ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Songs of Protest

Dalit musicians offer a radical imagination of music that breaks open the binaries of the sonic while adopting multiple genres, technologies, and emerging soundscapes.


The young Dalit rapper, Sumeet Samos, from Odisha, was recently in the news for crowdfunding his tuition fees at the University of Oxford. While he was able to raise around `38 lakh in three hours, Samos also faced vitriol, hate, and abusive social media posts, forcing him to take down his request. In a report on the news website thePrint, Samos, who also goes by the identity “Da-Lit Boy,” stated that although he did not seek support as a Dalit, people nonetheless attributed casteist contours to his request. His statement is reflective of the complex and contested terrain of Dalit identity.

Young Dalit musicians and artists like Samos are increasingly using the medium of music to challenge upper-caste hegemony and expose hypocrisy, which finds parallels in the way African American rapper Joyner Lucas uncovers what he calls “closet racism.” The history of African American music has, in fact, been one of resisting racism whether in the form of the “slave songs” of the 17th century or the more recent genre of “rap,” which emerged in the 1970s. In a similar vein, through his song “Ab Ladai Seekh Le” (Learn How to Fight Now), Samos exhorts the
Dalits to push back against domination and stand up for their rights even as he claims to speak for a “counterculture.” The framing of this culture draws on the collective Dalit memory of suffering violence and subordination, which spurred attempts to freshly make and mould an identity that incorporates cultural symbols, practices, and icons. Yet the very exercise of forming an identity is a dialectical process. It engages with and attempts to recast the attributes ascribed to it by the upper castes and determined by the dominant paradigm of the caste hierarchy, while simultaneously creating and constructing new narratives. However, even as the lyrics of the music valorise a Dalit identity, its stickiness might prevent the performer from engaging with different selves that are not always defined by caste; the baggage that comes with the ascriptive identity of being a Dalit—“lowly and untouchable”—is hard to escape and turn into a badge of pride.

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Updated On : 29th Oct, 2021
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