There will be crowds, there will be cheers. Families will gather on sea-facing balconies to watch idols big and small go by. Devotees will bid tearful goodbyes to Rajas, Maharajas, and humble family deities.Everyone will shout "Ganpati Bappa Morya!" and dance their way to the sea. A few good men, however, will scarcely get noticed: the ones behind the console, playing music and spinning mixes where, until a few years ago, there was only the beat of the drum.
The Ganpati DJ is a unique individual – he turns the pandal and the path to immersion into almost a nightclub during the 11-day celebrations. And his audience includes the young and old, the fervent and fun-loving – Ganpati devotees who’ll weep even as they’ll cheer the immersion on. Was there ever a trendier way to pay homage?
Mix and match
“We don’t treat it like a business, we do it because we love music,” says Arun Sredhar Ashrekar. Starting out as a DJ’s assistant at the age of 12, Ashrekar, now 44, plays at four pandals in the city.
Once he knew he wanted to be a DJ, he began saving money to make a few investments. “I bought a mixing console and began training myself, trying different techniques and observing what the crowd cheered for the most,” he says.But there’s a huge difference between DJing at a party or nightclub and DJing for a Ganpati pandal. The former have their fair share of drunk, demanding people, but the crowds at those places tend to be similar in age and outlook.
But DJing for pandals and immersion processions is something else altogether, say those in the know. On the streets, you’re dealing with all age groups, genders and mindsets – never forgetting that even if DJing is about getting people in the mood to party, the Ganpati celebrations have a sense of occasion.
“I’m in a different zone when I play for the visarjan procession,” says Sahil Mehta, who’s been DJing for seven years and plays at pandals in his Masjid Bunder neighbourhood. “I’ve been a devotee of Ganpati since I was a child, and if I’m given the responsibility to entertain during the 11 days of celebrations, I give my 100 per cent to it.” The task can be daunting, though.Getting this diverse, often rowdy crowd in the mood for wholesome fun can sometimes be dangerous. "During the visarjan, you will find a section of the crowd that is drunk," says Tushar Gurav, who recently won the 2014 edition of the all-India Palm DJ Championship (a sort of war of the DJs). "People may come to you and request songs which you have to play quickly as they may turn rowdy. New DJs have to be trained at handling a crowd."
The crowd is not the only thing a Ganpati DJ needs to watch out for. It’s the equipment as well. “It’s not a joke playing while you are on a moving truck with all the equipment,” says 35-year-old Delon D’Souza.
"There is a 100 per cent chance that in all the commotion, the generator truck and the DJ truck might lose coordination, causing the equipment to short circuit. A DJ has to be careful because he is shaking along with the truck’s motion, and has to be aware that the wires don’t snap. Or the amplifiers may blow.”
D’Souza has been DJing since he was 14, and once played in Pune for 24 hours non stop. “The atmosphere is electric,” he says. “Every lane that has a Ganpati will want a better DJ than their neighbour!”
Being a Ganpati DJ also means entering a kind of unofficial DJ war. “People at a nightclub know what music to expect,” explains Gurav. “But a visarjan crowd is difficult to judge. You have to stick to Bollywood and local music.”
Puja purists who prefer the dhol to the DJ are catered to as well, says Ashrekar. “Our console will give you the sounds of both the Nashik dhol and aarti,” he says.
There’s nothing like playing for Ganpati, says Mehta. “A while ago, a procession ahead of mine had no music,” he remembers.
"Thirty people were walking quietly while the people from my pandal were dancing. So I changed the track to Shirdi Wale Sai Baba from Amar Akbar Anthony and both processions merged. There were 200 hands up in the air, all because of my mix. That memory gives me goose-bumps even now.”
From HT Brunch, September 7
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