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Rolling with the Royalty of Reggae. -  Melody: A Different Tune
The Fuschia Tree
Editor's Note.
The melodies of our lives crisscross across the maps of our emotional terrain; they are the paths by which we chart our inner journeys.

If we peek between the notes, we find Time working its mysterious fingers through every tune. While rhythm imparts order to the musical experience, melody gives it a sense of continuity. It is the line that connects the dots, connects the performer to the audience, connects us to each other and to the transcendental experience of music.
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By Varsha Reshamwala, Issue 24, Melody: A Different Tune
In a country where the general populace’s awareness of reggae begins and ends with the Bob Marley poster on the wall, the Reggae Rajahs rule the rasta music scene. Composed of musicians Diggy Dang (Raghav Dang), DJ MoCity (Mohammed Abood) and Mr. Herbalist a.k.a. General Zooz (Zoravar Shukla), this trio have transported the sound system culture, born in the ghettos of Kingston, to the clubs and festivals of India. From shaking the stereotypes of the Lion of Zion to opening for Snoop Lion at his recent tour in India, the Reggae Rajahs are steadily spreading their sound through radio waves and live performances, culling out yet another dimension in the ever-expanding consciousness of the Indian music lover.


TFT: Reggae Rajahs is described as India’s first reggae sound system. How is a sound system different from a band?

Reggae Rajahs: A reggae sound system is an actual physical sound system complete with speakers and record decks. Traditionally, a sound owner would hire sound engineers to keep the PA sounding good, selectors to play the records and DJs or MCs (as they are now called) to introduce the tunes, hype the crowd and keep them entertained. A band, on the other hand, would probably have a more live quality to it. We don’t own our own sound system yet, but we operate in similar style with all three of us being able to select tunes as well as hype the crowd on the mic.


TFT: Can you demystify your creative process for us? How do you make music lyrically and musically?

RR: Our tune selection depends on the crowd we are playing to. For instance, if we were playing to a crowd that was wasted, we’d probably play ‘Rum and Redbull’. Given the recent Maoist-related violence, we’d probably play a Delhi Sultanate song that speaks of social ills. We only started writing our own lyrics about one and a half years ago.


TFT: The lyrics of your songs, such as ‘Make Up Your Mind’ and ‘Mr. Politician’, are fun but get across a serious message. Reggae music in general tends to be socially conscious. Has that been your aim as well?

RR: When reggae music took off in the late 60s in Jamaica, the country had just achieved its independence from the United Kingdom. The poorer classes needed a voice, a means of expressing themselves. Reggae, which evolved out of ska and rocksteady, served as a kind of release for them. The lyrics were naturally serious.

Sticking to tradition, the music we make is almost always with a message. ‘Make Up Your Mind’ we made when we were at a crossroads…unsure of what we should do. The lyrics of ‘Mr. Politician’, which is a dubplate, not an original song, will always be relevant. So our music reflects our thoughts as well as the times.


TFT: You often have ‘sound clashes’ with other sound systems. Can you tell us a little about these clashes?

RR: Sound clashes developed in Jamaica as reggae music took off. Two sound systems, introduced by a host, would perform in parks or colonies to an audience who would then decide the winner. These clashes were generally friendly and playful, but would sometimes turn violent. The point of a sound clash is for the audience to hear more exclusive music, as artists who would create live dubplates for the sound systems would often be present.

So far we’ve only had sound clashes with the BASSFoundation in club settings. An exclusive dubplate based on the song ‘Island Girl’ by Konkarah has been cut for us and customized to ‘Indian Girl’...we’re still to use it in a clash...


TFT: Tell us about how you promote your music. It must be tough in a country where reggae music means Bob Marley to most…

RR: It’s been extremely difficult to fight the stereotypes. Of course, people gave us a chance, but it wasn’t an all-out embrace. We had to fight a lot of misconceptions and it’s been a struggle. We would initially play to small crowds at small venues, but we’ve now come a far way from that. Opening for Snoop Lion’s concert in India earlier this year was one of our biggest moments! The Internet has been a very useful resource in spreading the word. We have an active presence on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Moreover, DJ Mocity is very well connected, since he’s been DJing since 2004. We used his contacts as a platform initially. KRUNK, the artist management company, helped to promote our music as well, as did the NH7 Weekender Dub Stations, where we get to curate, programme and host shows.


TFT: Tell us about your radio show PressureDrop.

RR: PressureDrop is a weekly reggae/dancehall show hosted by Reggae Rajahs on Radio79. We play reggae music and its genres from across the world on the show. It’s been great way to reach out to people because it means that audiences don’t have to come to our shows to listen to this kind of music. Reggae artists the world over are also very happy that we’re playing their music to audiences who they thought they would never connect with. The weekly shows are up on Sound Cloud for anybody to access; our recent episode featured Delhi Sultanate.


TFT: How do you divide your time between being promoters and musicians? Do you take one role more seriously than the other, or do they go hand in hand?

RR: Initially we would spend more time promoting our music, leaving less time for making music. However, now that the word has spread and people know who we are, we’ve found a balance between promoting and making music. We’ve also divided our promotional tasks in that Raghav looks after our PR, Zorawar focuses on the creatives, posters, merchandise etc., while Mohammed takes care of our performance bookings and venues. So each person has a defined role.


TFT: You often collaborate with international artists. What is the dynamic like? Do you share and discuss your ideas, music and ethos?

RR: It’s a steep learning curve for us so we’re always seeking advice. For instance, even though we might clash with the BASSFoundation in an NH7 Weekender, we always ask Delhi Sultanate (a founding member of the BASSFoundation) for feedback on our work, since he’s been recording vocals for the last ten years. Likewise with the producers – we're always keen to understand how we can improve our music.


TFT: Last year you performed for the first time in Europe, playing club shows in Oslo and Budapest, and performing at major festivals such as Uprising in Slovakia and Outlook in Croatia. How was your music received?

RR: We were extremely nervous! Playing in India is very different to playing abroad because there the audience is well exposed to reggae music and therefore has certain expectations. Our first show was in Oslo, and we were a bag of nerves! However, as time went on and we played at more venues, our confidence picked up. The shows in Budapest and Slovakia were extremely well received. We played to packed, cheering audiences. For our next shows maybe we’ll put on some costumes and blend a bit of Hindi into our lyrics, so that the crowd knows we’re from India.


TFT: What has been your most memorable performance?

RR: One performance that the three of us would unanimously agree on is the one we did at the Sulafest in January 2012. Until then, we had never played in front of a big crowd, and here there were 2,500 odd people! By the time it was our turn to perform, it was late in the evening, around sunset. The audience was sitting, tired and weary from the whole day.  We came on stage, began playing our music and everybody got up, danced, shouted and cheered us on! To see that kind of energy was heartening for us. It made us realize the potential of reggae music.  


TFT: How would you best describe your vocal style and music?

RR: It’s developing. We’re in an early stage in our careers and are still discovering our style. We started out imitating the music played in Jamaica in the late 70s and early 80s. We’ve got a lot of inspiration from DJs such Super Cat and Yellow Man. Now we’re looking at newer music. So, musically, we’re not set as yet; we’re constantly evolving.


TFT: Is Reggae Rajahs trying to create a signature sound for itself, such that when people hear your music, they instantly know that you made it?

RR: Yes, we certainly want to do that. We began with imitating Jamaican artists…that’s when we were still finding our feet. Now our next challenge is to make our music more original, perhaps by mixing bhangra beats into our music or blending in lyrics in Hindi. Adding a touch of India to our music will make it unique. Apache Indian in that sense was way ahead of his time. He mashed up the Jamaican and Indian cultures very well in his music. We’d like to do something like that, but in a more modern 2013 style.  


TFT: Which song that best represents your rhythm, beats and ethos to a first time listener?

RR: That’s a tough question, but we’d recommend listening to our latest mixtape to get a sense of our music.


TFT: Where do you see the reggae music scene in India ten years from now?

RR: Ten years from now we want to see reggae music and its sub-genres really spread and blossom in India. There are only a handful of reggae artists in the country at the moment. There should be many more! It would be great to also see a big annual reggae festival on a beach in Goa, rivaling something like Sunburn. Reggae artists from across the world should come to India to play at festivals.
 

TFT: What are your short term plans? Are you planning to tour anytime soon?

RR: We’re touring Europe this summer. We’ve been selected to play at three major festivals – Rototom in Spain, Ostroda in Poland and Outlook in Croatia. At these shows, we’ll be doing more of dubplates and crowd hyping. In terms of India, for the new season beginning August/September, we’re putting together some new songs, which we’re also very excited about!


TFT: Your advice to budding reggae artists in India?

RR: If we had listened to every promoter and DJ we met along the way, we would not be here today. There were so many naysayers. If fact there still are many skeptics! Just a few days ago at ‘Out of the Box’ the resident DJ was doubtful about our music.  But once he heard it, totally lost it! He was grooving, dancing and entirely enjoying it. So our advise to budding reggae artists would be to do what you have to do. Don’t bother about what other people think. If you have music inside you, just play it and spread it.


As told to Varsha Reshamwala, an art critic with other interests, based in Mumbai.

Reggae Rajahs is India’s first reggae sound system. Catch them every Tuesday from 2-4pm on www.Radio79.com/delhi.php.

Radio 79 Delhi is India's first and only Alternative Music Channel.

Also in this issue


Illusion: Seeing Beyond Seeing
Meaning: In Search of Significance.
Melody: A Different Tune
Rhythm: Ordering Time

Dhrupadi Ghosh is an old friend of mine. We have often had long sessions of adda late at night, discussing her dream projects since her college days at Santiniketan, where she majored in Sculpture.