Sunayana Wadhawan, Sound Artist and Music Director
It all began with the young women of Madanpur Khadar, when they voiced their idea for expressing their thoughts and experiences in the city through a song. Inspired by the youth and emerging alternative media around them, the young women began envisioning themselves as being heard and becoming visible in the fast internet world.
Music is a powerful instrument to connect with people, their personal experiences and their struggles. It is present in the personal as well as public spheres of our lives, and has the potential to overcome social and physical boundaries within and across communities. This was their first time trying their hand at an experiment with evolving genres of music like hip-hop and slam poetry, and we collectively turned it into an opportunity to find our voices, our rhythms, our styles, and think more deeply about our reasons for engaging with music.
- Introductions and discovering rhythms: To work together, it was important to first get to know each other and share our personal stories and struggles, issues that affected us the most, our aspirations and our love for music. We respected the stories each one of us shared with the group, these stories accompanied by tears, laughter and much more. We also searched our memories for issues and incidents that affected women in cities to bring alive narratives and people’s stories previously missing in our conversations. While we acknowledged that our bodies were a site of violence in the city, we also discussed notions around desires for freedom linked to our bodies. This also led us to explore how and why we enjoyed dancing to songs from different regions and understanding how rhythms flow through our bodies and can give a sense of freedom of movement.
Apart from clapping and dancing, one of the exercises I conducted was an attempt to find a shared rhythm using a timing that we are all familiar with – the sounds made when we wash clothes. It was an extraordinary moment as all the women had different styles of washing clothes and each one of them was well versed with the actions and sounds involved in washing clothes – a domestic chore often delegated to women in the house. We all settled on one of the easier-sounding styles that helped us make the sounds collectively in rhythm and in unison.
- History of hip-hop and finding your own genre: From discussing the history of hip-hop as a medium of protest and expression, to observing how hip-hop has been embraced in India over the last few years, we watched videos and grooved to different songs to become more familiar with the sound and delivery of messages through spoken word/hip-hop music. We also watched videos of emerging female hip-hop artists in India like MC Kaur, Dee MC as well as songs like ‘O Womaniya’ that revive local dialects, music instruments and traditions with the help of technology. We did a few exercises to come up with rhymes in Hindi and English, inventing words to find a way to express ourselves and help us warm up to writing our song.
- Lyric writing: Taking from the conversations we had during our introductions, each of the women penned down their own story as well as the stories of others they had learnt about from the news or even their neighbourhood, in the form of prose, poetry and couplets. The challenge here was to let different stories emerge and express them in the least amount of words possible. We worked on the stories and rephrased them, added rhymes to them, and began reciting them to each other. We then stood in circles and recited different verses alongside some hip-hop tracks I had prepared for our sessions. This process also helped us edit and put the verses in an order that allowed the stories to become more connected and cohesive as one collective narrative, while at the same time retaining everyone’s individual voices and words.
- Recording, tracking and mixing: Initially, we had planned to hire a studio and gain experience of working in a studio environment, surrounded with all its technologies, as budding artists. However, constraints on time, and being unable to get all the women to a studio for several hours on the same day, limited our options. We decided to take inspiration from our situation, absorbing it into the process of creating this song, and borrowed a good quality sound recorder to record each of the women singing/reciting different parts of the song. Their voices echoed through the lanes of the neighbourhood when they were practicing and collectively recording parts of the chorus and other lines. It was challenging to balance the sounds of a busy neighbourhood and the sometimes timid voices of women who were finding their inner strength to do justice to the emotions they tried to express in the song. Yet, we managed to find spaces in their homes, and Jagori’s local office, to record to our best abilities as the women juggled between their responsibilities and their excitement for recording their very first song.
Once the recordings were done, we heard them out and selected those that were well-recited and fit well with the tempo of the base track. After organising each of the voice clips of the track on software with the help of sound professionals, we worked with, and gave inputs to, the sound professionals to ensure the tracks were mixed in a way that separated each of the voices without making them sound disconnected.
Then came the most exciting moment for all of us – to hear the final track together. It was a Sunday again, and most of the women who took part were present during our first collective listening session. The happiness in the room was evident from the smiles on everyone’s faces at hearing their own voices in the final version of the track. Some of the women were so overwhelmed at their achievement that they had tears rolling down their cheeks.
It has been a wonderful and enlivening experience to be a part of this journey to find our voices, imbibe the joy and power possessed by music, and witness a growing sense of pride and confidence in the women as they expressed hope to continue making more songs and spread powerful messages in their city.