Sometimes I wonder how the hell
am I still alive,
84 was the year that changed my life
Already had my mind made up at
the age of five,
Cause I remember that’s the day that my daddy died
In 2013, along a backing beat and violin, Birmingham-based rapper Kaur crooned these lines on Coke Studio @MTV in Kattey — a song produced by ace composer Ram Sampath — and gave us a glimpse into her life. Kaur was referring to the 1984 riots, a year after which her depressed father committed suicide.
Through the song, Kaur created a unique world. With Rajasthani folk artiste Bhawari Devi, who was singing a devotional Pabuji ki phad, Kaur struck a chord. She was not just stylistically interesting; she was making a point about her life and using a cultural reference to do so. Till then Kaur had entertained us with popular commercial numbers such as Move your body with Shankar Ehsaan Loy in Shridhar Raghavan’s Johnny Gaddaar (2007) and a couple of numbers in Patiala House (2011), among others.
This week, Kaur’s social media posts on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has led to an FIR by the UP police, after a complaint was made by Varanasi-based lawyer Shashank Shekhar. The complaint has been recorded under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, etc), 500 (defamation), 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of IPC and section 66 of IT Act.
Born as Taran Kaur Dhillon in Kanpur, Hard Kaur moved to Chandigarh to her maternal grandparents’ home after her father’s death. Kaur, in the past, recounted that her mother was coerced into marrying a Birmingham-based, older businessman. In the UK, the 10-year-old Kaur was bullied at school for being different — she didn’t speak proper English and was Indian. Eventually she grew tough, got into hip-hop and left the coy girl she was behind.
In previous interviews, Kaur said she took action against her stepfather, who would beat her mother and made sexual advances at her, and handed him to the cops. In Kattey, she sang, “Chose my weapons wisely, you can’t break me/ 93 I found the sound that would save me/ For every single time my stepfather tried to rape me/ Man you don’t know what music gave me.”
Hard Kaur has had a complicated life and many stories to tell. At 15, she began performing at the famed nightclub The Dome in Birmingham and word spread about an Asian girl rapping her heart out. She wrote more. And after performances in London, she cut her debut album Brathe and crooned, “We’re not born for cornershops and 7/11s/ Your country’s shit/ You took all our jewels/ Your Queen is dead.” It worked but not for the market. So she took to Bollywood and Hindi lyrical hooks that she didn’t sound comfortable singing. But Kaur found commercial success with the pieces she created. In 2013, came Coke Studio, where she finally spoke about her life through rap. She was in the news for her post after Gauri Lankesh’s murder in 2017 where she said “won’t let your killers go”.