We are not sure what our Government is up to: Underground Authority
Posted on 30 August, 2016 by Team Wishberry
‘Do the lines on a map define who’s my enemy?
Am I free?
Am I free?
Do the voices of a few define my humanity?
Am I free?
Am I free?’
Am I Free, Underground Authority
EPR Iyer: That is the chorus of the song Am I Free, from our new album, Propa-genda. We are being as direct as we can be.
When we started, we always had this ideology that we will go up on stage to express and not impress. There is no point of beating around the bush.
Underground Authority is not only a rap-rock band, but what I like to call a movement. Their straightforward, edgy lyrics questioning all things wrong with the country will remind you of Rage Against the Machine, and then they will pull off something like a Kaash Meri Girlfriend, and memories of Limp Bizkit arise in your mind. But, UA is neither. It is, in fact, the beautiful cusp between both RATM and Limp Bizkit.
I met the band at Blue Frog Mumbai, the soon to be closed the iconic venue, on the occasion of their gig, a part of their Propa-genda Tour.
In that small gully in front of Blue Frog, I stood with guitarist Adil Rashid, vocalist EPR Iyer, and bassist Bubbla Bhattacharya, and had a conversation which probably covered half the things in the world.
You guys are not beating around the bush with this album, Propa-genda, you said.
Once upon a time, artists, especially musicians, said it as it is. Do you think that has been lost somewhere along the way?
Bubbla: Not only as a musician, but as an artist, you have a responsibility towards society. You have a platform and there are people who are ready to listen to you. There are so many bands bigger than us, with bigger audiences than we have. And they need to take a stand, whatever the stand is. It doesn’t have to be a political thing, you know. You don’t need to be communist, or anarchist or something. You just need to voice out what you feel. And since you have the resources, and even the platform to do so, you should use that to your advantage.
There was a point in time, like you said, when people would walk on stage and actually speak out. We need to do that together. Some people shouting out and some not giving a fuck about it isn’t going to make a difference.
Adil: This is another thing we are speaking about in this album - how music in itself has also been hijacked by propaganda. You only see certain artists being portrayed as huuuge artists. And they also have a lot of followers because, you know, people are only exposed to that. And that has seeped into the independent music scene as well. People call themselves independent or indie musicians, but they are doing the same thing. They are speaking out against commercial musicians, while talking about the same things that commercial musicians talk about.
EPR: On that note, I would like to describe... you know, as a country we are divided into different races, cultures etc. The same thing is happening with music as well. It is divided into genres, into languages. And people forget that music knows no language. Music is a form of expression. But, some people propagate that this genre is better than this genre. And that somehow ruins the whole purpose of music - any music.
We want to break those barriers and we want a united music scene where every band supports every band. That’s how the music scene in this country will go forward.
How does this divide affect the music scene?
Bubbla: Despite being a country of a billion people, the indie music scene is not a huge fraternity. Still there is so much divide. You have to be a part of this club, or that group, or these people who are organising these many festivals. So, you always have to be a part of something or abandon something else. It is here, it is in Kolkata, it is all across the nation.
Good bands are missing out on chances because they are trying to play the kind of music they want to do, instead of pandering to other people.
Plus, something that I have observed is that a lot of times people don’t associate music with money. You know, that ‘it is not about the money, it is more about the music’ thing. But, hey, when you are 27 and you have to fend for yourself, it is about the money too. And this kind of attitude also affects the quality of music.
Adil: There are people in the country working 12-13 hours a day for companies that aren’t even here. That is considered legitimate, whereas we want to do something that is made here, for the people of India, and then people say that it is not about the money and that they will give us exposure.
We have been called to play a lot of these festivals. Maybe because of the popularity of the band or the kind of music we do. But, we have taken a stand, you know, that we will be completely independent, in the true sense of the word. We are releasing the album on our own; by choice. We got offers, but we wanted to be in control of our own music. We are shooting our own videos. We have not tied up with any artist management company. We want music to be independent. We are trying to do that. Let’s see.
What is Propa-genda like?
EPR: So, in this album we talk about the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) which is executed in Kashmir and many parts of the North East India, the crackdown of student movements in universities across India, the attacks on minorities and such issues plaguing our country.
Writer’s note: The band moved for soundcheck after that. About an hour later, they were back, and I had new questions by then; important ones.
While you guys were in soundcheck, I was going through Facebook and came across MC Kash’s update. He was supposed to perform in Bangalore, but the police caught him and took him aside as his slot was about to begin. He was told that they are watching him and that if anything that he says is found ‘anti-national’, he will be arrested. In the process, his slot got over, and he could barely play a song before they cut him off the PA.
Adil: That is... that is just sad! All of a sudden, being anti-national is a thing now. The media is going crazy with it. I don’t know what the current Government is upto, honestly. We are going towards this dictatorship of sorts.
Even we spoke about Kashmir in one of the songs, and I wonder if we will get any hate for it. But, you know, I hope, we do; because we want to talk about it.
EPR: That’s when you know that your music is making an impact. All the people we have looked up to and tried to learn from have gone down this route.
Adil: In fact, there is a song which did not make it to the album, but we will release it as a single later on. It was based on the whole Hyderabad University thing. The fact that they didn’t have food, water, and you know, there was oppression going on inside the campus; inside a University, which is supposed to be one of the safest places for students…
You know, we want someone to pull us up and ask us, why we said it. So that we can tell them – this is why we said it.
Propa-genda is going to be talking about such issues a lot, you said.
EPR: In its entirety. We believe that we live in the world’s largest democracy and there is always room for debate and discussion, alright. That is how countries go forward, and that is how people (society) go forward.
To sing songs about glorifying something, or glorifying a leader with his picture on a stamp, won’t make me happy. What will make me happy is – a woman getting on the streets and not getting raped, that will make me happy. The Government should be worrying about such things.
If I read something about AFSPA, then I will say something about the AFSPA. And I have read a lot of things about the AFSPA, and you cannot say that the AFSPA is not bad for our country. Innocent people are getting killed, and there is large scale human rights abuse that is happening. So no matter what you say, if it is for one country or against another country, people are getting killed. What will you do about the people? You cannot just disguise it… you cannot just put it in the beneficiary list of a country, that I am killing these people to benefit my country. This whole notion is completely wrong.
Tell me about the music video for Gypsy. How did a 360 video come about?
(You can check out the teaser here)
Adil: Yes! These guys came up to us and told us that they want to make a 360 video with us. They are called NotchFX Studio. They are very new. They operate from Kolkata itself. It was a ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’ kind of a thing. So, we could promote their work and we get a different video in return.
We have some friends who are into stunt motorcycling and bicycles.
Bubbla: And are super talented.
Adil: In fact, this is the first stunt 360 video ever!
Bubbla: And we didn’t even know that this culture existed in our country so predominantly. Generally, you see it only on television.
Adil: There are these kids in Kolkata who are amazing! In fact, the youngest stunt biker in the world is in our video.
We were like, this is great. It is not just about us, this is about them, too.
EPR: And we are also going to make it a point to promote these people as well. Because they are trying to make a livelihood out of their skills and their game is completely different. Musicians have pubs and gigs, at least. They don’t have any place to perform.
Adil: In fact, we are looking at the possibility of doing a performance with them, when we launch the video. We would like them to be there, so that they get their rightful acclaim too. We have got a lot of exposure, and we want to promote these guys as well.
Bubbla: Even for our other videos, we are really looking for something which is different and which concerns other artists. You know the video looks amazing, people get to see something different, and, we get to collaborate with a new artist. So, it is a very symbiotic relationship.
Okay, one final question. Musicians these days are releasing music digitally. I hope Propa-genda has physical CDs.
Adil: Yes, yes. Absolutely. We like physical copies ourselves.
The band went on stage a little while later. Blue Frog was ringing with chants of ‘Musicians shouldn’t play for free’ - a hook EPR made during his freestyle rap in the middle of the set. I was watching one of the tightest sets I have seen on that stage.
Underground Authority is what happens when a bunch of guys with the same will and desire to do good, come together and believe that they can lead a nation with a microphone. I am eagerly awaiting the album. The wait intensifies.