the Punjabi immigrant community has so far dominated the East-meets-West music scene.

From Apache Indian (real name: Steven Kapur) and Bally Sagoo (" Punjabi-Sikh, Anglo-Indian raised in Birmingham, England) to Jay Sean (real name: Kamaljit) , it's the Punjabi NRI who's mixed bhangra rhythms with hip-hop and reggae to create new genres of music altogether.

Like Punjabis, Gujaratis have spread out all over the globe. But we haven't seen them influence India or Indians on the musical or cultural front. One might argue they don't have music and dance in their 'blood' the way Punjabis do. Er, then, what about dandiya?

I think the reasons are more mundane.

Gujaratis have excelled in running businesses from Uganda to UK to America. They're famous as owners of cornershops and motels - trades which require a great deal of time and commitment. That very work ethic may have prevented second generation Gujaratis from getting into 'faltu' things like making music.

But looks like that's changing!

The future of 'Indian rap'
Of course no one knows whether Karmacy will be just a flash in a pan or attract more young people into an 'Indirap' genre. There is something called "Mallu rap" by MC Vikram and Luda Krishna

Then we have 'Madras Crew'. I am yet to download and hear their songs but these are some of their lyrics. And here, perhaps, lies the problem:

I'm not trying to take
an african american image n be fake
I never felt the struggle
never lived in a ghetto
never sold drugs n never got into trouble
I represent the big Indian dream
a salaried class guy who eats ice cream

With lyrics about salaried guys eating ice cream, this is never going to be rap in the real sense. Rap, after all, is an art form that originated from the pain of inner-city black youth.

A paper submitted at Gannon University notes :

From the beginning of the century Black music has been a form of expression that has impacted not only the Black community but America as a whole. Negro spirituals laid the foundation for what has continued to be a way for its people to express the pain and hurt that could not other wise be expressed without physical violence. These songs played a crucial role in the development of the blues and soul music which continued to voice the social problems, personal problems, and injustice of their times.

Rap thus grew out of an ongoing musical tradition. That it is more violent and explicit reflects the society in which rappers were born and bred. The paper goes on to say:

"Rap music is not only a black expressive cultural phenomenon; it is, at the same time, a resisting discourse, a set of communicative practices that constitute a text of resistance against white America’s racism and its Eurocentric cultural dominance."

Of course in time the music caught the fancy of white youth (who buy 70% of such records!). Rap started being seen more in terms of 'entertainment' and the clothes worn by rappers, and their vocabulary became cool as well.

So I guess as entertainment, any culture can mash up with the rap 'style'. But pain and angst - whether real or manufactured - appears to be integral to the appeal of rap music. Karmacy seems to have got that bit right but what of other Indian rappers?

If they're going to be well fed and rap about the pain of standing in line for an H 1 B visa... I don't know if it will have quite the same impact.

The true inheritors of a rap tradition may actually be found in the SC/ ST segment of Indian society whose lot has a lot of parallels with struggles of the blacks in America. But a rap song on reservation? Now that's an idea!

Of course, there seems to be an equal amount of angst on both sides, so tremendous possibilities...

P.S> Is anyone having trouble with publishing on blogger? Because I have been going nuts today :)

Update: There is a major problem.. lots of people are having trouble posting. It just shows 0% "publishing in progress". Indefinitely. If you are reading this, the problem has been fixed.

As a lot of people have noted on the blogger-help forum on google groups, it's OK if there is a problem - on the whole Blogger has been providing very good service. But admitting there is a problem would save a lot of us from worrying, "Is it just me? Or my broadband connection?"

Even for a free service, you owe us that courtesy.


  1. Reservation focusses on simply distribution of available resources.The fight is over having some kind of share of a small cake.
    What if available resources were to dramatically increase ? What if a bigger cake was baked instead?
    Then even a small portion would be a stomach ful !
    Angst ridden music is bought by bored people with very little angst in their lives.
    The sale of such music would become higher if everyone had access to all forms of education .
    So ,any ideas on how to bake a bigger cake ? Could the internet,satellite communication be used to change the way teaching is done today ? How to utilise existing resources to drastically increase the access of education for millions and millions of children ?
    Angst needs to be channelised . This is a massive problem which demands to be solved.

  2. Like Karan Johar said " NRI is just a status, not an identity". But the guy was talking though his hat. It is an identity albeit a plural one.


    here enjoy this gujju rap

  4. Nice article, Rashmi-- thanks for this one :)

    It's funny how most people's reaction to the Karmacy Brothers [yes, I had heard of em earlier] was an outright yelp of pain-- funny, how we indulge in stereotypes. Last time I heard that kind of reaction, a britney spears song was on the radio. Ah well.

    Rap's for people who have something to say, usually its about their personal life, and its hard and its real and it has to be done, however much it hurts, and blogging takes too much time, so-- They rap. Way I see it anyway. And yup, been having issues with blogger too.

    Be well.

    The W of O.

  5. yes rashmi...i've made some changes to my template and the changes are not gettign saved and it's still showing 0% publishing...gosh it's frustrating....makes me want to move to wordpress.

  6. Agree. Quite similar to this is the fact that hard rock needs that undercurrent of angst. Well of course, there are softer rock bands too, its too huge a genre.

    Of the current crop of desi rappers, Jay Sean seems to be promising. He doesnt carry that punjabi accent when he sings in English and his Hindi sounds smooth too.

    I somehow cannot relate Gujarati with rap, and I havent listened to these guys. I hope they sound good. Another experiment.

  7. I cant relate rap with us Indians. I mean, as you said, "Rap, after all, is an art form that originated from the pain of inner-city black youth." What happened to these people that might have paralleled "the pain of inner-city black youth"?

    Why cant we just do what we are good at than try to imitate whatever's chick in the West? I see it like this: There is rap music and there is Indian pop music. There are a bloody good number of people in the US who make great rap music and we do not need any Indians, who are not naturally talented at it, to make awful rap music. The same goes for Indipop. How would it feel if an American makes Indipop music?... no... wait... would you still call that Indipop?

    We make real good music and we dont need to imitate a brand of music that has no remote relation to us. Instead, let us invent new genres of music ourselves instead of integrating a foreign born genre into our music by just redressing it with an Indian flavour.

  8. Have never heard them so can't make a judgement. But, somehow Indians (not abcds or nri's) and rap together doesn't seem normal. Remember Baba Sehgal?

  9. "That very work ethic may have prevented second generation Gujaratis from getting into 'faltu' things like making music."

    I am sorry Rashmi, i dont buy this. Making music is an art and by terming it as a "faltu" thing you are insulting music itself, which is one of the most soothing thing man can do. Moreover, i think everything is important in one or the other way. If music has been faltu, then we wont spend so much on good music CDs. So please avoid insulting this beautiful gift of god to man.

  10. Can't you write short articles.

  11. "Why cant we just do what we are good at than try to imitate whatever's chick in the West? "

    Exactly, you are not doing it. The point I think that these groups like Karmacy are making is that one can strike a balance between one's culture and the new culture (in this case American) adopted.

    Face it, in America, rap isn't just a black thing or a ghetto thing anymore.

    The music has progressed to reach out to people of all nationalites and is somewhat of a unifying force.

    And what exactly is an Indian thing anyway? A loose collection of ethnic groups bound by a thread of religion and English? Sounds American to me.

  12. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  13. Whenever blogger is behaving weirdly, go to as they normally update any outages (scheduled / unscheduled) over there.

  14. Just nitpickin':
    The most inspired song

    did you mean 'inspiring' instead?


  15. "Blood Brothers" by Karmacy is both inspired AND inspiring. Great track.

    I don't agree that Indians doing rap music is just an instance of taking something that Americans do and doing it badly. Would you laugh at an Indian orchestra playing Bach? Not if they do it well.

    Rap and hip hop are just music, just a different genre of music, and it's caught on EVERYWHERE around the globe. Everyone does it differently. The Korean scene is more hip-hop than gangsta rap and is mostly love songs. The French scene tends to be very socially concious and use rap as a motivator for social change. Even the American scene has changed. Sure, you have a lot of talk about the "pain of life in the ghetto," but most American rap these days talks about how much money the rappers have and how nasty their girls are. (Escapism maybe?)

    The problem lies in writing cheesy lyrics =) "a salaried class guy who eats ice cream" .. from here, it looks like he was just looking for a rhyme with "dream." But it could work. Do the working class not eat ice cream and therein lies the difference? And additionally, does it flow? Does it sound natural when he's in front of the mic and not too hurried? If not, that's the problem, not the fact the guy writes about luxury. That's all American rap is, anymore... In fact, I'd LOVE to hear someone freestyle about getting an H1B.. as long as they did it well. It would be a welcome change from the "i'm gonna rob the jewelry store tell em to make me a grill" stuff that currently fills the airwaves.

    And just as an aside - the first commercially popular rap song, "Rappers Delight," was not about resonating with the pain of the black community.. it was about bragging about how great rappers the guys were. They say it best in their lines:
    i got style finesse and a little black book
    that's filled with rhymes and i know you wanna look
    but the thing that separates you from me
    and that's called originality

    I think that's the key .. don't try to emulate American rap (does anyone even DRIVE an Escalade in India??) ... just talk about what you know, be original, and have some skill behind it. Karmacy seems to be succeeding in this endeavour.

  16. I heard this track few months ago, and I think its great track, even though i did could not understand much of the Gujju lyrics in it.

    Going on an little bit of tangent from Hip-Hop, I think SWAMI is one act which is coming out with a really distinct voice. The mix of Hip-hop, rock, bhangra is just awesome, with two members of ADF(Asian Dub Foundation) now in the band, I am expecting it to go way more hardcore, and might they will start talking about some of the issues around.

    There is another guy named Bohemia who raps in punjabi ( guy got a good edge to his music, but the lyrics are more or less 50 cent kinda, all gunz, drugs and gals.

    As long as these guys can develop an individual style, they can make it out , tho not with lyrics like "ice cream" thing.. need to get real, not cheesy


  17. I've heard some of the tracks off this, it's pretty sweet, even if I don't understand all the lyrics. Very much from the heart, like all the best music.

  18. I attended a concert last month where Karmacy played. This song was alright but they sucked so bad that people were actually praying for them to get off stage.

  19. Thats a great review for that song. Most of the gujjus I guess will be able to identify themselves with this song. And as you rightly said this song has got a lot of heart into it.

  20. hey. i am the one behind madras crew n u've got to get one thing straight. i'm 'a salaried guy who eats ice cream' is a jab at how real 'rap' is n not some made-up stuff like pop. we can write darker songs, but u think the mainstream music industry will actually sell such stuff? atleast rite now?

    we work our ass of trying to realise a dream of writing raw lyrics n creating an industry of our own with our "hard earned money". its a dream worth chasing! please listen to the songs rather than going by an intro poem-paragraph to reach judgements.

  21. Yo, i just came across this a rapper from new delhi..n i respect Karamacy and Bohemia.. but they eat off our plates.

    Indian labels dont sell our stuff... all they want is 'punjabi bhangra hip hop' from the UK or US.

    Im coming out with a mixtape soon..and beleive me its far ahead of anything uv heard in India.. No disrespect to the dude postin before me.

    check me out... Young Prozpekt <--google the name n see my myspace profile. Its real!.

  22. Anonymous9:23 AM

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  23. Anonymous8:33 AM

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