Sonic urbanism and sonic agency:
sampling and remixing the city
Sonic urbanism and sonic agency: sampling and remixing the city
Dharavi has many distinctive sonic signatures, from the stereophonic whir of sewing machines in upstairs rooms on either side of MG Road to the incessant clatter of the 13th Compound in full swing. The distinctivenes of its urban spaces is marked as much by their sonic signatures as their visual impact. Working with a group of young people from ACORN, composer Graham Jeffery spent some days gathering and harvesting sounds from the industrial spaces of the 13th Compound. These were built into a series of compositions which formed the basis of the soundtrack for the film Materials of Hope, collaborating with Balaji Devendra and Vishnu Nair of Old Brotherz, a hip hop collective that has developed from ACORN’s music led activities with young people.
Working with sampling and remixing technologies we developed a series of compositions, building up beats and samples that are composited together to make distinctive audio tracks to fit with various sequences in the film. This is part of an ongoing process at Compound 13 Lab of working with audio and found sound from Dharavi . This is undertaken partly to document everyday realities, and also as a pedagogic practice - a way of transforming everyday materials from the neighbourhoods into resources for invention and composition. We use technologies to recycle, reinterpret and reinvent sound in similar ways as resources are remade and repurposed through the material flows of the 13th Compound.
Playing with sound, music and words are also an important vehicle for engaging with the social realities of everyday Dharavi, which, over the last 15 years has become a prominent centre for hip hop production as an authentic inner city space of hope, possibility and youth politics.
Zoya Akhtar’s film ‘Gully Boy’, released to widespread praise in early 2019, tells the story of the rise of a young rapper from Dharavi. On the one hand, this is a familiar ‘rags to riches’/’Bombay dreams’ story but it also marks a moment of high visibility for the growing hip hop scene of Mumbai’s ‘gullies’ and something of a challenge to the politics of ethnic division and caste hierarchy that have been prevalent in many quarters in recent years. ACORN Foundation lead the celebrated youth music collective ‘Dharavi Rocks!’ as part of their work in informal learning through arts and media with young people.
There are particular politics of class, religion and caste in play but much of the emergent Hindi/Tamil/Marathi hip-hop scene draws on politically conscious traditions of public speech, asserting a kind of moral authority for India’s youth and a demand for recognition and representation. Implicit in the work is an assertion of human rights, of reclaiming the future and demanding a place in the city, as a form of ‘sonic agency’ that goes beyond the allure of the Bollywood imaginary and the spectacles of the creative industries. The value of initiatives like Dharavi Rocks is to publically assert the human potential of Dharavi’s young people.