Big step for Indian rap as Big Ri wins at MTV Europe Music Awards
Catching up with Shillong-based rapper Big Ri from Khasi Bloodz after he won Best Indian Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards, along with Meba Ofilia
The setting could hardly have been more perfect. Around a year ago, Ritik Roy Malngiang aka Big Ri and Meba Ofilia had started work on a track called Done Talking. Lamonte Pakyntein, or D-Mon — who is Malngiang's partner in rhyme in a dominant Shillong-based hip-hop group called Khasi Bloodz — had composed the music, and played a behind-the-scenes role in mixing and arranging it as well. The end product turned out to be a super-slick rap-infused R&B song with an accompanying music video that channels a straight-up western aesthetic.
The lyrics talk about exorcising the demons of a failed relationship and moving on, and the track garnered the duo a nomination for Best Indian Act at the monumental MTV Europe Music Awards 2018. Malngiang and Ofilia were in the latter's home, celebrating her mother's birthday earlier this month, when a friend telephoned saying that they had won. The call led to hugs all around and an added cause for celebration. So, to reiterate, the setting could hardly have been more perfect for the duo to receive this piece of joyous news.
Their achievement is a massive honour for not just an independent act from the Northeast, but from the entire country (the duo pipped indie biggies like Monica Dogra, DIVINE and Raja Kumari to the post, to put things in context). But has the victory translated into a shot in the arm for them? Has it raised their profile among their peers and a larger audience in and beyond their home city?
Well, yes and no. Yes, because, as Malngiang puts it, there is "a parallel universe called social media" where people have stood up and taken notice. And no, because things haven't changed much on the ground in Shillong, apart from Ofilia being more recognised on the streets.
And that's a bit of an irony, because Khasi Bloodz is one act that has been waving the hip-hop flag high in the Meghalaya capital ever since their inception about a decade earlier. Their speaking-truth-to-power brand of music is reminiscent of early Eminem, and the boys have addressed pressing issues like the upsurge in heroin use in their neighbourhood and empty promises that programmers make to budding artistes. "How can you feed people with promises, man?" Malngiang proves his point over the phone to us, adding, "People [meaning musicians in Shillong] have been eating food all this while probably because nature has been good to us, you know? But that's changing. So, it's just money that we need for the time being."
What they also need in the Northeast, we point out, is pan-India recognition. Ever since the post-2014 commercialisation of hip-hop in the country, the metropolitan markets have dominated the scene. The big brands and corporate music labels have felt that the audiences there are the ones that will help their cash registers ring. This has left regional artistes eating dust, so to speak. And Malngiang agrees. "Do you hear our accent? Do you hear the obvious difference [from the gully rappers of Mumbai, who we had cited as an example]? That's the issue. We are totally disconnected, brother. We are way more inclined towards western culture [than the rest of the country]. There are too many distinctions and divisions. But that doesn't mean I am saying we denounce the mainland and say that we are not 'Indian', because if it comes to it, we will give our lives for our country," he says.
"But it's not like we are frustrated. It's more a case of us living in a fish bowl for too long. Now, we want to see the ocean. Now, we want to swim in it," the musician adds, making us think that the ripple that Malngiang and Ofilia have made in the indie industry with their win is surely enough to create waves across the country. How else, after all, is one expected to break through the glass ceiling?
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