On a breezy Saturday evening, in the city’s pseudo winter, a band of 19 members, dressed in identical outfits, took to the stage amid loud cheer from a crowd of over 5,000 people at the CSI Bains School, Kilpauk.
The audience, much like the band members themselves, was across class and music sensibilities.
That in itself is perhaps the first victory of The Casteless Collective (TCC), an initiative by filmmaker Pa Ranjith to turn the spotlight on the hitherto-ignored music of the masses. “We weren’t expecting so many people. It was quite encouraging and very emotional for us,” says music producer Tenma who had started the Madras Indie Collective, a space for independent artists to meet, collaborate and showcase their work. Madras Records, a music label run by Tenma, Santosh Kumar and Arun Ranjan, has joined hands with the Neelam Cultural Centre, helmed by Pa Ranjith, to organise TCC.
The concert, unlike most others, didn’t have the audience head-banging or jumping in the air. Rather, the audience listened with unwavering attention as the band performed pieces on topics ranging from the life of Dr Ambedkar to manual scavenging and to the recent debate on quota and reservations.
Another number, Madrasin Magizhchi, portrayed the little joys of living in Chennai, despite being poor. Ever since the concert, TCC’s videos have been doing the rounds on the internet as well.
“Music is a powerful tool. We don’t want to be just another band and make money at concerts and sell albums. We want to address issues that plague our society, our kids, our women and children. As artistes, it is our responsibility to use our art as a conduit to deliver message to the society,” adds Tenma.
Apart from rock musicians, rappers and a sole female artiste on the stage, were also two instrumentalists on the katte and chatti, percussion instruments that are played during funeral processions. In the run up to the concert, the members also took an effort to learn and understand each other’s music for over a month. While the gaana singers learned how to sing to the tune of a guitar, the rock musicians trained themselves in rapping.
The rap artistes immersed themselves in the beat and mood of the katte and chatti.
“We received a lot of positive feedback for this. At the end of the day, the main idea is to promote independent music and musicians no matter where they come from. These forms of music, like gaana, speak the language of ordinary people and bring to fore their everyday problems,” adds Tenma who is confident that TCC will soon emerge as a political movement.