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.