Freedom for the indie artiste
Attend a gig where Azadi Records, an artiste label that promotes lesser-known and socially conscious musicians, will showcase eight names from its roster
It was sometime in early 2017 that Uday Kapur was at a music journalist friend's house in Mumbai, attending a listening session for a new album by the American hip-hop duo, Run the Jewels. Kapur had been mulling the idea of starting an artiste label back then. But the plan he had for it was off-beat. The intent was to focus entirely on artistes from smaller towns and economically impoverished backgrounds, or those making songs in hot-potato genres like protest music.
Tienas, an Azadi Records artiste who's part of the showcase. Pic/Aaditya Kumar
So, at the party, the Delhi resident got talking to another friend who he considers to be one of the biggest hip-hop fans in the country. During the course of that conversation, this friend whipped out his laptop and told Kapur that there is a certain musician from Kozhikode in Kerala worth checking out. His name was Sharan Jayan. Kapur heard the tracks. Suitably impressed, he kept Jayan in mind as one of the potential artistes for Azadi Records, the name he had thought of for the label. And sure enough, once he and co-founder Mo Joshi had sorted out all the necessary paperwork for Azadi, Jayan was pleasantly surprised to receive a message on social media, asking him whether he was interested in signing a deal.
That story, in a nutshell, encompasses the ethical backbone of this year-old label. It's not about targeting and mooching off established biggies. It's about bringing lesser-known, but talented, musicians from out of the shadows and giving them the exposure they desperately need. And this weekend, Azadi Records will do just that at a gig where they will showcase eight artistes from their roster to the audience in the city.
Some of the musicians at this gig, though, are from Mumbai and Delhi, with the biggest name in the line-up being rapper Prabh Deep. Be that as it may, none of them are shy about addressing social issues through their music. "I had noticed that there was a trend in the [indie] scene against speaking out on issues. A majority of the artistes I interacted with would express opinions in private. But when it came to their music, it was way more commercial in nature. It's almost as if they practised self-censorship. Maybe it was due to a fear of losing out on brand projects, because that's the financial model on which things function these days," Kapur tells us, adding, "The other thing was that I felt that the focus had shifted away from making music in a way that can be timeless. It was more a case of, 'This is what's popular, so let's copy it.' That's what happened with Nucleya as well. He did something new. And then 100 people spent the next five or six years just copying him and basking in his glory."
The 26-year-old continues, "I also felt that musicians from non-metropolitan cities were being ignored. I think it boils down to a case of laziness. It's not easy to go and find new artistes from places you might not have heard of. If there is a kid sitting in Ranchi and making music, who is going to find him and make sure he makes it big? That's the sort of effort that Mo and I wanted to take right from the beginning."
But commendable as the endeavour might be, it still hasn't translated into steady financial yields. "We put 20 per cent of what we make from gigs and a few branded projects back into the label. The rest of the funds come from Mo's own money," Kapur confesses. Nonetheless, there are other on-the-ground results that are equally important. One of these has been to raise a legitimate question about the incestuous, you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours tendency prevalent in the indie circuit. How else, if not for Azadi, would an act like Triangles have made it to a gig at a major venue in a city like Mumbai? For all you know, the musician might still have been sitting in Kozhikode, scoring maybe for Malayali and Tamil films. But thankfully, Jayan, who uses that moniker for his stage acts, received that social media message from Kapur once the time was right. And today, the prospect of him releasing his first EP in a couple of months is far from a distant dream.
ON: July 6, 9 pm
AT: The Habitat, Hotel Unicontinental, Khar West.
ENTRY: Rs 100 (under 21 years); Rs 300 (rest)
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