Hear from dedicated scene stalwarts Dakta Dub (representing Hyderabad), Delhi Sultanate (New Delhi), Rudy Roots (Goa), and Su Real (New Delhi), plus Italian singer Forelock as well as General Zooz (of the hosting Reggae Rajahs, who debuted their 10,000 Lions Sound System). Topics include the development of the Indian reggae scene and the massive collaborative undertaking it took to create the first Goa Sunsplash reggae festival.
This year’s lineup you ask?
TGT: Originally I was planning to do a bunch of ‘straight’ interviews, but the more I think after being here, it makes more sense to present various people’s words, to let them tell the story of how this came to be…
On The Creation & Buildup Of The Scene
Su Real: What’s happening now in India with this shit, people might realize it 10-20 years down the road, but it’s really the sparking of a cultural revolution in many ways. Remember, India’s always been a collectivist country, bands before were discouraged from playing original music… ‘these are the classics by these masters, and you play this shit.’ DJs and most artists even, were treated like jukeboxes – and still are. But now, there’s this growing awareness, not just on the side of the artist, but on the side of the crowd too, that there’s something more here than just the music.
Rudy Roots: Reggae Rajahs told me once that when they were teenagers, what was the reference for music, was coming from Goa: it was trance. Everybody listened to trance. Goa is like, an electronic place somehow.
Dakta Dub: When I was listening to more and more dub, I was like finding myself into my Indian roots. Like sadhu – sadhu is a meditation – dub is what I want to express, what I believe in.
Rudy Roots: When I came to India for the first time, just for travel, I didn’t listen to any reggae music anywhere [in 2007]. I traveled for like 4-5 years, and there wasn’t reggae. But then I decided to buy a computer, record my vinyl, come to India and just try it you know, try it in Goa, because Goa is the place for parties. There was only trance and techno parties and man, the first reggae already worked really well, and every time it’s growing, growing, growing.
I started with like a few friends, and then I went to make my own party alone, like playing three hours alone, no singers or people coming. And every week, for like 4-5 months. So slowly, slowly, it became like a really nice party, like Opinhal on Thursday.
Dakta Dub: After I came back to India [in 2008, after studying in Budapest, Hungary], we want to do our own radio station in Hydrabad, independent radio, which we play good music for everybody. I was approaching all the radio stations if I can do something on the radio, but most of the radio stations are mainstream: they cannot. So at that point, we didn’t have any option, so we made online radio called Monkey Radio India. It’s a not-for-profit organization, non-mainstream and we do classical music, we do a lot of community activities.
We just did last year, we played reggae music for school children, age 5-16, that was our audience, 400. We played in a basketball court in a community center, all the Indian reggae artists, we all come, and we played for the school children: it was a moment of celebration for us!
Rudy Roots: [My very first Goa reggae party] actually was in Anjuna, at Lilliput, a place where they organize many parties. Then in Arambol, I did Coco Loco, that was the famous place for parties. I still like that place, every Tuesday’s a reggae party there, for many years. Then I did my thing at a place called Sporting Heroes in Arambol, it’s closed kind of now, it’s a bar… but it became something really nice, and then we shifted to the beach at Opinhal.
I did my thing, I did reggae like how I want, and then also some people started to come and I shared the decks, and slowly slowly people know about this reggae party, people coming to India, they want reggae also. I think it started like last year (2015), really… the fourth season at Opinhal.
Su Real: A friend of mine started this little club [late 2008], and one of their first shows was the Reggae Rajahs. It was really like a little café. At the time in Delhi, there weren’t so many venues, there weren’t in general any public spaces where a younger crowd could go and hang out.
So when my friend Gautam started this place, The Living Room, TLR, his main intention, since he grew up in the UK, was he just wanted a place for artistic types to come and hang out. And that’s what happened… right when it opened, I handled all the events and marketing.
General Zooz: The strength of Reggae Rajahs is really that firstly there’s a crew of us, it’s not just one person, so that’s obviously a big advantage. But I think what we really intended to be were promoters of reggae music more than anything. When we started out as Reggae Rajahs, we met up, we realized that we loved reggae and no one was really pushing reggae in India.
We vaguely knew each other, Mo[City] was already in India, and me and Raghav [aka Diggy Dang] moved back to India from abroad, and we met at a Bob Marley anniversary that Mo was putting on, like a Bob Marley reggae show. We’re like, ‘this is wicked, we love reggae – let’s start promoting it.’ So we started just playing reggae from iPods and iTunes, laptops, like we had no idea about being DJs or one of the MCs, or anything like that. We just decided we really wanted to hear reggae and we started a reggae night, that was in 2009.
We started a weekly reggae night, and from that it just grew slowly, like we realized ‘OK, yo, we need to learn how to mix, let’s buy a controller, let’s figure out how we do this! OK, mic, let’s talk to the crowd and hype up the crowd, started MCing. It developed into something… Reggae Rajahs, that’s basically it.
It’s a promotional thing, we made it like a mission to spread reggae music more than anything. Delhi Sultanate for example, he’s a reggae man much more than any of us are in the Indian scene. He’s grown up with dancehall, with reggae, he’s got that really inside him. Whereas for us it came a bit later… and he’s much more of an artist, he writes lyrics, he’s a great artist. So, I guess, people were attracted to us, or get attracted to us, because of the promotional angle. Because that’s really our thing, is promotional.
So whether it’s Dakta Dub, whether it’s Delhi Sultanate, whether it’s Su Real – they see we’re doing our thing, and we don’t really give a fuck. We don’t care if you like reggae, you don’t like reggae, trust me – trying to promote reggae in India is a tough thing, it’s not an easy thing at all. But it’s like pure passion and energy, that’s why we have to be energetic on stage, we have to be passionate about what we’re playing, because then people see ‘OK, cool, these guys are really into it, let’s also try and get into it.’ Because otherwise, people… don’t really feel it.
Dakta Dub: One day I got a Facebook account and I searched ‘reggae India’ and I find Delhi, Reggae Rajahs. I hit them, I hit MoCity, and in one month I go to Delhi and we play together. So it was very good, we are buddies, brothers, it is a family… we all believe in this, and only this way we can take it further.
Rudy Roots: The first time I came here to play music, I contacted them [Reggae Rajahs] on Facebook. I checked, who’s playing reggae in India, I realized there is actually people, in Delhi. Anyway, I did my first gig in Arambol, like really what I want to do, it’s working really well. And the second one, one of the Reggae Rajahs, the founder MoCity came, and he came with Mr. Williamz. I actually, I didn’t know they would come. Roman NZ Selector, who came few years back, a bit before me, came also to play reggae, more dubby and… slowly, slowly, people come and it becomes like a team, a reggae team.
Forelock: Well, as I know, some years ago, one singer, one MC from the UK, you should know him, Brother Culture, came to India with one of these Sardinian guys called Pierre and he’s Realoveution Hi Fly. And they were touring all over India, and I think it was the first time Indian people were listening to some reggae coming from Europe.
Dakta Dub: For New Year 2012 [in Hyderabad] I asked for Rudy Roots, Gringo, Shy Roots, and a beatboxer from my city. And visuals, we have a very good visual artist… boom, we go there, there are about 400 people… and 1 girl. In India, how it is, all the common people who work, they have a small job or whatever, everybody want to go out for the New Year. They come, they thought ‘OK a DJ night,’ all those people got to experience something they never got to experience before. Not one request, ‘thank you – play us Bollywood’ or this and that, people want to hug all the MC, Gringo and Shy Roots and everybody!
This was three years back, now we have a lot of girls going for our dance in Hydrabad. In our gig, we keep it very, very friendly – no hyping – everybody come in the front, everybody dancing, everybody having their own time.
Forelock: It’s the first time in India [for me]. Pierre [Realoveution Hi Fly] connected me with the Reggae Rajahs two years ago, they came to Sardinia in the Sardinia reggae festival and I spoke with Reggae Rajahs and they were planning something for me here in India, but it never happened before. I like how the things are growing here and I’m so proud to be part of this situation.
Rudy Roots: Like every year there was more and more singers, talented… we have people coming, like Naâman, he came last year. He went to Nepal and then came to India. He wanted to travel and find inspiration for his new album. Reggae Rajahs told him to contact me when he comes to Goa. So you know he came and we made parties, and last year in Opinhal, was like madness. Madness.
For Goa for example, if you make one party, it’s not enough. Since I make every Thursday for 4-5 years, every Thursday people know it’s a reggae party. Mostly I manage to get good lineups, good vibes. We had so many good parties there and people ask for reggae, so many actually. Because before, it was not like this in Goa, people wouldn’t ask for reggae.
Su Real: Over the years I was able to build up a crowd and I just realized, the way things were happening, so much of India was a blank slate. You could step up and say ‘I’m gonna play reggae music,’ and you were the first person to do that. I’ve seen this happening throughout Asia, where for the new youth who have various reasons to feel a step removed from the past, they’re getting all the music and TV and stuff from abroad, and everywhere’s a blank slate.
On The Underlying Realities
General Zooz: What we have found and whatever relatively little success Reggae Rajahs has had, has been because in the last year or so, it’s like a spear-headed approach to our sort of promotion of reggae music and how we plan too. So one angle has been a commercialization – in a sense – of our show. So what we perform in Delhi, Bombay, Pune, Bangalore, whatever, at a club, is not pure reggae music. It’s not underground reggae, it’s not reggae, not dub, it’s not even dancehall. It’s more friendly stuff, like Major Lazer-type beats.
We have started to cross over into an electronic space, so we started playing a lot of remixes of dancehall tunes with an electronic kind of, like moombah, or twerk, or trap, or you know, this kind of vibe. So that’s one thing we’ve found that’s working, people are enjoying this whole ragga infused with hiphop or EDM or whatever it is. So the idea is we do our own original songs, which are a little poppy but on reggae riddims, we play a little bit of reggae and dancehall, but then we fill it up with this EDM stuff or this crossover stuff, so people at least are starting to open. We’ve had so much feedback over this past year, like ‘wow, we never knew reggae music was so much fun.’
We interact a lot – you didn’t see it at the sound system show, because, to be honest we’re sound system novices, sound system is not our thing. Our thing is being on a stage, making people go nuts! Getting them to jump, palance, getting them to do Jamaican dances, that is the vibe we bring. Pure energy, pure party – not sound system. But, we love sound system. So the first approach has been this commercial way, to open up people’s ears to reggae music, like ‘OK, research a bit, oh Chronnix is on that Major Lazer? OK, who’s this singer Chronnix, find out who Chronnix is, you know?’
That we’re hoping, is one way that reggae… the other way is the sound system and this festival, in particular. So we love sound system! We’re sound system novices, but we love it. We love the vibe, that is the true vibe, that is the real, what it’s about.
Su Real: EDM in general – however we feel about the term – that is the big word in the music industry in India right now. In my opinion it overshadows everything, in terms of non-traditional Indian music. The big sound in India was always rock ‘n’ roll, stuff that falls under that: blues, jazz, and then rock ‘n’ roll. Now it’s just straight up EDM, like that’s the sound of the youth today.
Dakta Dub: We do two ways of developing the scene. One is the community way and the other one is the clubbing way. In clubbing we play dance music, like dancehall, jungle, drum n bass, everything. We keep it strictly conscious, strictly underground. Bass Sanskriti is our club dance and Monkey Radio is our community and non-profit activities. So that’s how we do things, now we are playing in uptown, one of the main good-looking venues. It’s good, we have 200 people going for our dances, we do monthly, one gig… very small game.
Su Real: I’ve learned a lot from the way Rajahs figured out how to do things… we’re gatekeepers in a way, you have to be a conduit of information. What’s really helped us is that there’s this kind of mainstream zeitgeist, I don’t know if that’s the right word. For example “Hotline Bling” became a cultural phenomenon, so I’m able to use that to get people into what’s all behind it, you see what I mean?
So for example, when Rajahs first started – it was a lot of we have to play five to six Bob Marley songs a night, we still get to play all this other shit to get people into it. A year later, two years later, they really just have to play one Bob Marley song at the end of the night to keep everyone happy, but they could play all the other shit: old school shit, roots stuff. And what they’re also doing a lot is getting on the mic and educating people about the sounds. So in my own way, I’ve found that’s really the way to do it.
General Zooz: And then you’ve got this huge massive sound coming at you, it’s like a wave. If you think reggae is slow, you can’t move to it – listen to it on a sound system and tell me that you can’t move to this! So that is what India has to see! If they think reggae is just about smoking weed and chilling out, come listen to reggae on a sound system.
Delhi Sultanate: Very specifically, Jamaica was part of the same colony that we were a part of and it’s about emancipating yourself from mental slavery and it’s about decolonizing your mind. It’s also about, I think, giving strength and support to real liberation struggles which are happening on the ground. So for me the system is very much about that, like when we’re talking about ‘word, sound, and power,’ the power lies in the sound system. It’s about creating a space where there can be unity and there can be solidarity.
On Creating The Festival
General Zooz: We’ve been here [in Goa] for two-and-a-half months, I think that helped in terms of promotion, because I knew the way shit worked. As in, this is what we need to do, you know? Like posters, fliers are important, these venues are important, hit the hostels… I mean, I understood how promotion here works, observed all the different parties, how they were being promoted. Zero, zero [online], it’s all about posters and fliers and word of mouth. That’s where Rudy [Roots] really comes in, he has two events every week, so almost a month in advance we were at every event with presence, like banners, announcing ‘Goa Sunsplash’ on the mic, so the hype built up, word passed around.
Rudy Roots: They’ve been working on it a lot, with Dakta Dub, with Delhi Sultanate, also some people who organize parties, like KRUNK from Mumbai. I see it like this: when I came there was not much, there was a few people playing but you couldn’t make a real party. And then slowly slowly, it was like… some Indian people from the Shack in Opinhal, they liked reggae, you know, and they wanted to actually help it. Everybody gathering around reggae, like people even learning how to DJ here, it’s amazing man! Like some people they were musicians for many years, but never DJed. Started here, because we need people to play – now there are people actually!
General Zooz: We started [promoting] online very late, ideally online should’ve started probably five to six months before the festival. Where as we only decided to do this three months ago.
Dakta Dub [smiling]: … last two months, all the things went into the [10,000 Lions] Sound System, coming here.
Forelock: So Pierre from Realoveution, started to build up something here, and this sound system [10,000 Lions] is the starting point of the physical building up. The next step.
Rudy Roots: And nowadays, Pierre who came last year… he came with his brothers bringing speakers and build a sound system, and it’s like magic.
Delhi Sultanate: [Referring to his own just, at the time, crowd-funded Bass Foundation Roots Sound System], it’s about bringing reggae to the masses. It’s also about bridging social divides, because what’s happening at the moment in India is that, like in a lot of formerly colonized countries, the elite goes to nightclubs. The Anglicized kind of section of society goes to nightclubs. But reggae music is about fighting oppression, which in India is a very real fight.
We have a revolutionary guerilla army in the jungles, that tribals and the poorest of the poor are part of, and they have a lot of music that’s a part of it. Reggae speaks to them, reggae speaks to them. I mean if you listen to reggae music, if you listen to Bounty Killer, if you listen to what the artists were talking about in the 70s and 80s, it’s about liberation. So for me, that’s my personal kind of orientation, but for me to represent reggae music in an authentic and real way in India, it means to connect with those traditions and to play for those set of people. It’s like Sizzla says, reggae is not just about putting on red, gold, and green and playing some nice tunes, it’s about much more than that, you know?
Goa Sunsplash Success
General Zooz: I have to say, the community has been so supportive of this whole event. That is a huge blessing, right from the people who built the sound system to the artists who performed, to the volunteers who came and helped us, to artists and fans who came from all over the country just to support. They weren’t even performing at the festival but there were DJs there and people like yourself [The Groove Thief] who came from other countries to support, check the vibe – for me, that was overwhelming.
I was overwhelmed by the support shown by everyone for this cause and for this event. I mean, a lot of that is some personal relationships that we’ve built with the artists, where they’re OK to come and do shows for next to nothing, or, you know, nothing, for us, to help us build the scene and support us.
Forelock: It’s also a starting point because you cannot go in a place starting to shout something, ‘yeah I am the new trend. Join me!’ The people won’t join. But if you create something that seems to be big, like the Goa Sunsplash reggae festival – I saw it yesterday and it was really, really interesting, maybe it can activate some interest from the Indian side too. Maybe they will become curious, hope so…
General Zooz: That community vibe is huge. I mean, I guess there’s two levels: reggae in itself, the community is quite tight, so reggae musicians, reggae artists, they like to stick together. There’s usually that feeling of oneness and unity and everyone wants to help each other.
And in the same way, the Indian scene is like that too. It’s very small, the general music scene, forget reggae. The general Indian sort of alternative music scene is quite small, and it’s quite a close-knit community. So we had people like Su Real, or DJ Uri, or Tarqeeb, or Sickflip, these are artists who just came down to check the vibe, to support us, to be like ‘yeah OK, these guys are trying to do something for underground music in India, let’s support them, let’s play their pre-parties, play their post-parties, we’ll be around, spread the word’. Which is again, overwhelming for me, because that means not just reggae, but people doing other types of music, respect and appreciate what we’re trying to build. So yeah, very, very nice community vibe throughout the whole four days, for sure.
Rudy Roots: For me, it looks like it’s a new level this year, it’s kind of really beginning of Goa reggae vibes, although there was for a few years now… there is a reggae crowd now.
Forelock: I was surprised to know about Dewdrops, when they say, ‘we are the only reggae band in India,’ or maybe ‘the first one.’ I don’t know… I was like – what, really?! India is bigger than Italy, in Italy we have a thousand reggae bands, you know, so it’s crazy. They are in a good starting point, even if they are not even in a starting point, but they will grow up for sure, because they have the right models, you know, the right targets, and so they’re gonna grow up for sure.
“Dance Inna Babylon” is one of the biggest tunes, dub side we did, with Dub Files crew you know? That’s why they asked me, ‘you want to join us,’ I say, ‘OK of course, a pleasure.’ I really enjoyed it and I’m happy they were excited to let me come on stage. I don’t know if they’re used to have guests on their live shows, so they were a little bit scared. ‘You do the first verse, you do the second verse,’ I told them, ‘man, no problem, I will freestyle, you do your things, I will jump in and just connect with you’. Trust me, I will be supporting them for all life because they deserve it you know, they are like soldiers, they are the only reggae band, they bring their passion to the people. It’s all about music, it’s what we love.
Dakta Dub: I always look for the opportunity, where, how, I can play dub.
General Zooz: At the end of it, you’ve got to find your own, and that’s been something that Reggae Rajahs have always done. We don’t have a benchmark.
Forelock: Trying to reach the Indian people, the real Indian people, that I think is a really good thing, and I hope it’s gonna have more future.
And also, I don’t want to say it was just a touristic festival, because it wasn’t. I get stopped by a lot of young Indian guys and they were so interested to see ‘hey, what’s going on, is this a party?’ No man, it’s a festival, it’s a festival of reggae music.
Reggae music is something that comes from our heart, trying to give your messages, good messages, so try to get involved in this kind of thing. And I saw people coming from far, far away, because they know the European scene, maybe someone heard about the UK scene or Italian scene. I think it’s gonna work, I have no doubt on that.
Dakta Dub: We wanna bring more music to Hydrabad, more artists and…
Baba Jas [selector from Ahmedabad]: Original grassroots soldier, Dakta Dub!
Dakta Dub: Yes I!
The Groove Thief
.the future of dub is the present.
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