Words by Eddie STATS Houghton
When I interviewed Beenie Man for the first time around 2004 I asked him about where he’d traveled to do shows on his recent tours and he answered “to the world and back…imagine me in a stage show in a place like India. It’s crazy because they know the foundation of the music. You got Bombay, reggae music is like the national music, everybody want to be a deejay.” I think he must have been referring to the fact that many Indian folk rhythms gel naturally with Jamaican music (more on that in a future post) because I had just been to India the year before and the only reference point most people I met there had for reggae was “I Like to Move it Move it,” Apache Indian and if you were lucky, Bob Marley. Occasional Bollywood tracks gave a nod to the art of deejaying, but it generally consisted of some stray Nigerian or maybe a dude from the Seychelles getting roped into doing a bad imitation of patois–not bad meaning wicked but bad meaning borderline offensive.
By the time I returned to do a South Asia DJ-tour in 2005, things were already changing fast. Artists like Sean Paul and Nina Sky were making inroads via cable video channels and an influx of tracks by a new generation of UK-based South Asian artists meant that even the Bollywood faux-chatting had been kicked up a notch in credibility. This reverse-colonization shows no signs of stopping. In fact, one of my side-hustles on that 7-city tour was giving DJ workshops in a variety of schools and colleges and a student who attended one of those recently tracked me down to put me in touch with a crew of her friends, who have launched the first proper Jamaican-style soundsystem in India. That crew is called the Reggae Rajahs and what follows is an exclusive interview documenting their progress to date on a mission to reggae-fy the sub-continent.
LU: Who all comprises the Reggae Rajahs?
RR: Raghav Dang aka Diggy Dang (India), Jun Morikawa aka DJ Jun (Japan), Zorawar Shukla aka Mr.Herbalist (India), Mohammed S. Abood aka DJ MoCity (Iraq) .
Q: How long have you existed as a soundsystem? How did you get started?
A: Our first gig as a soundsytem took place on Thursday April 2nd 2009. It all started at a Bob Marley tribute gig in New Delhi on the eve of the legend’s birthday; February 5th 2009. DJ Mo City and DJ Bellyas from Housewive’s Choice (Melbourne, Australia) were selectors for the evening. Diggy and Mr. Herbalist were present and it was their 1st reggae experience in India after coming back to their hometown from college. Rest is history, we collectively decided to start a community and a sound system to help promote reggae music in India. After our first gig together, we decided to do weekly nights at two different venues every Thursday and are gradually building a following and bringing awareness to the people.
Q: How did you (individually) first get exposure to reggae music? Was it in India? Abroad?
Mr. Herbalist: Mum and Dad’s Bob Marley, Inner Circle, UB40 and Yellowman CDs when i was growing up. Reggae music took on a different meaning for me once I went abroad for university. Saw many established reggae artists perform live in Boston and that was that…
Diggy Dang: First exposed to Reggae music while living in London, attended numerous reggae festivals and concerts across Europe.
MoCity: Bob Marley mixtapes on Goa beaches in India, early 2000.
Q: Your soundcloud page seems to run the full spectrum of reggae from one drop to “Pon de Floor”–how would you describe your signature sound? Do the individual members have different specialities or preferences?
Diggy Dang: Roots Reggae, Dub, Modern Roots, Lovers Rock, Ska/Rocksteady
Mo City: hip hop influenced; club-oriented dancehall tracks along with some dubstep & jungle
Mr. Herbalist: liked both, so balancing effect.
Q: I also see quite few tracks listed as RR dub plates—how deep is your dub box? Have you clashed other sounds either in Asia or globally?
We clashed with BassFoundation, a Delhi based Drum n Bass/Jungle soundsystem. We would love the opportunity to clash with international sounds once we have fully established ourselves in the scene. Our dub collection is growing but of course Isn´t as deep as some established sounds – we are still a young crew! but we definitely got some killa dubs ranging from artists like John Holt, Anthony B, Junior Kelly and Albarosie. We help promote local acts such as Delhi Sultanate, who cuts exclusive dubs for Reggae Rajahs.
Q: What’s the reaction to reggae from an indian crowd? Does it play strictly with a hipster/uptown crowd with more worldly tastes or can you play it in a bollywood set ie for a more mass audience? Does it vary from Delhi-Mumbai-Bangalore etc?
We have to vary our tracks from gig to gig. Since reggae is a relatively new genre for Indian audiences, it is important that we play them familiar tunes ie Sean Paul or Mr Vegas. Also, for club nights, we tend to generally play more dancehall sounds because Indian people love to dance and find it easier doing so with straight up dancehall rather than vibing to some roots. In Delhi for example, we have been introducing our sound for a while now and are able to mix up dancehall and more relaxed stuff while still keeping the crowd grooving. I think to fully appreciate reggae you have to understand the full musical spectrum that it covers and eventually we should be able to mix all sorts of sounds into our nights in every Indian city we play.
Q: Are you interested in fusing reggae with South Asian styles or are you reggae purists?
Definitely up for fusing reggae with South Asian styles. In fact a Bhangra beat can make an excellent dancehall riddim. We see that with the Bollywood riddim, Diwali riddim and also Punjabi MCs “Beware of the Boys.” Apache Indian was obviously a pioneer in this sense and hopefully we can continue his legacy to an extent. The more local flavor you can bring out at a show, the crazier you make the crowd, right?
Diggy Dang: Through our various Reggae Rajahs nights last year, I was able to interact with an eclectic group of Indian musicians and form a ska band, The Ska Vengers. We do covers of some classic ska/rock steady and roots reggae songs, as well ska-ify well known Bollywood songs from the 60-70s, one of them being “Dum Maro Dum,” a favourite at our shows, that gets everyone skanking.
MoCity: Remixing major Indian riddims with some heavy basslines, making some new sounds . We are also working on releasing our own riddim around February 2011 featuring artists from all over the world.
Q: There was a time when the only recognizable reggae artists in india were Apache Indian and maybe Bob—has the global success of JA artists like Sean Paul changed that? Or are there other more important factors?
I think the global success of caribbean artists like Sean Paul, Damian Marley, Collie Buddz etc has definitely changed the face of reggae in India. I think reggae is a lot more popular in India than it was in the past but obviously its still mainly artists that make it to the Billboard countdown, artists that are involved in the mainstream pop/hiphop scene as well. There is a big hiphop following in India and since dancehall and hiphop go hand in hand in some ways, songs by artists such as Elephant Man and Mr. Vegas are familiar to the an Indian audience. We´re hoping to take it to the next level. We want reggae heads at every show we play in India – we want natty dreadlocks, we want Jamaican flags waving, we want air horns, we want people actually requesting songs!
What are some of the craziest RR gigs from your highlight reel?
- Our 1 year anniversary celebration coincided with the Bob Marley 65th tribute; a 3-day Festival, at 3 different venues and 3 different shows from 5th-7th of February 2010. Included collaborations with Graehme Hamilton, live bands paying tribute to Bob Marley + screening of his documentary.
- 1st Mumbai Gig
- 2nd Pune gig with Delhi Sultanate
Paint us a picture of a typical RR bashment, what makes it different from a reggae dance anywhere else in the world?
What makes Reggae Rajahs gig special is that you will be rounded with people from all over the world. All have similar interest in music, listening to some crazy mixes from lovers rock to new age dancehall all the way in India the heart of bollywood . Our flags, our sound and even our very own rum punch that we freshly prepare for each gig .
Q: Whats are the future plans for RR?
- Keep popularising reggae sounds, exposure to more people across the country.
- CLASH if we get the chance.
- Bring various reggae & dancehall artist down for concerts .
- Eventually host a festival in India
- Bringing down old soundsystems to showcase their style and help the crowd understand the culture more (Heartical Sound System is coming down for 2 shows in July and August)
- relase riddim in 2011