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Music that signifies rage against the system

Noor Anand Chawla

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The past year has been tumultuous on many counts — Covid-19, climate change, and severe natural disasters were offset by the widespread fight against oppression based on race, religion and colour. These events led to a build-up of rage in dissatisfied youth, who chose to creatively express themselves through music, film and other arts. ‘Closer’, a recently-released indie track, is the perfect example of this.

In this evocative song, Asad Khan aka Khanvict, the Surrey raised Music Producer of South Asian origin, collaborated with American influencer, model and activist Seema Hari and renowned filmmaker Anjali Nayar — both of Indian origin. When the world was in quarantine, these three creative souls felt the urge to shout their message to the world — on the issues of colour and caste affecting and infecting the South Asian community living abroad.

Anjali Nayar, the Director of the music video, explains the sentiment succinctly, “this film was made in quarantine by brown people and their allies, as a creative outlet and expression of hope for a better and more equitable future, where people are not judged based on who they are, who they love and how they pray. Although this film digs deep into our South Asian heritage, there are many similarities between our caste/colourist system and the current issues in the Americas. This is our allegiance to the common cause.”

Khan specialises in sculpting soundtracks which play up the element of fantasy through the use of lush strings, deft percussion and deep bass played in harmony. He claims to be equally inspired by Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman as electronic artists like Close and Troyboi, and in this track, he weaves together indigenous lyrics with his signature style.

Anjali Nayar, the Canadian filmmaker behind the impactful video, is a former climate scientist, and founder of the TIMBY suite of environmental and human rights reporting tools. Her feature films have premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and Toronto’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, before being picked up by the likes of Amazon and Netflix. Additionally, she has written and filmed extensively for Nature, Reuters, the CBC News, the BBC, and NPR. The ‘Closer’ triumvirate is completed by Seema Hari, who is an engineer, model, anti-colorism and anti-caste activist, making her the ideal candidate to spread the intended message far and wide.

Released under the Snakes x Ladders label, ‘Closer’ is an interesting song using traditional Punjabi lyrics, set to Electronica and EDM. It is the kind of track that stays with the listener long after hearing it. The Punjabi lyrics are essentially comprised of ‘Boliyan’, which are couplets often sung to accompany bhangra dances. They provide a glimpse into the social and political conditions of women living in Punjab at the time they were written. Nayar states, “the interpretation of this particular boli, ‘Bhabho Kehndi Eh’, is a bit layered. When I listen to the original song, it seems that the women are singing about infidelity by their husbands. This is indicated by the usage of the word ‘saukan’ which means ‘husband’s second wife’.”

Boliyan in general and specifically those of ‘Bhabho Kehndi Eh’, were a common tie between all three creators involved in making this song. Khan explains this by stating, “we know that song and dance were creative outlets and expressions for hope, a kind of solace for the hardships our ancestral women faced. A simplistic analysis of the connection between bolis and this video is that they are both forms of creative outlets and expression in the face of these hardships. But diving in deeper, I see anger. Women are often denied anger as an emotion, instead being told to fit the mould, be compliant and complacent. But when they do express that anger, it is enough to raise fire and lead to tremendous change.”

As evident from the sentiments echoed by its creators, ‘Closer’ is an attempt to initiate a change in existing circumstances, beginning from oneself, and proceeding to the community and pre-existing frameworks that people live within. It is a fine example of the power exuded through creative mediums.

The writer is a lawyer who pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com. She can be contacted on nooranand@gmail.com.

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