Reggae music is the people’s music says Bala Subramanyam

Driven by a deep interest in reggae music, the musician is captivated by the genre. CE learned more about his journey and passion in an exclusive interaction.
Bala Subramanyam
Bala Subramanyam

HYDERABAD: Music gives peace to the soul, transporting you to a world of happiness and satisfaction. Regardless of the genre, the positive aura it emanates is what connects most people. City-based Bala Subramanyam, an expert on Jamaican music culture, who also goes by his musical alias Dakta Dub has crafted a unique speaker box called the Monkey Sound System. Driven by a deep interest in reggae music, this musician is captivated by the genre. CE learned more about his journey and passion in an exclusive interaction.

Tell us about the music that you have been involved in?

I have been immersed in the music scene since 2004. My main focus is on reggae music from Jamaica. I discovered this culture in Budapest while I was pursuing my education. I joined an underground, non-profit radio station called Tilos Radio 90.3 FM, where I was mentored by a Hungarian sitar player. There, I was exposed to various musical genres by different DJs and programme makers. This experience helped me understand reggae, dub, hip hop, dubstep, and more.

What is special about this music?

Reggae music has recently been declared a heritage music by UNESCO, emphasising its need for protection and promotion. Historically, the British brought many Africans to the Caribbean islands, including Jamaica, as slaves. When slavery was abolished, bonded labour was introduced, bringing many Indians to the Caribbean in 1840. This blend of cultures led to a unique cultural and musical identity in Jamaica. Music became a medium of expression and freedom for the people.

What are you doing with this music?

Since returning to India in 2008, I have been promoting reggae music in Hyderabad, from small nightclubs to larger venues. An important aspect of Jamaican culture is creating your own speaker boxes. I built a sound system following the culture and technology of the 1950s, starting this project in 2018.

Why is the sound system called Monkey Sound System?

After returning home, I brought back extensive knowledge of underground movements and radio. While setting up my organisation, a monkey often visited my building. Seeing this as a sign, I named it Monkey Foundation. We started Monkey Radio India, inspired by Tilos Radio, and operated online from 2011 to 2018. It was a free platform on mixcloud.com featuring various global artists. We also launched Bass Sanskriti, a non-commercial event promoting bass music like reggae and dub. Now, we continue with the sound system.

Tell us more about sound system culture?

Sound system culture began in Jamaica in the 1950s, initially as a response to jazz music played in hotels that poor people couldn’t access. Coxson Dodd was the first to build a speaker system in Jamaica, setting up and playing music for the public. This led to the culture of rapping, which later influenced American hip hop. Following this tradition, I aim to keep reggae music authentic in Hyderabad and India by building a sound system, despite its challenges.

Tell us about your record collection?

I’ve been collecting records since my interest in this music began. I have about 2,000 records, with my favourite being Lee “Scratch” Perry, the guru of Bob Marley and innovator of bass music and remix culture.

Tell us about your performances in India?

Since returning to India, I’ve organised my own shows and gained recognition in various cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Goa, and Bengaluru. I’m the first DJ from Hyderabad to perform at major electronic music events like Sunburn, NH7, and Supersonic. I’m also involved in Goa Sun Splash and other sound system projects in India.

How do you think this music culture has evolved?

The strength of this music culture has driven its evolution. Despite the mediocre quality of club music and venues, we’ve successfully promoted this culture in Hyderabad. With the sound system, we’re attracting more youth who are beginning to feel its vibe. Experiencing it firsthand is the key to truly understanding it.

How would you like to expand this genre of music?

Reggae music is the people’s music. Moving forward, I want to bring it to more people in Hyderabad and beyond. We’re planning to introduce sound system culture to colleges, educating students about the technology and science behind music-making. We aim to raise awareness and appreciation for this culture among the younger generation. On August 15, we have a special event planned to invite everyone to experience it.

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