Often, a folk song written for a certain purpose is appropriated and used in an entirely different context.
Be it a wedding baarat, Bonalu procession, political party events or pubs, a common feature in all of these in Hyderabad is DJ (Disc Jockey) music with Telangana folk songs. That is, mixtapes that have Telangana folk songs along with dance music. The recordings pump up the energy of the crowd and keep them entertained, making people shake a leg. Such tapes are especially popular with the youth.
DJ Khanna, a popular DJ in the city with more than 20 years of experience in the field, says that the trend has slowly picked up pace over the last two decades. “The DJ trend is evolutionary in nature and has slowly picked up. Now, we see a DJ in any and every kind of event as people enjoy the music. DJs are not limited to just doing events; we also do mixes for advertisements. The field has grown a lot, and several people today are open to taking it up as a profession. When I started out, there were hardly a dozen DJs in the city. Now there are thousands in Hyderabad alone.”
The liberal use of folk songs in DJ mixtapes has also led to the Telugu film industry ‘modernising’ these songs and adding their own beat to the music. The response from the audience, including those from outside the Telugu states, has been phenomenal. For example, the ‘Ramuloo Ramulaa’ song from Allu Arjun’s Ala Vaikuntapuramuloo is wildly popular and has become the go-to party song, be it a family gathering or pub. The song has over 350 million views on YouTube. Sai Pallavi’s ‘Saranga Dariya’ from her upcoming film Love Story, is also a huge hit. The song, based on a Telangana folk song, has received over 70 million views on YouTube in just three weeks.
Apart from professionals, there are amateurs too who try their hand at mixing DJ dance music with folk songs. Many aspiring artists look for an irresistible combination and quite a few with access to the internet and social media platforms have been putting out their own creations. It is not a rarity to chance upon your favourite song in a DJ mix online, and many of these videos get thousands of views.
However, though the DJ mixes popularise traditional songs and find new audiences for them, folk artists are not happy with the treatment of the songs. They say that the original meaning of the song is lost.
Speaking to TNM, Andhe Bhaskar, a Dappu artist and folk song writer, says, “Sometimes, the meaning of a song changes when even a syllable is enunciated longer than it is supposed to be. While we are happy that the song is reaching a larger audience with DJ mixes, it misses out on the originality and true emotions.”
He further adds, “A song is born out of an emotion or a feeling, and we write with a lot of passion. There is a particular tune depending on the feel of the song. However, it’s lost when it is mixed with DJ music. A song is not just about making one feel like dancing, it’s a lot more than that.”
Citing the example of ‘Podusthunna Poddumeeda’, a folk song sung by Gaddar, activist and poet, which was popularised during the separate Telangana movement, Bhaskar says, “The song has deep emotions and is revolutionary in nature, but when it is remixed, it sounds like a joyful song. And in some remixes, the lyrics are also shortened, resulting in a change in the meaning.”
With songs being freely appropriated by DJ artists and remixed, there’s also the issue of giving credit and copyright. Recently, Sekhar Kammula, the director of Love Story, had to step in and acknowledge that due credit will be given to folk singer Komala Totte who first popularised the folk song ‘Saranga Dariya’. It was only after Komala expressed her displeasure that the team came forward to do so. As far as DJs are concerned, however, such a step is nowhere in the picture as of now.
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