As the Middle East made headlines, I did a piece on Arab revolutionary music. With mass protests currently underway in India, it would be unfair to not do a similar one on South Asia.
The protests turned violent yesterday, India’s republic day, and the flag for an independent Sikh state, Khalistan, was raised on the ramparts of the Red Fort, Lal Qilla, Delhi.
South Asia is known for its political upheaval and many revolutions. Some succeed, others fizzle out; some get branded as a communist, anti-state movements, others turn into insurgencies; all of them have one thing in common: they left us with music. So here we go, a collection on revolutionary music from South Asia, from revolutions which may or may not be lost, but certainly a part of them, has survived in the hearts of the people.
Hindu, and Brahiman supremacy in India have been challenged for a while now. The farmer’s protest, primarily Sikh, anti CAA protests, anti-Muslim pogroms, the Dalit Bakht Movement, all have given rise to multiple anthems.
This release, only a month old, has been going viral since.
Mumbai’s multilingual, socially conscious hip-hop crew Swadesi’s ‘Kranti Havi’ is a call-to-action in tandem with the ongoing protests around the Citizenship Amendment Act and against the divisive and brutal retaliation offered by the government and its officials. With the help of MC and activist Taru Dalmia aka Delhi Sultanate, ‘Kranti Havi’, which translates to “we need a revolution”.
Sinhalese lyricists, vocalists, and composers employed at the Sri Lankan radio station, Radio Ceylon, fashioned the sarala gī or light classical musical genre, on the brink and aftermath of the “cultural revolution” of 1956.
The revolution in music coincided with the first post-independence election of the region, to transfer the locus of political power to the majority, and precipitate a switchover in the official state language, from English to Sinhala.
These lyricists, vocalists, and composers were members of the rural intelligentsia, the constituency that spearheaded the cultural revival that ensued. They worked to represent the majority population, assert the value of Sinhalese culture, and raised the standards of Sinhalese music. In this study, I explore the local and transnational forces that motivated their aspirations and analyze how they used music and language in song to achieve their objectives.
The country came into being after breaking away from what used to be West Pakistan.
The song which follows is one of the most iconic songs of the revolution. It is a composition by Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet, writer, composer, philosopher and painter. He is one of the people who reshaped Bengali literature and music, as well as Indian art with Contextual Modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The melancholic melody right in the beginning reminds one of the pain, the patience and determination of the martyrs, the fight of the common man and those who fought for liberation.
Nepal went from monarchy to republic, and from war to peace. The communist factions took to music to put forward their agenda, and muster support, back in the late nineties and early 2000’s, and were successful in some places. But revolutionary music in the country goes far beyond that. Ranudevi Adhikari, the first female voice on radio, sang songs against the Rana regime that were broadcast from clandestine stations in 1949.
A band of youngsters came together and called themselves “Ralfa”. They shot to fame after they released “Gaun Gaun, Basti Basti”, a pro-democracy tune.
Pakistan’s creation, was a struggle where the coloniser was pressurized, and bargained with. It was not exactly a “revolution”. The country has seen two revolutions of sorts after it’s creation.
The first, was between 1968 and 1972 during the anti Ayub Khan movement led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). A number of left groups that were influential in the working class became energised and played an important role in bringing PPP into power.
The second, was when the youth of the country was mobilised, during 2014. The “Azadi March”, led by now Prime Minister, then opposition leader Imran Khan, announced a sit-in in Islamabad to hold the ruling party, PLMN, accountable over systematic rigging in elections.
Fervour and numbers soon rose up when protestors were banned from entering the capital, and brutally attacked by the police. The IG of the capital was asked to step down upon refusing to crack down on people over peaceful demonstrations, a democratic right, and police from Punjab, where PLMN was in power. The video clips from the protests were powerful enough to be noticed, and featured, by New Nickleback!
Did Afghanistan see a revolution? Yes. What did it bring to the country? Some good music, and a few infrastructure projects, followed by civil war for forty years. Afghan Music today is defined by the culture, the diaspora, remnants of influence from Russian revolutionary rock, and the struggle to make music when its banned, in a place hard to survive.
This track is a throwback to 1978.
Signing off for now, but please drop links in the comments if you know of more songs which we haven’t included here!