For You and me, music is probably a way to unwind, to chill. But for the kids from the streets and slums in our metros, it’s not an escape route, it’s a way up. Initiatives like Music Basti, Tiny Drops and Dharavi Rocks, have been giving at-risk children a window towards a brighter future. Read on to find out how these winds of change are touching the right chords, one child at a time.
Drops of Hope
If all you know about hip hop comes from a music video, you’ll be forgiven for assuming that oversized bling, lavish parties and skanky backup dancers are all there is to the subculture. But walk through Delhi’s Khirki village or Connaught Place and you’ll see that a different side to hip hop. The match is more fitting than you think. Hip hop was born in the 1970s in the Bronx, a New York locality characterised by ghettos – as poor youth struggled to find expression through rap, break dancing and graffiti. “The same legacy continues in India,” says Netarpal Singh, also known as HeRa, founder of Tiny Drops Foundation, which spots and nurtures grassroots hip hop talent by offering rehearsal space, equipment and performance platforms. “Hip hop is about giving voice and letting voices which can’t be heard come out,” he adds.HeRa learnt his b-boying skills in Queens, New York, and moved to India in 2004 to teach the kids of a community centre in Dharavi, Mumbai. But having found it a great place to live but a difficult place to pay the rent, he moved to the capital. In 2011, he set up his studio in Khirki village for kids aged 8 to 18 who lived in the nearby slums.
HeRa’s principle is simple: to channelise a child’s energies and emotions into dance rather than let it manifest through delinquency. Using instruction from HeRa or YouTube videos, the kids spend their time learning to spin on their heads, throw their legs in the air or improve their English so they can rap – all significant victories for the little performers. Over the last three years the studio has become a melting pot of backgrounds and religions, and HeRa now has 30 regular students, including four girls. Seventeen year old Hari Nanda has already performed at Blue Frog alongside an African troupe and wants to be a professional b-boyer. He tells us that when he’d started out, his friends and family had branded his obsession, adbhoot (strange), but now, all it takes is a few moves and their minds are blown, he laughs. Nanda is part of Tiny Drops' crew Slumgods, their biggest success story yet. The collective is spread across Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai, and includes b-boys from Tiny Drops, mentors like HeRa and LA-based MC/DJ/ visual artist Mandeep Sethi, and other dancers. The group’s name is a subversive take on the term, slumdog, and it has seen much success with shows across the country. The initiative works with practically no funds, though HeRa believes that Tiny Drops’ mission goes beyond money. "The idea of working with my team, staying true to each other and building stronger connections is a big thing for me," he says.
Masti In the Basti
In Vasant Vihar, another kind of sound is emerging in the form of Faith Gonsalves’s Music Basti. She set up the community-based music education and awareness programme in 2008 as a response to the fact that a lot of kids at-risk do not have access to extra-curricular activities or arts-based education. Music Basti’s 300 students, spread across three centres, are a mixed lot – runaways, delinquents, orphans or abandoned kids. And they’re all encouraged to express and empower themselves through music. “Music Basti is like a family. They are not working for money. They are working for us,” says 18-year-old Suraj Kumar, who has been part of Music Basti for three years and takes lessons in singing. Kumar lives at the Umeed home for street children and comes to Music Basti at 8am every morning before school. He aspires to sing professionally one day.
But until that day comes, Kumar, is also preparing for life. He reiterates a sentiment that is well-entrenched in all the kids: ‘First education, then singing’, and concentrates on his Class XI studies. Another student, 19-year-old Satya Prakash, hails from Rajasthan and by his own admission, spent most of his time gadding along the streets of Gurgaon until he was shifted to Umeed in 2009. There, he’d watch Kumar and the others practice and got interested in honing a side of him he didn’t even know existed. He says that singing has brought about a change in his life and brings him the peace of mind so essential to concentrate on his education.
An important catalyst in the realisation of these little dreams has been Monkey on The Roof (2011) and Dhanak Dhin (2011), albums that featured talent from Music Basti. The latter featured musicians from Delhi bands, who collaborated with Music Basti students to create an album for the monsoon. The children were asked to compose a song about rain or water and they shared ideas, wrote lyrics, and even offered music inputs. The kids had a blast. “We never believed we would be able to write a song or record it! So it made me very happy when we did it,” says 16-year-old Shabnam Aman from Khushi Home for Girls whose voice features on Dhanak Dhin.
Despite being conferred with the Karmaveer Puraskaar National Award for Social Entrepreneurship and the Real Heroes awards in 2011, Gonsalves believes her work is nowhere near done. “What remains a challenge is the attitude that the ‘industry’, whether it is music or any other, does not have responsibility,” she says.
Not a Rocky road
The Mumbai-based Dharavi Rocks joint educational project between Acorn Foundation and Blue Frog aims at the welfare and empowerment of slum kids and ragpickers by initiating them into music. This initiative mentors more than 100 children aged 8 to 17 and has, since 2010, organised regular music classes at its centre in Dharavi. The children are mentored by city-based musicians Ayush Shrestha and Abhijit Jejurikar, who work on a voluntary basis. Through different workshops, held by international artists who appear at Blue Frog, the kids have also been introduced to African music, hip hop, beat boxing, rapping and breakdance, and the list of guest mentors has also included Suneeta Rao, Shankar Mahadevan, Soweto Kinch and Bauchklang amongst others. According to Jejurikar, it’s a privilege to nurture these kids. “My aim has always been to teach the kids about music and take them to the next level,” he says.
The initiative is perhaps best represented by the percussion group that goes by the same name. Dharavi Rocks can aptly be described as a ‘junk band’, as they create music using instruments made out of waste – plastic drum barrels, coffee shakers, paint cans and the like!
The group has already performed at several venues, including the city’s Kala Ghoda festival, the recent Bandstand Revival Project and have also appeared alongside Taufiq Qureshi, MIDIval Punditz and Karsh Kale. The group’s success has not only encouraged more slum dwellers to send their children to the programme; their performances at the German School and American School of Bombay have inspired kids in both schools to start their own junk bands.
From street to stage
Tiny Drops: The kids have performed at the Tibetan Institute Of Performing Arts, Blue Frog (Delhi), The Indo-German Mela and NH7 Bacardi Weekender in Delhi
Music Basti: Performances at NH7 Bacardi Weekender in Delhi, India Music Week and the Big Horn Festival in Delhi
Dharavi Rocks: Concert in Delhi with Karsh Kale, with Agnee at the Bandstand Revival Project and at the Rotary South East Asia convention in HyderabadHall of Fame
These organisations receive support from several accomplished musicians. Meet the artists who mentor the kids
Suhail Yusuf Khan: Grandson of sarangi legend Ustad Sabri Khan, Khan is also part of fusion outfit Advaita.
Aditya Balani: His take on the fretless guitar is inspired from sarod and sitar playing techniques. This jazz musician is performer and teacher, and also founder of the Global Music Institute, Delhi.
Mandeep Sethi: He shuttles between Delhi and America and has also conducted workshops with his crew in Gujarat.
Wazulu the iLL Dravidian: Originally from Bangalore, he is one of the main mentors and inspirational figures at Tiny Drops. Proceeds from his album Passage to India go to Tiny Drops.
Abhijit Jejurikar: This marketing professional smoothly combines the rhythms of his day job with performing as a vocalist, percussionist and keyboardist, and finds time to mentor the Dharavi Rocks kids too.
Ayush Shrestha: This Nepali musician’s sound incorporates rock, pop, folk and classic ballads.
Sanmitra Gupta (Shomi) is currently the editor of Rock Street Journal magazine and www.rsjonline.com
From HT Brunch, June 16
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