M.A.P // A.M.P is a new podcast series by Goethe-Institut that aims to map the role of music in activism, movements, and protests. Host Bhanuj Kappal explores the intersection of music and activism in the South Asian Context, aided by musicians, academics and cultural organisations from across the subcontinent.
Episode #1: Anatomy Of A Protest Song
Social and protest movements tend to inspire a flurry of protest music and performance, but not all protest songs are created equal. Certain songs have the power to capture the imagination in unprecedented ways, either by bringing different people together as a social/political community, urging them to action, or commemorating the revolutionary and egalitarian ideals of a particular movement.
Examples include Victor Jara’s Estadio Chile, penned in the days before his torture and execution by the Chilean Army, which has become a symbol of Chileans’ defiance in the face of tyranny. Or Inno Della Resistenza by the Choir of FLN Fighters, a song of the rebellion that became Algeria’s national anthem and “helped crystallize the concept of a nation,” according to Nabil Boudraa. For this session, we’ll invite our experts to present a key song from social/political movements in their territories that had an oversized impact and dissect their background and influence, with an eye on the lessons that contemporary cultural activists can draw from this history.
Sumangala Damodaran is a Professor of Economics, Development Studies and Popular Music Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi. She is also a singer and composer. Her archiving and documentation of the musical tradition of the Indian People’s Theatre Association from the 1940s and 1950s has resulted in a book titled The Radical Impulse: Music in the Tradition of the IPTA and an album titled Songs of Protest and she has performed from the documented repertoire extensively in different parts of the country and abroad. She has also collaborated with poets and musicians from South Africa around a project titled ‘Insurrections' which has resulted in five albums. She is currently engaged in researching the relationship between music and migration, particularly of women in slavery and servitude across centuries and across vast tracts of the globe that were linked through long distance trade in commodities and symbolic goods. This work is being done in collaboration with several universities in Africa and Asia.
Ronid ‘Akhu’ Chingangbam is a folk/protest musician and part of Manipuri rock band Imphal Talkies. The band has been performing at protest events in and around Delhi, playing songs with contemporary lyrics that speak out against the conflicts in Manipur, especially the Indian Army’s brutal response. Their track Lullaby that elaborates on this situation and the repression by the army through the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, and atrocities towards minorities are two elements that the band stands staunchly against and the band, which performs both in English and Manipuri, has been touted ‘the voice of the Northeast’ for their work. Life in a conflict-ridden area is an important theme defining their material, and there is a profound anger, pathos and frustration that comes through from the tales of people being kidnapped, killed and raped, all of which is delivered with a healthy dose of satire.
Tenma is an independent musician, composer and producer based in Chennai. He is also the founder of Madras Records. He is part of Casteless Collective, a band that he created with filmmaker Pa Ranjith. The 12-member music group is considered india’s largest ensemble political band. The first track released – Jai Bheem Anthem – set the tone for the band’s upcoming work by bringing Ambedkar to a younger generation, and thereby beginning a fresh conversation on caste and societal issues relating to marginalised communities into a popular space. Through their music the Casteless Collective has sparked a number of conversations about human rights and social justice within the Indian system.
Episode #2: The Carrot and the Stick
This session will look at the complicated relationship between the state and different music scenes/communities, and the different possible routes to navigate these complexities.
In Manipur, for example, music becomes a way to document and represent the human toll of insurgency and counterinsurgency in ways that are less likely to be censored by the state, while in Bangladesh, Baul musicians have been targeted by both radical Islamists and the government for their syncretic, unorthodox views on Islam and society. There’s also the political dimension of what music gets support from the state, and what effect that has on the content and narratives around that music, especially in the case of oral traditions. How do activists and politically minded musicians, especially those critical of the state, find ways to get their message across while avoiding state action? At the same time, how do cultural activists, ethnographers and those involved in the music industry deal with the appropriation and co-option of originally subversive musical traditions by the state or its surrogates in the favour of capitalism, nationalism and soft power? What are the various degrees of risk associated with being a musician who performs political roles?
Maraa is a Bengaluru-based NGO that works in the area of community media, with a focus on community radio through research, advocacy and competence building. Furthermore, Maraa promotes music and performances in public spaces, for which parks, shopping centers, unused and empty buildings have been used temporarily to represent a variety of arts in the city since 2008 - including independent music, theater, graphic illustration, contemporary dance, audio Installations, poems and storytelling included. Maraa is also involved in various local campaigns, such as the eviction of slum dwellers and street vendors, child malnutrition, and violence against women and sexual minorities. More details on these projects and works can be found on the website. Maraa is represented by Angarika Guha in this episode.
Shayan is a Bangladeshi musician, singer, lyricist, poet, music composer and a human rights worker based between Dhaka and Canada (she is currently stuck in the US –east coast). Since the very beginning of her career, the musician has been working closely with different kinds of human rights organisations. Via her songs, she has been contributing in our society to change it for betterment and to elevate the awareness level amongst the masses. She had been working in collaboration with many government and non-government organisations by voicing her thoughts on different social issues. She works predominantly in Bangla.
Episode #3: Emancipatory Trends Within Traditional Music
South Asia has a rich heritage of traditional musical traditions - both within the classical and folk idioms - that have been deployed by different groups to both reinforce and subvert social and political orthodoxies.
One example is the 20th century tradition of taking folk forms (shahiri, tamasha etc) that that usually were used to express devotion to religious deities and reinforced social hierarchy (though many of these were already subversive in subtle ways) and infusing them with revolutionary or emancipatory content, whether in the form of Indian People’s Theatre Associations’ ‘people songs’ or the aforementioned Ambedkarite jalsas. Other artists or movements tapped into the already progressive traditions of bhakti or sufi music and updated them to counter contemporary forms of oppression or injustice. More recently, Carnatic vocalist T M Krishna has used a classical form considered the domain of conservatives and used it to shine a light on issues of caste, communalism and environmentalism, which has generated considerable controversy and pushback. In this conversation we will look at how contemporary artists can use and/or subvert this pre-existing cultural heritage and collective memory in their practice. We’ll also interrogate the effectiveness of such approaches in an increasingly globalised world, where contemporary pop music often diverges significantly from these traditions, and the tricky balance between authenticity and the necessity of innovation to keep up with contemporary trends that might be more effective in reaching out to specific audiences or demographics.
T M Krishna is an Indian Carnatic vocalist, writer, activist, author, and Ramon Magsaysay awardee. As a vocalist, he has made a large number of innovations in both the style and substance of his concerts, thereby inviting controversy from some quarters. He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 20106 for “his forceful commitment as artist and advocate to art’s power to heal India’s deep social divisions, breaking barriers of caste and class to unleash what music has to offer not just for some but for all”.
Moushumi Bhowmik is a singer and academic based in Kolkata. In 2002 she formed a band named Parapar in 2002, whose music draws from Moushumi's own compositions and the rich folk heritage of Bengal. The band aims to stress the continuity between diverse musical traditions – kirtan, bhatiyali, adhunik, the blues and Indian and Western classical music. They also draw upon folk material collected by Moushumi from West Bengal, Assam and Bangladesh. Since 2003 Moushumi has also been recording and documenting the rich and varied tradition of folk music in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Together with sound recordist and sound designer Sukanta Majumdar she explored new avenues of research and dissemination, including archiving and working with archival material, writing and publication, presentation-performance and lectures, collaboration with museums and art galleries, and launching a record label with selections of field recordings. Their work culminated in 2011 with the launch of the website The Travelling Archive. Moushumi's work is in the Women's Revolutions Per Minute (WRPM) archive, a collection dedicated to music by women, now housed in Special Collections at Goldsmiths College, London University.
About the Podcast Series
M.A.P // A.M.P is a new podcast series by Goethe-Institut that aims to map the role of music in activism, movements, and protests. Host Bhanuj Kappal explores the intersection of music and activism in the South Asian Context, aided by musicians, academics and cultural organisations from across the subcontinent. Guests include Carnatic musician T.M. Krishna, New Delhi-based academic and singer Sumangala Damodaran, Bangladeshi pop musician and songwriter Shayan, and Manipuri protest folk musician Akhu Chingangbam. Over eight episodes we will dive deep into the history of progressive musical traditions on the subcontinent, look at the challenges and opportunities met by cultural practitioners across the region, and imagine new possibilities for global solidarity and action through music.
Our host Bhanuj Kappal is a Mumbai-based writer and music critic who has been covering Indian independent music for the past 14 years, with a special interest in exploring junctures of music and politics. His thesis research focused on protest music culture in India, with an emphasis on activist poets in Maharashtra. He is a regular contributor to Pitchfork, GQ India, Mint Lounge, and Mumbai Mirror, and has also written for The Caravan, BBC Culture, The National, and the New Statesman politics blog. He also worked on a landmark story about sexual harassment in the independent music industry for The Caravan. In recent years, he has written extensively about India's emerging hip-hop scene, which is also the subject of his upcoming book. He's also the writer and director of Gully Se Gully Tak, a 20-part Audible Original podcast series (released Dec 2019) that focuses on the lives and careers of Indian rappers.