Political neutrality seems to be the most befitting stand to take, today. Yet every time, it becomes impossible to take one such certain stand where one is not required to move either way. And then something resonates in the ear, a cry:
“Hear the children crying (one love) / Hear the children crying (one heart)…”
When Bob Marley wrote the song, sometime around 1975-76, Jamaica was torn in between the political rift of the two parties, Manley’s People’s National Party and Edward Seage led Jamaica Labour Party. Marley tried to maintain a ‘Hope Road’, a road with people who has nowhere to go, and song with its merciful angst asking the world to stop fighting and become one. India, on the other hand, is a country that prides of its diversity, but it is also a nation that is smeared in red and green, a land torn by institutionalised religion on either side.
The history of Reggae goes back a long way, far back before Marley became the face of it. The genre, with its thuds and beats, was always recognized as a bitter-sweet force against oppression, colonialism, and bringing together people who were separated by nations but united by suppression. The Jamaican Rastas brought in a revolution of the whole ‘Dreadlock Story’, where dreadlocks became a mean of defiance and a blanket of protection against the ‘Establishment’. That is exactly what Reggae was all about – an expression born out of colonial oppression, as a symbol of perseverance. It was a story which almost always spoke about the ‘African roots’ and the return to the ‘Promised Land’.
In India, Reggae initially came in as a musical form only, but the politics of “One Love” and of a unified ‘one world’ slowly filtered in to the form. Its first wave was blown in by Apache Indian who had mixed Bhangra with Reggae and dance hall music. It created almost a sub-genre of its own, known as ‘Bhangramuffin’. Although a commercial hit at the time, it did not last long as not too many artists were taking up the genre. India was in its earliest millennia of development and Bollywood was the only understood ‘sophisticated’ form of entertainment – the 90’s. It would be after almost a decade when the “Reggae Rajahs” would take up the stage. Diggy Dang, Mr.Herbalist, and DJ MoCity were the line-up which would bring Reggae to the common college-going youth. The trio went live at The Living Room Cafe in New Delhi in 2009 with a 6-channel mixer, a turntable and digital controllers. It is quite an interesting fact that DJ MoCity is known to be “Iraq’s first soundboy”. Flying the flag for Reggae, he and his mates wish to spread their music across the boundaries of poverty, illiteracy, political evil deeds, and above all the mishandling of freedom of speech.
The trio were quickly followed by several other projects, who are still holding the microphone in the forefront. This includes Dakta Dub from Hyderabad, Low Rhyderz from Goa, Bass Foundation from Delhi and certainly India’s first ska/rocksteady band The Ska Vengers. Most of these bands maintain the ideal of Reggae as they tend to not incline much towards any institutionalised politics or institutionalised religious believes; although Delhi Sultanate’s lyrics at times are quite head-straight, as they point directly at the issue instead of generalising the matter (they had once hinted at MoCity immediately after the Israeli helicopter attacked Turkish ships, which was to supply food and medicines to Palestinian camps.)
Originating from an idea of oneness, Reggae is that delicate genre which is to be dealt with the way it demands to be dealt with – the feeling of being together, of being one. Recently, India’s Reggae Resistance did receive a massive support from the youth. An initiative taken by Taru Dalmia to raise voice against Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government, the genre has been implemented to give a voice to the protests that are raging across the universities, all over the country. Taru’s words: “Stop your fooling around/ Messing up our future/ Time to straighten up/ You should wound up in jail.” Taru, who was working on World Sound Power and also a member of Ska Vengers (bringing Indian folk and Jamaican sound back together), build up his own sound system and set across to spread music amongst the cry for freedom.
Jamaica and India, the two suppressed nations, are powerful in their own culture, and distinct in their ideal for love and peace. Dreadlocks and Reggae have emerged from this unsaid comrade-hood. Today, Reggae is played in the contemporary fashion of mixing it up with Electronica, sometimes losing its charm and other times propagating the hope for a better generation. It is a sad fact that most people, even today, remain intolerant towards the genre claiming it to be ‘that thing of the hippies’. They are wrong. For even today when the beat echoes across the campus, a protest call is made and all is brought down to one. Reggae is for one and for all; it is as much a part of the nation as the nation is a part of it.