By Amitabh Sharma | Photos courtesy of Ska Vengers
They are the new kids on the block…well not really, they are not kids and they are not new either…but they are painting the block Reggae, Ska and Dancehall. Sounds like the hip, hot and happening scene in Kingston…hang on, this is India – yes the land of the immortal Taj Mahal, oodles of flavours, myriad of colors and the land of Bollywood.
Ska Vengers – are the game changers in the Indian music scene, infusing the heady Jamaican beats to the country’s landscape. Begum X (Samara Chopra) and Delhi Sultanate (Taru Dalmia), lead singers of Ska Vengers, have been instrumental in popularizing this genre – you won’t find the usual refinery in their attire, they let the depth in their voices, the messages in their songs hit the crescendo. The couple converge the mystic, divine and serene eastern vibes with the deep-rooted terra firma of the Jamaican music genre.“Music has the ability to bring people from different backgrounds together,” says Taru.It is their core principles of using music as a medium of social commentary, has taken them to journeys across the world – to highlight forgotten people, show their world in a different light and spread goodness.
“A few years ago, we performed in Asia’s largest prison (Tihar in New Delhi, India) with the entire band,” Taru informs. Last year, he and Samara travelled to Afghanistan and worked with local musicians for Afghan television. Music has a universal language and transcends all barriers – this adage was once again proved right when perhaps Reggae made debut in Afghanistan. The duo performed their version of Jah Cure’s Divide and Rule; played with the bassist and drummer of the Ska Vengers and all Afghan musicians.
“The first part is in English and Patois and the second one is in Hindustani (another name for Indian language Hindi) and Persian,” Taru said.
Such collaborations, according to the artistes, affirm the richness of Jamaican music, genres which were born to relate social commentaries. On an overcast rainy evening on July 4, Delhi Sultanate and Begum X celebrated International Reggae Day in India’s financial capital Bombay, treating patrons with warmth of the beats of reggae. They said that it was a trip down memory lane and the duo went old school. “We wanted to present Jamaican sound-system culture, so we decided to keep everything analogue,” Taru said. The performances were strictly vinyl, playing dubplates and 45s as Begum X and Delhi Sultanate sang over B-side instrumental versions.
Reggae is still an urban phenomenon in India, which the couple and their band Ska Vengers are trying to change; they will be hitting the road to give the largest democracy in the world a taste of Jamaican sunshine, literally and figuratively. Their tryst with social commentary took them to India’s northern state of Punjab, which was witness to one of the most horrific massacres in India’s freedom struggle.
On April 13, 1919, a crowd of non-violent protesters was fired upon by troops of the British Indian Army, under the command of General Reginald Dyer, in the northern Indian city of Amritsar. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre left 370 persons dead and 1,200 wounded. The Ska Vengers animated video, Frank Brazil, released on July 31, narrates the story of Udham Singh Shaheed, who survived this massacre as a child – he travelled to England and assassinated General Dwyer. The video, being called as path-breaking, is garnering rave reviews. They are also working on a project with Jamaica’s legendary label Studio One for a full-length vinyl LP, Studio One Comes to India.
Their sojourn slowly moves to an overdrive on the musical highway as they continue to take Jamaica born music genres to a crescendo in lands unexplored…spreading ‘One Love’. |P|