Bombay celebrates reggae sound-system style
When it rains, it literally and figuratively pours in Mumbai (Bombay), the western Indian city synonymous with the Hindi film industry, Bollywood. As the rain pelts, the sea splashes waves along the city's famous promenades.
On such a rainy evening on July 4, India's financial capital warmed itself vicariously in the crisp Jamaican sunshine as beats of reggae resonated in the air with India's most prolific reggae and ska crooners, Delhi Sultanate and Begum X.
It was a trip down memory lane, and as nostalgia and timeless hits were delivered, the duo went old school.
"We wanted to present Jamaican sound-system culture, so we decided to keep everything analogue," Delhi Sultanate said.
"It was strictly vinyl, playing dubplates and 45s. Begum X and I sang over B-side instrumental versions," he said.
Music has no language and knows no barriers. Delhi Sultanate and Begum X gave India a taste of Jamaican music - a marriage of jerk sauces with the Tandoori delicacies. The result: beats reaching crescendos for International Reggae Day (IRD) celebrations.
The trans-continental cultural connection between the two countries pulsates with vibrancy, and as one flips through the pages of history, the contemporary similarities are evident.
"The cultural connections between Jamaica and India range from yoga and wellness to reggae and Rasta," said Andrea Davis, conceptualiser of IRD.
"Reggae music is making inroads into the Indian music scene, and Delhi Sultanate and Begum X are India's foremost reggae artistes and IRD ambassadors," Davis said. "It is their passion, and the work they are doing in India is to introduce Jamaican music lifestyle culture, which makes them the perfect emissaries."
ON A MISSION
The couple is on a mission to create a confluence of music in divergent cultures.
"Music has the ability to bring people from different backgrounds together," said Delhi Sultanate.
The gig in Mumbai was not only to celebrate IRD, but to give an insight into Jamaican music.
"We wanted to give people a sense of the broad spectrum of Jamaican music and decided to give them a taste of ska, rocksteady, roots, and dancehall," he said. This was all in one night. "They get a sense of how rich and varied this musical tradition is," Sultanate said.
As their reggae story unfolds a new chapter, they will soon be hitting the life on Indian highways.
"Reggae music is still largely an urban phenomenon, but this will change this year. We are currently in the process of building India's first reggae sound system, along with a sound truck," Delhi Sultanate said. "This will allow us to do shows and take the music into the interior of India."
This apart, they are working on two more projects. Their band, The Ska Vengers, is working on their second album and they are planning to release an animated video, Frank Brazil, on July 31.
The video revisits one of the most horrific massacres during India's freedom struggle. On April 13, 1919, a crowd of non-violent protesters were fired upon by troops of the British Indian Army, under the command of General Reginald Dyer, in the northern Indian city of Amritsar. The Jallianwala Bagh massacre left 370 persons dead and 1,200 wounded.
This video, Delhi Sultanate informed The Sunday Gleaner, tells the story of Udham Singh Shaheed, who survived the massacre as a child and then travelled to England to assassinate General Dwyer.
"Begum X and I are also working on a project with Jamaica's legendary label Studio One for a full-length vinyl LP, Studio One Comes to India," he said.
These citizens of the largest democracy in the world are looking to journey to Jamaica to spread love through their music, the universal language.
"We hope to come back to Jamaica soon," said Begum X. "We would love to take our Afghanistan reggae project on tour there and see how people react to the music."