The poll playlist/A beat and a ballot

Apr18,2024


Mirage and manifesto make great Indian elections.

For a full month now, rappers Dinesh and RJ Prasad, better known by their stage name Comrade Gangstas, have contributed to this mirage by performing on roadside stages and grand public meetings. They sing in support of the India Bloc, pushing its leftist politics. His songs praising Periyar and Ambedkar and often criticizing the Centre's policies like the Citizenship Amendment Act and violence based on religion receive applause, whistles and sometimes complete silence.

The legacy of campaign singers is older than free and fair democratic elections in India. These talented musicians emerge from the grassroots, have a keen sense of tune and are able to entertain the restless masses who deserve relaxation during long political debates. The nature of the promotional singer has changed over the years. Today, he wears colorful clothes, sings backing vocals and even raps. Some people stick to a major governing ideology of the party they support. Others write songs 10 minutes before their performance based on the parties that have recruited them.

A special memory from this 2024 election campaign has surprised Dinesh.

As soon as these new-age singers started rap songs at a public function in Purasawalkam last week, many women stood up and started dancing.

“We had also run the campaign in 2021, but had observed that women generally did not participate in the dance. However, this time he danced as if he was possessed by a ghost. It looked violent and fun. They really let loose during our performance,'' he says.

It was a public meeting in which people like Tamil Nadu cabinet minister Shekhar Babu, Chennai mayor Priya Rajan and Communist Party of India (Marxist) district secretary G Selva were present on the stage. But the singers were asked to sing, despite their performance wasting the speakers' time. “The minister said everyone should enjoy,” he recalls.

“The women came later and told us that this is the only place where they get a chance to enjoy. It was nice talking to him,” says Dinesh.

Were his new-age rap and fast-paced songs a stark contrast to his long, serious public speeches about the state of the country? “This may be a reason but, we repeat the same message. Elections are just another farce but we are here to take the discussion forward with tune and rhythm,” he says.

A song for every mood

Over the years, some singers have emerged as favourites. “The party cadre asks for our performances,” says singer Irianban Kuthoos, who has given several hit songs like 'Stalin Angle Stalin' for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

Singer Irianban Kuthous

Singer Irianban Kuthous | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Coming back from several public meetings in Tiruchi for this year's election campaign, the singer with a distinctive Dravidian voice (a strong, clear baritone with a penchant for emotion) says the role of a campaign singer is clear.

He says, “We need to be able to keep the crowd engaged with tunes that are somewhat familiar and have words that are easy to follow and understand.” Great stage presence and the ability to participate in feedback is a bonus, but their primary role is to ensure that the audience sits at public meetings without joining the crowd.

Proudly, he takes out his phone and shows us a snippet of Chief Minister MK Stalin praising his first stage performance 40 years ago. “I sang at the first public meeting of Thalapathy Stalin at Nandanam in 1984. His father M Karunanidhi was to come and address the gathering, but was delayed by more than two hours. It was 10 o'clock at night and the crowd became restless. Then I came on stage and sang the same four songs over and over again. The crowd did not move. Leaders came, spoke and went away. Everything was fine,” he recalls.

Today, Irianban holds several positions in the party, holding responsibility for minority affairs. He says it is singing and ideology that has taken him this far. “I don't sing songs criticizing other parties,” he says, adding that he represents the DMK.

On the other hand, Pepsi Das has the unique ability to write lines on the spot and has sung the song for every party. “You name it, I've done it. I made up the words 'bicycle chain', 'Mannu (sand) lorry' and even'Kuppai (waste) lorry' rhyme with other interesting Tamil and English words. They are often the epitome of small parties,'' he says.

singer pepsi das

Singer Pepsi Das Photo Courtesy: S Shiv Raj

This election season, Pepsi Das has sung songs praising the DMK, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Viduthalai Chiruthigal Katchi (VCK). His troupe consists of eight members who play keyboard, drums, tabla and dholak. “My singing style is usually singing. It reaches the public quickly. During my performances, you can see me asking for words from the audience and performing songs on the spot. It entertains everyone,” he says.

Das is adamant that ideology does not matter. As a singer he does his work.

Does Das see himself entering the world of politics like his other two counterparts? “The party doesn’t pay for my lifestyle or give me a job after the elections,” he says.

As we finish our conversation, Das decides to show his strength. He starts by singing a song and asks for votes for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); Kai (hand), the symbol of Congress and then moves towards AIADMK and DMK.

“I assure you. The night after my concert, you'll find yourself humming the song I sing about the candidate who recruits me. They're so catchy, my tunes,” he says. Are.

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