Classical Voice For Social Justice

Art is the intellectual foundation of social change. Artists not only document social change; they promote, inform and shape it. Whether through music, plays, photography, paintings, films, poetry, sculpture, or hip-hop, art is powerful.

Music is one of the most popular mediums of arts. We have seen Pete Seeger who has always used his songs as a language of protest.

Another American folk musician Joe Glazer who talks about the struggle of the working class in his song. The Dylan-Baez pair also raised questions about social justice. It cannot be denied that anti-imperialist consciousness works among Latin American artists. From a very popular song on the internet called Latinoamérica [1] (137 million views) which I translate and quote-

” You can’t buy the sun.
You can’t buy the rain.
You can’t buy the heat.
You can’t buy the clouds.
You can’t buy the colors.
You can’t buy my happiness.
You can’t buy my pains.”

We can also talk about Canadian rapper Baba Brinkman who sings “Oh sinner man, where you gonna run to? [2] ” to tackle climate change. Médine is a French rapper who wants to illustrate the idea of secularism with his song titled  Don’t Laïk [3]. He places great emphasis on Muslim religious identity of France. The rappers paint a picture of the place.They talk with their art about being shut out. They  plead for recognition. They mourn the violence in their midst, the constant police attacks and the agony of joblessness. Lettre à la République [4], which questions the authority about oppression, discrimination and racism. Another song named Don’t Shoot [5] portrays arbitrary shooting of black American people. The rap expresses  their agony after the killing of Michael Brown[6]in the United States.

On August 23,  Carnatic classical musician, writer and social activist T.M. Krishna was part of an interaction titled Social Justice and the Arts with social activist and environmentalist Nityanand Jayaraman at Jadavpur University. In India, we have seen the language of protest in the music. But the speaking about social justice with classical music has never been witnessed before. Krishna blends the classical Carnatic music with burning social issues especially environment. Krishna and Jayaraman talk a lot about the duo’s work. He moves out of his comfort zone and makes Kodaikanal Still Won’t [7]with Shofia Ashraf. The song protests against the mercury mess of Unilever Company in Kodaikanal. Orur Olcott Kuppam Vizha [8] is the arts festival, which is being held for years in the fishing village of Urur Olcott Kuppam near Besant Nagar, Chennai. They coordinate the most unique arts festival Vizha, which welcomes the new talents. The Vizha that is pushing boundaries, redefining arts and cultures.

Urur Olcott Kuppam, a centuries-old fishing village, is known to few people, labelled as ‘poromboke’. Popular discourse turns the place ‘poromboke’ which had become a bad word used to describe worthless people or place. ‘Poromboke’ is an old Tamil word means shared community resources like grazing lands, water-bodies and seashores that are not estimated for taxation purpose. Jayaraman explains the transformation, which is well explicable to us. The common shared place has no market price, so it is considered as worthless . In the name of ‘development’ the system entertains the people from the creamy layer of the society. Jayaraman unfolds this argument with exemplar of proposed superfluous overpass over Urur Olcott Kuppam village.

Krishna sings the ‘Poromboke’[9] song in the classical Carnatic form to nourish the movement to save the Ennore creek and surrounding water-bodies. He wears a mask in the video of the ‘poromboke’ song that signified the pollution in the atmosphere. The song concludes that human beings are made of simple resources from nature. The song questions the audience after giving the thought-

“How about you?
Are you poromboke too?
I certainly am poromboke!”

Bengaluru based Bharatnatyam exponent Suhasini Koulagi performs beautiful dance on his poromboke song. The video [10] was shot at Mavalli garbage dump, Mavalli mining area, Vrishabhavathi river ( Kengeri Drainage), Cantonment slum and Hulimavu lake. Koulagi raises voice through her bit on environment of these areas of Bengaluru. The most challenging part for her was looking for Bharatanatyam gestures for the modern lyrics but she did it successfully.

Krishna says that classical music is bound with their older traditions. It has certain limitations. He wants to break the barrier redefining the classical form of music. Krishna has been criticised for his experimental and progressive works.

The Vizha festival is a platform where anyone can go beyond the bar. He talks about sound, which helps the people to think that is music. The ‘sound’ which do not help people to think that is ‘noise’. Krishna says that artists are not special entity, they are like other general people of the society. Unification of different types of music is a very bad idea according to Krishna.

Krishna breaks the typical idea of classical music to contribute towards the society. They consciously perform on the outskirts of the city to make interaction with ‘backward’ people. Jayaraman designs the performing arts with Krishna’s wonderful classical Carnatic music. They make a barricade with their arts which portrays the parallel objectives.



Abu Sufian Mondal is currently pursuing his BA Comparative Literature degree from Jadavpur University.

Courtesy: Counter Current



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