It was all really plain and simple to begin with. Champa Gali was lit up with fairy lights and there were stalls of merchandise at every corner. Cups of specialty tea and coffee were held in every hand and those holding them had a smile on their face. But cutting through all that and going to the back, we saw a different scene. A swarm of bodies had formed somewhat of a circle pit only they were not moshing but grooving along as one body to the sound that was coming from the red coloured mammoth sound system. The BassFoundation Roots Soundsystem stood vibrating on one end and in the middle of it all stood Taru Dalmia aka Delhi Sultanate and Samara Chopra aka Begum X – the duo behind dub, reggae and Ska act- Ska Vengers. Bringing the voice of oppressed Indians to mix with great sounds to create Word Sound Power.
We got to know facts about that huge red speaker set which shakes the ground and sounds just perfect. “A sound system is a 5 way speaker system and powerful amps. It originated in Jamaica. During a sound system session, it’s not just the performer that’s important. The system itself is an actor in a way. Sound systems are about sonic dominance. They are powerful. It’s about taking spaces and bodies over with sound. It’s a platform for me to play the music I love and communicate,” is how Dalmia puts in what seems like a perfect definition, as that’s exactly what happened at the launch event in Champa Gali. People, old and young were watching, grooving or dancing- comfortable in their own space while also being a part of a larger breathing being.
“A band performs on stage; the audience will dance and be oriented towards the band. A sound system session is different. The system is supposed to be level with the crowd. During a sound system session I’d rather that people in the audience face each other and dance with each other, those interested in watching me can crowd immediately around the turntables. During a Ska Vengers show the band will directly address the crowd at all times. During a BFR session this will happen sometimes but it’s also about creating an atmosphere,” says Taru.
When it comes to BFR, He wants people to dance, to sit down and chill with their friends and have a conversation, then be in front of the system again. Another difference between his two acts is, the Ska Vengers will in all likelihood continue to perform at stages, music venues and music festivals. For BFR, the idea is to take the sound to new spaces, especially public spaces, universities. The journey is about finding and pushing for space and building relationships with other artists and groups that are doing work on the ground to fight the system and bring people together. And this the new Sound System travels wherever there’s a BFR show, transforming the space completely.
We asked him about how he came about creating the new Sound System and the perfect PA system and he tells us the whole journey, “It’s a long journey. I had the dream to build my own system for most of my life. I didn’t know how to go about doing it. It’s expensive and also I didn’t know who could help me to build it. By chance, Stefan, my Ska Vengers band mate, revealed to me that his cousin who lives in Goa is crazy about sound systems and had built himself one. This was an extraordinary revelation because all these years he knew I was dying to build a system and it was now that he casually revealed it.
I had to build one, to have the ability to represent reggae music in the right context, and the freedom to take shows out of and beyond the customary venues. I had to work hard at convincing Taus but he reluctantly agreed and started building the system in Goa. The entire stack, apart from the two small tweeter boxes on top that I built, is built by him, by hand, every piece of ply, every screw. We had to raise money to buy wood and tools and drivers. Amplifiers are also very expensive. So we decided a crowdfunding campaign. Apart from the obvious financial reason for starting the campaign, it also helped get the community involved. People learnt about our project and many came forward and supported us.”
We asked him if there was any real need for a high budget sound system as most artists are working with the more run-off-the-mill sound and he said, “I need the system, it’s my way of equating with life and coping with what’s happening around us. As to why ‘you need it?’ I can’t tell you that, you just do. Come and experience it and decide for yourself whether this is something that you enjoy. As Bob Marley says, ‘who feels, it knows it’.” The system did make a huge difference, something that you won’t expect just changing a speaker system could do.
The show also featured kids from Khirki 17, a small and steady group from the streets that rap about everything that surrounds them and also about their own swag. It blends it well with the dub and shows that Taru and the gang are actually making an effort bringing up talent from the ground up. By the end everyone was with left with a happy high and a steady workout from the constant and collective gyration.
Follow the system’s movements by being a part of this group.
To read more about Taru, his life, music and what went about his childhood that led up everything that he does and stands for today, read up our more personal and exhaustive interview here.