A five-hour-long dance party at Champa Gali on a Saturday night doesn’t exactly pull people away from the EDM-thumping bylanes of Hauz Khas Village. Even then, there were enough dancing, singing, swaying and jumping to the reggae tunes pumping out of a giant, red sound system at the backyard of Jug Mug Thela in Said-ul-Ajab, Delhi. Called the Bass Foundation Roots Sound System, it’s been built by Delhi dancehall, ska and reggae artiste Taru Dalmia, and the event last fortnight marked the system’s debut.
A wooden structure, with a range of speakers and amplifiers, the sound system has been built especially to cater to reggae music. It’s the third such sound system in India. “I always wanted to build my own sound system. About a year ago, I began work on it. We began a crowdfunding campaign in November last year, and to our surprise, we managed to raise US$ 20,000,” says Dalmia, 33. He is now working on a 20-seater van to travel with the sound system.
The Champa Gali dance party started with the poetry of Punjabi folk musician Sant Ram Udasi. From thereon, the night belonged to Dalmia, his friends and old vinyl records. Begum X aka Samara Chopra took over the microphone, as Dalmia belted out old school dub. Sukhmani Malik of folktronica act Hari & Sukhmani did an impromptu performance as she layered a Punjabi ditty on a dub track. Zorawar Shukla of Reggae Rajahs too added spunk to the party towards the end. The stars of the night were four boys from Khirki Extension who rapped in Hindi and Punjabi on growing up in Khirki 17, as Dalmia played Africa must be free by 1983, a song by Jamaican reggae singer Hugh Mundell.
“These kids have grown up in front of me; they all used to learn bboying from He Ra in Khirki Extension. A few days before our debut gig, I was in the area, and found out they were working on a line of T-shirts. We asked them to launch the range at this event, and I realised they also rap. This was totally unplanned but so great,” says Dalmia.
While music played in the backyard, the Jug Mug Thela indoors were occupied by a mobile book store, also set up by Dalmia, with DVDs such as Red Ant Dream by Sanjay Kak and Jai Bhim Comrade by Anand Patwardhan, and books such as Animal World by Aurobindo Kundu and The Myth of the Holy Cow by DN Jha. There was also a Nigerian food stall at the venue, along with a pop-up by The Toddy Shop.
Once the 20-seater van is functional, Dalmia and Chopra would like to head to Hyderabad or Pune, where the student revolution is boiling. “With the sound system comes sonic domination, a sense of power. If any institution or group wants to hold an event, I can contribute with this sound system, and we don’t have to depend on corporates to dole out money,” says Dalmia. A few days before the debut act, he had posted a photograph of the sound system on his Facebook page, fresh from a paint job, with the caption “Lal Salaam”. “This is deliberate, the choice of colour,” he adds.