Shot by- Ajinkya Karale
Rap and Revolution with Saurabh Abhyankar
Rapper 100RBH talks about the power of unity for reform in our society
He craved the spotlight; all he wanted was to be on stage. Saurabh Abhyankar, Amravati potta was well on his way there as a dancer when he heard Pradip Kashikar rap verses in his mother tongue Marathi! This was wild. This was inspirational. The idea that one could write one’s thoughts down, that those thoughts could be an art form, could be rap and that this could actually give one a place on stage set Abhyankar off on a journey. From sharing his music with his audience via Bluetooth to now being part of hip-hop crew RapHopper from Amaravati and artist collective Swadesi Movement, he has come a long way. He recently released his first solo EP Bahas which has tracks that infuse rap with folk music and qawwali beats. In all his songs, Saurabh is known for talking about social issues through his verses. Known as ‘100RBH’ in the hip-hop community, Saurabh is the first rapper from Amravati.
He is disarmingly clear about the move from dance to rap: “Dance made me happy but rap gave me attention. People would ask about my songs. With time, my perspective underwent a shift when I read the words of Tupac. Tupac was revolutionary. He didn’t waste time with glamour. He actually tried to be there for his fans and took responsibility for them. He treated his fans like brothers and cared for them like family. Similarly, if I am getting attention, I decided, something good should come out of it and my mother should also feel happy when she sees me. I felt that rap is where I could give my 100%.
“Growing up a Buddhist, I used to attend several protests with my community where we heard stories of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, Anand Shinde, Milind Shinde and Shahu Maharaj. I didn’t take these protests seriously. My vision changed after the Khairlanji Protests. I realised that if the people from my community could face injustice, it could happen to me too. I understood why Babasaheb fought for the rights of Dalits. And if my voice is reaching the masses, I should at least try to inspire the kind of change that they did. That’s when I decided to raise my voice for the rights of people,” he says.
Rapping changed Saurabh’s perceptions of his own problems and helped him realise that he was not alone in what he felt. He says, “When I first started rapping, I did it only for popularity. I used to write about all the things I used to feel and think that I was the only one feeling those things. When I used to release my songs, people would come back to me and tell me they could relate to my words and that it happens to them too. It is very easy to overlook the issues that plague our society. I want to bring justice to the people of our society and that’s why I write about the issues that matter.”
He adds, “Rap is my most significant instrument to get my voice heard. It is my way of making my thoughts reach my audience. I was afraid that educated people who speak English wouldn’t accept me but when I went on stage, I saw that they were accepting of my slang. That’s when I realised that I must do this because this can bring about change. I just felt right and that’s why I do it.”
He says that the perspective of the people of his hometown has changed because of him. They now see music as a legitimate career. Several kids want to follow in his footsteps. What makes him the happiest though, is his mother’s response. He says, “My mother has always been supportive of my every endeavour. She once believed that men could assert ownership over women simply because they were the providers. I had to remind her that she is her own person too. She has rights and she has the potential to achieve everything she desires. She’s happy that I talk about her struggles as a way to bring about a change in the lives of the women of my generation. She’s proud that I make songs that she can play for anyone.”
Saurabh’s mother, Vandana Abhyankar says, “Saurabh has always been stubborn about pursuing the things he’s passionate about and I think that is what made him the person he is now. All we wanted for him was to get an education and then a job. He was also doing well in academics. He, however, always nurtured a passion for the arts. He enrolled himself for dance classes and performed in shows even though we never went to see him on stage. He would be called to dance during the Ganesh Utsav festivities. We would tell him not to go. He would not only sneak out of the house without our knowledge but also come back with prizes! When he started rapping, people heaped praise on him. I thought it was just him singing songs. He then explained to me what it really means and what it means to him. He never hides a thing from me. I can now explain what he does to anyone who asks about it. I tell them that he does it well. He educates himself about everything that goes on in the world, writes about it and makes sure that it reaches the masses through his music. He makes all of us at home happy with his work. I am very proud of him!”
Saurabh is known for his vibrant onstage persona and speaking his mind about things that irk his conscience. His music talks about issues like capitalism, casteism, fascism, poverty and unemployment that exist in our society. When I asked him what his idea behind using music to spark awareness and bring about change was, he says, “When we talk about relatable, real and shared experiences, those things remain in your head. People feel motivated to stand up for what they believe in when they realise that their experiences and feelings are not isolated. And if someone takes a step for the betterment of society, there’s nothing greater than that for me. Rap is the kind of medium that makes people want to be better while also enjoying it.”
He feels that rap is the medium that helps him keep it real. “Rap gives me the freedom to talk in the language of my choice. I don't have to pretend like I know how to speak in English. I don’t need to have fashionable clothes to be able to go on stage. When you rap, it’s what you think that matters. Rap gives me the right to put my thoughts forward in the way I would if I were at home talking to my mother. I feel that the audience accepts me for the way I am. I don’t have to put up an act. It lets me talk about things like patriotism in a club! There is no better way to talk about patriotism in a club other than through rap,” he says.
Shot by- Ajinkya Karale
Abhishek Sindolkar who goes by the name RaaKshaS is the man behind the beats that make people groove to Saurabh’s words. He says, “Saurabh is my brother. I really love his vibe. Saurabh’s style is heavily influenced by folk music and roots music. We enjoy taking the groovy elements of old folk songs and then mixing them up. Music is all about having fun but it’s also conscious. It has a message. With him, it’s like a perfect balance of dhangad dhinga and conscious lyrics. When Sau approaches me to compose beats for his work, I get as excited as a child. This is because our tastes match and we like doing the same things together. If you’ve heard the recently released EP, it was entirely his idea to use qawwali and mix the beats up. His music isn’t exclusively for a specific kind of crowd. It’s not just for the people who go to clubs on Saturdays. His music is for everyone.”
Neha Kandalgaokar, a fan of Saurabh’s says, “Music made with a pure heart and revolutionary intent has ways of changing you every time you listen to it and Saurabh manages to do that well. His music is an amalgamation of his roots, his reality and his opinions. His ardent truthfulness helps him delve deeper into my consciousness and help me see through this facade that society presents. Saurabh's songs are a major part of the counterculture that has been sidelined for way too long.”
Citing a song from his latest EP Bahes, Neha continues, “A song worth mentioning is Chadhta Suraj which has Anand Shinde's verses. Among the many things Saurabh talks about, one is the institutional murder of Dabholkar, Pansare and Justice Loya. All these leaders were deeply involved in the annihilation of caste and have been silenced brutally. We can't forget that brahmanical elements still rule the society and their hold over keeping the caste system in place is still strong. When we have voices like Saurabh’s, we know that the revolution is not dead. Saurabh dares to talk about constitutional violations despite sedition cases being slapped around carelessly but tactfully. By taking Anand Shinde Bhimgaan, it is refreshing to see an artist bring to the table what the society marginalised and shamed and show it in all its pride and glory.”
Listen to Saurabh's Chadta Suraj by clicking on the image
Saurabh visited Singhu border in January 2021 to express solidarity with the protesting farmers. In the past, he along with Swadesi Movement took part in the ‘Save Aarey’ Campaign. They released the song The Warli Revolt featuring Adivasi activist Prakash Bhoir from Aarey in 2019. They also took part in the protests against CAA-NRC in December 2019. The footage from these protests was featured in the song Kranti Havi featuring Delhi based reggae artist Delhi Sultanate which was a part of their debut album Chetavni.
He believes that protests are a right we must all exercise to get our voices heard. “Protests show unity. One can write letters or put posts up on social media, but protests are more impactful because people are physically present there. It shows that people are facing an inconvenience because of something and they have gathered together to voice it. It makes the government sit up and notice. Protests show the power of a united population. I might write a song and the government may or may not listen to it, but if I go to a protest, the government will definitely take notice and I would have been a part of it and that is my contribution.”
About his time at Singhu Border, Saurabh says that he was simply doing his bit for the cause of the farmers. He says, “ I come from a family of farmers. I saw peace and unity at Singhu Border. It felt like being with family. People took care of each other and made sure that everyone’s needs were met. What I learnt from here is that when you take care of the people who show up for you, it’s easier to focus on your goals without distractions. The proof of one’s existence is one’s voice. Therefore, it is important that when I have a brain to think for myself, I should raise my voice for what I believe in.”
Aditya Singh, an environmentalist and filmmaker went to Singhu with Saurabh. He describes his relationship with Saurabh as ‘fan se friend tak’. Aditya met Saurabh during the protests against the metro shed inside Aarey colony while already being a fan of him and his collective Swadesi. Aditya says on watching Saurabh perform, “I used to watch him at gigs and be astonished at the way he used to say things because the place and community that I come from has seen similar tactics of oppression by the upper caste. I never knew that hip hop can also be something that could help me speak to people about what I’m feeling. So when I listened to him, it felt like this is ME. It helped me a lot in putting together what I was feeling.”
About their shared experience at Singhu, Aditya says, “We were not performing at Singhu. We didn’t go there because it was about us. We went there because we care for our family at Singhu. We also got to understand community living better because there are no hotels that you can check into at a protest. You have to sleep on the streets and help each other survive. Going to Singhu with Saurabh was exciting at first. But through the course of the journey, I got to understand him beyond his music. His journey of where he comes from gave me a deeper sense of why he does what he does.”
In the end, Saurabh says, “There are divisions among the people who come out to protest. We separate the women from the Dalits, from the farmers, from the Workers’ unions, from the climate warriors. We forget that the people in power at the top are the common enemy. All these groups of people need to come together to understand what they are each going through to mobilize against the common enemy.” He adds by saying, “One person standing up to the powerful cannot yield as much power as people who come together collectively can. The people in power need to know that you are not alone. We are one family and we need to show up for each other.
Saurabh believes that the best ways to leave your mark in this world are by not hurting others, but rather making people laugh as often as one can and doing things that are beneficial for everyone around oneself.
Shot by- Ajinkya Karale