From time immemorial, music has had great power over emotions and the human psyche. As a powerful cultural weapon wielded to influence people, it is not only used for entertainment but also to convey social messages. Folk songs in Telangana are rooted in a culture where spoken words were sung to entertain; it was common for farmers returning from work to hum Haileso hailesa rhythmically to motivate themselves for next day’s work. Songs such as Nuvvu pedda puli and Mayadari Maisamma have not gone out of trend, and when we listen to them, it is difficult not to be moved by the music.
Of late, folk songs have undergone a stylistic change with an influx of rap in them. While the two may be strange bedfellows, having originated from different places and eras, there is a lot that is common between them. Rooted in oral traditions, community-driven narratives, they are popular for expressing the everyday pleasures and difficulties of life.
Rap into folk
“Rap is nothing but a way of storytelling. The culture was started in the early ’70s by Africans. Back then, rap was only meant to convey something to somebody in a rhythmic way using string instruments. In terms of traditional music, Jaanapadalu have existed since ages,” says Meghraj Ravindra, a rapper whose latest albums are Girl in the city and Sankranti pata.
Stylistically speaking, freestyle rap, when married with the spontaneity of singalong folk songs, works well. Just take the viral mash-up song, Rela re rela re which released on Telangana Formation Day, 2017. It took inspiration from the ancient style of storytelling called Burrakathalu, and gave a new twist to the song.
“There is a story behind every song similar to how rap works. Though social media has led to awareness about Western music, those in rural areas are still unaware of it. Seeing Rela re in a different perspective was interesting and new to them,” says Damu Reddy Kosanam, creative director of MicTv, who came up with a series of Telangana mash-ups apart from his famous Bathukamma song.
The two music genres may have a decade-long gap between them, but the fast-paced words of rap which bring crowds together with their social messages is not dissimilar to folk songs which have the same connect, only at the rural level. Rural people from Telangana may not have been highly educated, but their lyrics were brilliant as folks songs are generally passed down from generation to generation. During the Telangana agitation struggle, Podusthunna Podhumeedha Nadusthunna Kalama Veera Telanganama by revolutionary balladeer Gaddar, and Pommante Povera by Goreti Venkanna ignited passions of even the dispassionate. Their powerful lyrics were hot favourites among public, and even used as caller tunes and ringtones. Folk songs played a major role in bringing people together.
Purna Chander Badawath, a documentary filmmaker who introduced 1,500 folk artistes across Telangana including musicians, singers and lyric writers during the agitation, says, “Lyrics play a vital role in any Telangana song. Music is evergreen until and unless you don’t harm the soul of the song. Otherwise, it’ll survive only for a period of time.”
When Suresh Bobbili was working on the viral Bonalu song, his team merged the rustic vibe of the Bonalu festival with the peppiness of rap leading to an energetic song that was received well by the listeners eager to listen to something exotic.
“Most think rap is added to our music for a Western touch. It’s a misconception. Rap is not about rapidity of words or limited to yo-yos; it is used for connectivity,” says Suresh, music director of the Bonam and Needi Naadi Oke Katha.
Medium to express love
While detractors believe that it’s better to leave the original untouched, those from the industry prefer to state otherwise. The last few years have witnessed a trend of releasing songs on auspicious occasions which can be a festival or even the CM’s birthday.
“Releasing a song on an auspicious occasion is a trend now. For instance, to express love for our CM K Chandrashekhar Rao on his birthday, all regional channels, along with YouTube channels, have come up with songs now. The numbers have gone up in the past six years, and more than 100 songs were released on Bathukamma festival. It’s not just news channels that have been involved in directing these songs; YouTube channels and even local city cable owners in village mandals are working hard to bring out such content,” says Damu Reddy who is planning to experiment with various musical genres for such songs.
“Change is constant. There is some kind of development not only in the music industry, but in every field. Initially, many blamed the creators for experimenting with the Bathukamma song, but today the song is played worldwide,” says Kandikonda, lyricist.
Such mash-ups have become popular in urban areas during parties, long drives and even village weddings owing to their foot-tapping and jazzy tunes. It won’t be far-fetched to say their popularity trumps movie songs.
“Mash-ups are trending everywhere. Everything is Indo-westernised. I think the addition of western music is a good way to keep our folk culture intact,” says singer Lipsika Bashyam who is best known for her rap in Rela re. Some of the songs have made ambassadors out of the singers, like in the case of Mangli. “I became an anchor by chance, but when I was called for singing Rela re, I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. These albums gave me a new identity. At the women police academy, they sang Rela re rela re and dedicated it to me. Everywhere I go, people sing the lyrics, Adilabad nundi America varaku mana patale (from Adilabad to America people are humming our songs),” gushes Satyavathi, popularly known as Mangli.
Folk songs have been repurposed from the beginning of time to suit new contexts. For now, it is mash-ups, a few years down the line, music composers may explore another genre to cater to the ever-changing tastes of the audience.
A few best songs
Kaaryasadhakudu, CM KCR Birthday song – T News
Janani Janani Janani, Jai Telangana by Mittapalli Surender -V6 News
Vilambi Nama Samvatsaram, Ugadi song by Madhu Priya – TV1
Rela re rela re, Telangana formation day song by Mangli – Mic Tv
Maa Pallekochindi Sankranthi – Yoyo TV channel