Songs That Portray India's Changing Political And Cultural Tapestry

Songs That Portray India's Changing Political And Cultural Tapestry

Such songs are often used to inspire or evoke patriotic spirit

Sapna SarfareUpdated: Saturday, January 27, 2024, 10:38 PM IST
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Indian Ocean |

For some, art is just another way of expression. But many would agree with this statement of Berthold Brecht – Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it. Any good artwork can make a change if it wishes to. In this perspective, songs have always been used to make a statement.

In India, music was a great weapon to spread the message of independence during our freedom struggle. And post-independence, it is still being used as a tool to speak about injustice, social/political/economic issues and more. A song is now the weapon to be heard for bringing about change. Here is a recap of few such musical statements.

Being patriotic

Pt Bhimsen Joshi in Mile Sur Mera Tumhara

Pt Bhimsen Joshi in Mile Sur Mera Tumhara |

Considering the freedom struggle and post-independence walk down the path towards becoming strong, one thing has remained constant – our patriotism. Many songs and even albums have come out that talk about our prides towards India or spread message of unity, etc.

One album that comes to the mind prominently would be music maestro AR Rahman’ Vande Mataram that came out in 1997 to mark the golden jubilee of India’s independence. The album created keeping the 50 years in mind has become an iconic commercial success. It was the brainchild of Rehman and his friend and filmmaker Bharat Bala. While songs like Gurus of Peace (collaboration with Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan) became popular, it was Maa Tujhe Salaam that is still heard on every occasion when patriotism is on a high, from our Republic Day to Independence Day.

Incidentally, the ‘Nightingale of India’ Lata Mangeshkar came out with a version of the song Vande Mataram in 1998 which she had incidentally also sung for the movie Anand Math. The song was part of the album Vande Mataram 2 and followed the previous album of the same name Conceptualised by Bharat Bala again, the song also became an instant hit due to the soaring quality and pace of the revised music and also the fast-paced video which starred Indians standing for togetherness.

But before 1997-98, we still were treading down the path for national pride and togetherness, some classic songs tug our hearts on Doordarshan thanks to some great tunes, lyrics and even videos. Remember Mile Sur Mera Tumhara? This memorable song on national integration and unity with diversity is still a matter of pride and fond emotions. Composed by Ashok Patki and lyrics by ace adman Piyush Pandey, it was arranged by Louis Bank and done on the behest of Lok Seva Sanchar Parishad in 1988. Telecast on the Independence Day the same year, you would see many renowned singers, musicians, actors and notable Indians be part of the video like Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Lata Mangeshkar, M Balamuralikrishnan, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Amitabh Bachchan, Waheeda Rehman, Hema Malini, Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi, Deepa Mehta, Om Puri, Arun Lal, Prakash Padukone, Amala Shankar, Mallika Sarabhai and more. The song still resonates with us.

Then there was the song Pyaar Ki Ganga Bahe that too evoked emotions for nationalism and unity in diversity. Released in 1993 right around the times when Babri Masjid fell and riots were spreading around, renowned filmmaker Subhash Ghai developed the song with Javed Akhtar writing the lyrics and Laxmikant Pyarelal composing the tune. This heart-warming song with lyrics like Sun Sun Mere Munne Sun saw many acclaimed actors be part of it, from Aamir Kha, Govinda, Anil Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor, Jackie Shroff and more. If you look carefully, you can also see little Ranbir Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor and Tiger Shroff in it.

Coming back to 2022, the composer duo Sourendro-Soumyojit came up with their rendition of the national anthem and called it Jaya Hey 2.0. Rendered by 75 artists from all over India, the song was a tribute celebrating 75 years of independence. The song was a rendition of Tagore’s five verses of Bharat Bhagya Vidhata. Big names like Asha Bhosle, Kumar Sanu, Anup Jalota, Shreya Ghoshal, Mahesh Kale, Mohit Chauhan, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, Shubha Mudgal and more were part of it. This version certainly brings in a sense of pride amongst the new age of Indians who have grown up in the new independence India of different ideas.

The political musical revolution

The generation of today is vastly different from the ones brought up before the 1990s. Their concepts of idealism and change is remarkable opposite of their previous generations. Their idealism and ways to put forth their thoughts speaks of a generation that is more upfront and not afraid to take on the might of the establishment. And their weapon to attack is music or songs to be precise. While songs against establishment or political powers have been there, the tide has turned higher in recent times. The ‘Anti Songs’ are now the flavour of the season. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, they want to break the political might or thoughts they think are detrimental to the Indian society.

Indian Ocean is one of India’s foremost music bands that commands respect. Their Ma Rewa from their album Kandisa is a gem of a song that pays homage to the river Narmada or Ma Narmada and what it means to not just those living around it but also those who revere the river. It also became associated as the song for the Narmada Bachao Andolan. One could say it became the song of the river and its issue.

The Down Troddence is a Bengaluru-based metal band is a young voice. Their Fight. React. Be a part talks against the government position with regards to the implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). It also speaks against the violence that arose all around esp. in New Delhi. The song written in a short time is their angst against the injustice, violence and chaos that arose all over. They felt powerless regarding their inability to participate in Bengaluru’s anti-CAA protests.

Those who know the Kerala-based band Street Academics are aware of the song Haara Haara. The band is into alternative and hip-hop genre and produced song which also spoke about CAA. It was performed during the anti-CAA protests organised in Kozhikode. Popular lyricists and stand-up comic Varun Grover too became part of the anti-CAA protests and wrote the song Hum Kagaaz Nahin Dikhayenge. The song became popularity among the protestors. Of course, we remember Azaadi, that became the anthem of the JNU protests and afterwards. It was popularised by student leader Kanhaiya Kumar. Amongst the other songs of protest were Ailaan by Kanwar Grewal and Asi Vaddange by Himmat Sandhu on the farmers protests around Punjab. Many songs related to the farmers’ protests were, in fact, removed from YouTube but protestors choose to keep continuing.

The topics taken up are of varied sorts and each speak of the issue that directly impacts the common man. Kasheer by Ahmer x Sez is a song from Ahmer’s debut album Little Kid, Big Dream and has a song in Kashmiri regarding the changing scenario in Kashmir and the control still present in the state. Ahmer calls it the people’s anthem and speaks of their angst, pain, feeling of feeling trapped and more. In Mumbai, The Warli Revolt was created by Swadesi ft. Warli tribal chief and activist Prakash Bhoir. And this song is a cry of resistance against the tree cutting in Aarey forest which is a calming green presence in northern part of the city. The song opposes the metro car shed proposed in Aarey that will deforest a huge chunk of the green space and threaten the ecology already in danger. The song speaks out their thoughts on the government’s so-called development.

On a social mode

Songs are also being created to bring about a social change but in a way that puts forth the message better. Social songs have always been part of our traditions. But modern songs of change have picked up issues that concern the masses directly. Popular Goan singer-musician Remo Fernandes in 2020 released a single during the first wave of COVID19 titled When will you learn, man? that was an instant composition around generic behaviour pre, during and post-Covid. It revolves around the Goan mentality to look down upon the non-Goans and term them as Ghanntis. The music style harks back to 70s garage rock banks and talks about hate against outsiders in Goa, not learning from our past and projecting hatred towards a group during such moments.

Indian women rappers are slowly rising and one such name Ashwini Hiremath came out with her debut single, Krantinaari. The unique rap song can be called a collective voice of the women against patriarchy and the battles against patriarchal impositions over the years in many ways. For Ashwini, rap allows her to speak out against the system in a flexible and better way. She feels the song tells the woman’s life in these trying times and speaks her anguish against the system. Singer Sona Mahapatra is another voice whose music has spoken about the system time and again. Her Mujhe Kya Bechega Rupaiya is an anti-dowry song that was also shown in Satyamev Jayate. It went viral and was appreciated for speaking against patriarchy and the system of dowry.

A song on Doordarshan became famous for its video and also the song. School Chale Hum spoke the message of the importance of literacy and its meaning for children in various parts of India. The song’s appeal was tremendous and its video too became iconic for spreading hope among children to study and succeed.

There is no doubt that songs have an impact on people if written with the right emotions, words and composition. A change in society can happen with one or many songs at a time.

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