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Protest Music: Rebel Rock
“We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it,” said the iconic Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, whose revolutionary tactics have gone down in history as groundbreaking, attaining near-legendary status. Though nothing can come close to his fiery determination, this Cuban leader is a perfect example of what a rebel should be.

Biting remarks were hurled with equally heartfelt wishes of a quick change in the situation. From the usual playful atmosphere, the scene transformed into a stage of protest. The purpose of the gathering this time around was not only to chill out to the music, but also to hold up against the ‘to be implemented’ reservation policy that was driving the student community across cities in India completely crazy. The crowd adopted a fiery lament as the show progressed. The show might not have been of a great consequence, but the intent was overpowering. There was a conviction to right the situation and the issue evoked an overwhelming resonance.

Protest music is looked at as a very western fashion. Yes, India is known for its rebelling naxalites and baul movements, all of which stage frustrations against the government, the system and society. Not to forget the Indian People’s Theatre Association referred to as IPTA, whose protest songs are extremely popular among the youngsters. It was formed in 1942, during the Quit India Movement. The core idea was to strengthen the progressive ideas developing in the field of art, and also to assert freedom and justice.

The anti-reservation issue brought forth the urban protestors, the musicians being a part of it. It surfaced in the cities across India in 2006 and was caught by a couple of rock bands in the city. It also brought into focus the nature of protests in our society, especially as an urban factor.

Let’s take a look at fundamentals of protest music in urban India, keeping in frame the recent anti-reservation crisis as well as drawing back on other serious unpleasant events that the country has faced and the retort to them from the music community.

The oldest known protest song was written in 1382; The Cutty Wren spoke out against English feudal oppression. ‘The American Revolutionary War’ also sowed seeds of protest music, which went on become a very effective movement in securing people’s rights. Folk songs gained momentum as protest songs. In the 19th century, issues like women’s rights, labour movement, abolition of slavery etc were fought across board with the help of protest songs.
In the 20th century, the union movement, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and the war in Vietnam all spawned protest songs.

American protest songs have been consistent over the years and spilled over to the mainstream scene shedding the underground shape that it had taken when it began.
The 60s were a very active period for the development of protest music and America has been an important player as far as the mainstream music protests go.
From John Lennon, Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, Dixie Chicks to Greenday, the west is etched with protest music at all points of time.

The anti-caste-based-reservation protests that took place in parts of India in 2006 opposed the decision of the Union Government of India to implement reservations for Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in central and private institutes of higher education. In 2005, based on the recommendations of the Mandal Commission, the government proposed to reserve 27% of seats in every All India Institute Of Medical Studies (AIIMS), Indian Institute Of Technology (IITs), the Indian Institute Of Management (IIMs) and other central institutions of higher education for the OBCs in order to help them gain higher levels of representation in these institutions. This move led to massive protests by those against, claiming that the government's proposal is discriminatory and merely a means of gathering votes.

Students ganged up and lobbied for their rights; and music played a significant role in the whole protest movement. It took on an interesting form with the involvement of urban rock bands in the protest against reservation policies of the government.

Apart from the most recent anti-reservation protests, there have been even graver tragic incidents India has had to deal with. The most noted was the 1993 Mumbai riots, the Gujarat riots and the Kargil war. There was something very wrong with the way the government dealt with every riot situation that the country endured. Though not blatant enough, a lot of musicians vociferously protested against the system.

Since Delhi was the centre of the whole dilemma, contemporary fusion band Indian Ocean did their bit by joining in with the students and being vocal about their thoughts on the subject. Though the band has been doing some very awe-inspiring work, their much-awaited mainstream breakthrough came with their song on the 1993 riots, which was a part of the film Black Friday by Anurag Kashyap. This was banned in no time after its release, and re-released in February 2007 when the movie was commercially premiered across cities in the country.

Vocalist and bass guitarist of the band, Rahul Ram has been an activist and supporter of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. He did his PhD in environmental toxicology from Cornell University and this has had a strong influence on his musical expression.

So with some background in social issues plaguing our country, the band has been termed as ‘revolutionary’ by many critics. Their indo-rock music with a twist of jazz and Indian folk music has been a flavour and centre point of major college festivals, reaching out to the youth of the nation. They have had a huge following in the college campuses from the time of their inception.

You can read the rest of our special feature Protest Music: Rebel Rock in the May 2007 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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