If your understanding of Marathi rhymes begins and ends with Kasa kai Mumbai, here’s a gang of local linguists who’re elevating the cool factor of their native tongue. From music videos shot on phone cameras to taking over traditionally ‘English’ venues like Bonobo and iBar in Bandra, they’re using every tool possible to ensure Marathi doesn’t lose out on the growing rap movement in the city.
“I first heard a UK-based band called Blood Brothers rapping in Gujarati,” recalls 23-year-old Viraj Manjrekar, whose stage name is Roger. “Though I speak Hindi and English, I decided to try writing rhymes in my own language. My first performance was in 2009 in a hukkah parlour in Malad, after which I performed at clubs, colleges and other social events.”
Manjrekar, whose stage name is an anagram for Rhymes Obviously Generate Expressions and Reminisces (ROGER), admits that no matter the demographic of the audience, his English rhymes don’t garner half the response as his Marathi compositions.
“When you rap in English, people pretend to know the language. But the minute you switch to the local language, they really start cheering and jumping. It becomes an energetic performance for them too, because I get them to sing along on the chorus.”
Contrary to popular perception, Manjrekar steers clear of the colourful language and titillating visuals that are often associated with modern-day rap culture. “I’m a social activist, so most of my songs are about creating awareness about social causes. I don’t use crude language, or talk about money, girls and fast rides. You can listen to my songs with even your parents around.”
And though rapping in a local language in a country with more than 18 official languages may seem divisive, radio jockey Akshay Dandekar, who moonlights as rapper KoBra and has released a song called Veda (Crazy for you), insists his Marathi rhymes have earned him fans all over India.
“If people don’t understand the meaning, they ask me to explain. I have people in Delhi and from down south following my work,” he says, adding, “The only challenge is finding sensible rhymes in Marathi, which is tougher than in English.”
The increasing popularity of the genre convinced Sudeip Nair, cofounder of event organisers Culture Shoq, to create a special event. Monster Battles: rap, will feature about 15 MCs going head-to-head in a public showdown on June 25.
Nair says, “These rappers want honest feedback, and if the rap scene in India is going to grow, it has to have a regional flavour and focus on relevant topics. You can’t talk about being in a gang or wanting to kill your mother and expect people to connect with you.”