Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Give me red!

Published:Sunday | April 17, 2016 | 4:00 AM
Samara Chopra (Begum X), left, and Taru Dalmia (Delhi Sultanate), go strictly vinyl at the launch of BFR sound system.
A scene from Bass Foundation Roots sound system launch at Champa Gali, Said-ul-Ajaib, Hauz Khas, New Delhi, India.
A scene from Bass Foundation Roots sound system launch at Champa Gali, Said-ul-Ajaib, Hauz Khas, New Delhi, India.
Sonic Dominance, the bright red painted BFR sound system.
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It was an evening when alleys of one of the historic neighbourhoods of New Delhi came alive to the beats of music - Champa Gali, on April 2, and emitted more than the aroma of coffee, as the heady mix of dub plates and sound system took the brew and the atmosphere into a another level.

Wait! Is this India's capital we are talking about, dub plates did we say? Yes, you heard that right, the evolution of Tin Pan Alley is beating with new sounds of music, as Bass Foundation Roots (BFR), unveiled their sound system, painted bright red, to the world.

The crowd swayed, the beats resonated, and the venue, name of which means Plumeria Alley (Plumeria is a flower found in tropical and sub-tropical regions, and is fragrant in the night). The fragrance of this night was strictly vinyl.

The sounds of this party resonated in the narrow bylanes as music pumped from the red sound system making its debut.

For Taru Dalmia and Samara Chopra, lead singers of Delhi-based ska group Ska Vengers, the duo behind the sound systems, it was months of hard work - assembling a powerful stack of hand-built wooden speakers, power amplifiers, two turntables and a van, an analogue dub siren built by Benidub - and their acoustic dreams were being realised.

Dalmia and Chopra raised funds from an Indiegogo campaign for this project, one would have thought that India and reggae might not be a perfect choice for people, but the response was overwhelming.

"We began a crowd-funding campaign in November 2015, and to our surprise, we managed to raise US$20,000," said Dalmia.

independent music

The launch of the sound system, they said, is one of the marked events in the independent music community.

"Expect uncompromising sound quality and a strictly vinyl set," said Dalmia, who goes by the stage name, Delhi Sultanate.

But it is more than getting the beats right, the idea is to take the music to the people; if you can't party, the party is going to come to you.

"The BFR sound system was built to challenge India's narrow club culture and dependency on venues and sponsors by taking reggae, a genre historically painted by social, political and cultural dialogue, directly to the people," said Chopra, popularly known as Begum X on stage.

At the Jug Mug Thela (Glittering Cart) venue, as tunes of social liberation immersed the people, a mobile book store also made its debut.

"The book store has been inspired by mobile book stores that we have seen in Jamaica at reggae dances, where the subject of the books ranged from black liberation, to Rastafarianism to Jamaican ital cooking," Dalmia said.

The BFR mobile book store will accompany the sound system wherever it goes and features a small selection of books and DVDs featuring titles concerned with Indian and African liberation movements and authors.

Also available will be limited edition matchboxes designed by Chopra, stickers and BFR merchandise.

The speakers have been painted red, not merely to give a pop of colour, but to be a catalyst of social commentary and give voice to the oppressed. Reggae music, Jamaica's eternal and unequivocal gift to the world, is the medium that addresses issues of social justice and equality.

"The overall message is to foster a sense of unity and strength in communities and both the sound and the lyrics of the music carry this message," Dalmia said. "A sound system lends immense power to the music and has the ability to literally vibrate bodies and objects in its immediate surroundings."

The sound system, is not only a myriad and intricate confluence of technology and engineering. It is the soul of music, the sounds of which become an intense physical and communal experience.

Over the next year, the duo informed, that the BFR van will travel to different regions of India - collaborate with University campuses, people's movements, writers, thinkers and artists, to curate cultural spaces where critical consciousness can come together with the intense experience of sub bass being played over sound system speakers.

"Imagine for instance a protest or a political community meeting commencing or ending with a sound system session?" said Chopra.

India's freedom movement saw its share of bloodshed, oppression, tested the resilience of the people and charged the youth to fight against the colonial power. Bhagat Singh, a young freedom fighter said, "If the deaf are to hear, the sound has to be very loud"... the sound systems are now rolling on this journey of sonic dominance.

amitabh.sharma@hotmail.com