Soundtrack to a revolution

Soundtrack to a revolution
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First Published: Sat, Apr 16 2011. 12 56 AM IST

Voice of dissent: Bant Singh on the cover of the Bant Singh Project.
Voice of dissent: Bant Singh on the cover of the Bant Singh Project.
Updated: Sat, Jul 02 2011. 02 24 PM IST
Could this be the spring or summer that heralds change? With veteran social activist Anna Hazare leading the nation in a protest that has left many power brokers and scam samrats squirming uncomfortably, can we hope for an end to the days of corruption and abuse of power that we have witnessed for so long? And what is the soundtrack we should be playing to celebrate the agents of change? Television reports from Jantar Mantar in New Delhi when Hazare was sitting on a fast unto death had Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajans such as Ragupati Raghav Raja Ram playing in the background. Then there were versions of Hum honge kaamyaab too. Indeed, these are songs that are appropriate for the nostalgia they evoke of a time when a nation came together to ask for freedom.
Voice of dissent: Bant Singh on the cover of the Bant Singh Project.
But do visit www.wordsoundandpower.org to listen to an extraordinary collaboration between Bant Singh, Taru Dalmia and Chris McGuinness titled Bant Singh Project because there are many segments in the five-track project that could well have formed the perfect score for Jantar Mantar. What is more important, the tracks are a welcome change from current trends in the mainstream music industry.
Given as I am to public confessions about my ignorance when it comes to matters outside the realm of Hindustani classical music, I would have to say that of the three main collaborators in the project, I was aware of only one—Bant Singh. More than his songs of courage, protest and rebellion, I had read of his amazing grit and determination in fighting a battle against upper-class brutes who had attacked his daughter, beaten him mercilessly and left him for dead. He was grievously injured, and his limbs had to be amputated to save his life. His voice, the gritty, no-frills lyrics of his songs were not really easily accessible or known to me, barring the few lines he sings in the odd YouTube video. Happily, you can now hear five splendidly produced tracks on the Bant Singh Project, with brave, blunt, lyrics by Bant Singh and Dalmia aka Delhi Sultanate. For example, Track 4 titled In the Fire uses the leitmotif of fire that recurs in both Comrade Bant Singh and Delhi Sultanate’s lyrics. Bant Singh speaks of the revolutionary fire that makes people put their lives on the line for the cause. Delhi Sultanate’s lyrics lay out how government and big business collude in colonial-style exploitation that places commercial interests above the lives of the people and threatens the foundations of life itself.
From the pictures on the website for the project, McGuinness and Dalmia as well as their other teammates seem young, casually attired urban men, armed with laptops, recording gear and gadgets. Their personal websites http://chrismcguinness.com and http://www.myspace.com/delhisultanate inform visitors of their many accomplishments. While McGuinness, born and brought up in the US, is a DJ and multimedia artiste, Dalmia specializes in performance poetry and founded the BASS Foundation. I understand that their preferred performance spaces would not conventionally be frequented by sari-clad, ageing-aunty classical singers, and I confess to not having heard their work earlier. Well, whether they like it or not, they now have an auntyji fan in me, for being part of the Bant Singh Project, having travelled to Jabbar village in Punjab with their gear et al, recording Bant Singh in his home and familiar surroundings, and for having gone back again to play him the finished tracks, and show him the film that goes with the project. All the tracks are available free of charge on the project website, although donations can be made if anyone wishes to contribute. I’d say those in favour of change, whether in curbing corruption in the nation, or in changing the tide of the diseased music industry, should give this project a listen. And an award too, if possible.
Write to Shubha at musicmatters@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Apr 16 2011. 12 56 AM IST