Mumbai to host Marathi hip hop festival

Updated: Apr 20, 2019, 07:46 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Ahead of a Marathi rap showcase, here's looking at how far this subset of hip-hop has come from its early days

Tony Sebastian (right) of Dopeadelicz
Tony Sebastian (right) of Dopeadelicz

Amravati is a small city in the Vidarbha region surrounded by hills. Around 8.5 lakh people live there, many of whom are farmers and adivasis. All in all, it's one of the last places on earth you would associate with the American import of hip-hop music. But, in 2014, a youngster named Saurabh Abhyankar aka 100RBH released a track called Amravati Rap.

The lyrics have been written in the Marathi dialect prevalent in the area and Abhyankar - influenced by the emergence of rap music in Mumbai - talks about growing up in his hometown. And soon, almost everyone in the city was familiar with the song he'd written.

Bamboy and MC Mawali. Pic/Ashish Rane
Bamboy and MC Mawali. Pic/Ashish Rane

That wouldn't have been possible had this been an English or even Hindi track. The words just wouldn't have resonated with the locals the way his did. But Abhyankar belongs to the second wave of Marathi rappers. The seeds for this niche subset were first sown in 2011, when a Dharavi-based crew called Dopeadelicz composed Aai Shapath (Mother Promise). "We had been rapping in English till then. But then when we came out with the track, it really connected with people. I then realised the importance of Marathi rap, because at that point, there was only one person on the scene who was doing anything similar," says Tony Sebastian, founding member of Dopeadelicz.

MC Azad
MC Azad

The person he is referring to - MC Mawali, or Aklesh Sutar - is one of the founding members of Swadesi, Mumbai's most noteworthy Marathi hip-hop crew. But Sutar tells us that back in 2011, he was only in the process of writing and producing the first Marathi track he would eventually release in 2014. It's called Laaj Watte Kai (Are You Ashamed) and, along with Aai Shapath, it laid the foundation for this genre to take shape. "Before that, there were only a handful of individuals who had written a few Marathi pieces. We still didn't have a market for this music, until some B-boys who had also written rap songs started coming out of the shadows. And that's how I met MC Azad, too," says Sutar, referring to Rushikesh Jadhav with whom he'll perform at a Marathi hip-hop showcase this evening, which also features Abhyankar and Tushar Adhav aka Bamboy, a DJ and producer.

The Swadesi crew performs at the Ctrl Alt Del festival
The Swadesi crew performs at the Ctrl Alt Del festival

We get in touch with Jadhav, who tells us that his story begins at the grounds of Shivaji Park, in 2015. That's where he would practise dancing with a B-boying crew when, one day, he saw a group of rappers holding a cypher next to them. He already had a few Marathi pieces in his kitty. But the people in this cypher were singing in English. "So, I was a bit apprehensive of approaching them. But then I somehow gathered the courage and after I performed, one of the people there, Ankur Johar, told me, 'Stick to Marathi because that's where your mass audience lies and you can reach a larger number of people,'" he says.

Taking this piece of advice seriously, the youngster polished his skills and eventually formed a foundation called Utkrushta, through which he takes Marathi rap music to the hinterland. He's travelled to villages like Deopuri near Karjat and to Satara, and says that the reactions he received there were "pharu", or incredible. That goes to show that the seeds first laid in 2011 have flowered into a plant that is only growing. In fact, Anurag Kashyap and the makers of reality TV shows have shown interest in Marathi hip-hop. Mumbai itself has around five crews dedicated to the language. Even Amravati, Abhyankar informs, has scores of kids rapping in the local dialect. Sutar actually goes as far as to liken this movement to a growing wave that will soon evolve into a tsunami. And if Indian hip-hop is to evolve to a place where the country eventually finds its own rap language, one can only hope that he is proven true.

ON: Tonight, 9 pm
AT: Levi's Lounge, Mathuradas Mill Compound, Lower Parel.
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