BENGALURU: Last weekend, hip-hop group Street Academics faced something that might be considered every musician’s nightmare: The band’s performance at Foxtrot was cut short mid-song and they weren’t given a chance to sign-off either. This, only because audience members objected to the Malayalam portions in the songs.
Street Academics is not the only music group that has faced such a situation in the city. Other musicians too recall having undergone similar experiences. Ramya Vijaya Kumar, partner and artiste manager at Glitch Collective, recalls a music festival held in December last year, where artiste Dini Satheeshan’s performance was stopped midway.
“Dini was performing classical music while a DJ added trap and hip hop beats to it. Due to objection, they were made to stop, the lights were turned off and another DJ took over to play commercial tunes,” recalls Kumar.
Angarika Guha, manager of Gauley Bhai, a band that sings in Nepali, says they have never faced such issues. Guha is also a member of Maraa, and recalls other instances faced by the media and arts collective. “We curate a lot of concerts in Ravindra Kalakshetra, a space usually used for Kannada cultural events. We’ve organised Bhojpuri concerts there, and last year, we organised a rap concert to talk of issues of freedom of speech and expression. We invited Arrive x Ofro from Chennai, who raps in Tamil,” says Guha, adding that there were people in the audience who raised objections, because they were not rapping in Kannada. “It is common to hear remarks about ‘going back to where you belong’, or to assert a certain regionalism.”
Other bands, however, say they’ve faced more favourable situations. Willy Demoz from Peepal Tree (Hindi, Kanadda, Tamil, English) and Geeth Vaz from Lagori (Kannada, Hindi, Malayalam and Telugu) both said that though their performances were never disrupted, there have been times audience members have requested certain songs or a certain language to be played. Sachin Banandur from Parvaaz (Urdu, Kashmiri) expressed his concern at the prevalence of performances being halted due to language issues. “It exploits the basic freedom to express oneself. Artistes perform in various languages that reflect diversity. You can choose not to indulge in the act but you cannot stop one from performing their art,” he said.
Street Academics, however, is not finding their experience easily forgettable. As a reaction to the incident, they will be releasing a song this weekend.
This too will have some verses in Malayalam, and will shed light on the language discrimination. According to Vivek Radhakrishnan, the band’s producer, DJ, and manager of Street Academics, some inebriated customers objected about the Malayalam content being played and wanted the band to perform in English instead.
“We were playing our last song for the set but it was cut abruptly,” recalled Vivek, adding that since it was a pre-curated event, they couldn’t change the set. “The venue issued an official apology, but we hope it doesn’t happen again,” added Vivek.
In a statement put out on Facebook, Foxtrot said: We respect the artists and their work and have programmed multi-lingual acts ever since we ventured in to live performances; however to de-escalate the issue, safeguard our guests, artists and staff and to avoid a security lapse, we took necessary decisions to pause the show briefly. (sic)
Having played in Kerala and Hyderabad too, the band claims to have faced issues in two or three venues only in Bengaluru. “More than the language, the lyrics should matter,” said Vivek.