As Uday Kapur joins the Zoom call, he reflects on his hectic day. Kapur, a co-founder of Azadi Records, has been one of the disruptors in Indian music’s quickly evolving landscape. Kapur still believes in the revolution the label set out to start, and the group is getting ready to head out on a four-city tour to mark their fifth anniversary.
He admits that a term paper from his undergraduate years at Delhi University served as the catalyst for everything. The book of protest songs published by IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) was the main topic of the term paper on protest music. I realised there was no urban protest music emanating from the streets at that period,” recalls Kapur. In response to this need for a dissident voice, Azadi Records was established in 2017 with artist Mo Joshi. The label set out to find voices outside of the urban hip-hoppers’ mainstream gloss, going against the industry habit of collaborating with well-known musicians. With the help of artists like Ali Saffudin, Ahmer Javed, Swadesi, Rebel 7, and Prabh Deep, among others, they have achieved success.
The difficulty is not in locating the talent, says Kapur. It is achieving it and collaborating with artists in the manner that we desire. This procedure may be challenging and drawn out. For instance, Ali Safuddin’s Wolivo, which was published in October of this year, took three and a half years to complete through political unrest, CAA demonstrations, and a pandemic. The Delhi-based Kapur remembers, “We started working with the repeal of section 377,” and adds that their emphasis on the social narrative in the albums is a protest against shifting historical interpretations. No matter what happens today, he claims, “nobody can delete these albums or stories, [with] Wolivo, or Chetavni by Swadesi.
According to the businessman, this passion extends to working closely with the artists and occasionally debating their decisions in order to enhance the work. “It’s also our responsibility to take them out of their comfort zone so they can experience and communicate their narrative in a fresh way.”
The end result is a collection of expertly written musical narratives, such as Ahmer Javed’s Little kid, huge ambitions, Prabh Deep’s Tabia, or Saffudin’s Wolivo, that reflect on traumatic personal situations. This idea of an all-encompassing art experience also comes from the planning of their future three-day festivities. Beginning on November 12, the tours in Bengaluru, Pune, Mumbai, and Delhi will include performers including Avantika Mathur, Udisha Madan, and Yash Pradhan in addition to names like Ahmer, Seedhe Maut, Rebel7, and Tienas.
Kapur acknowledges that the label will investigate this more in the future. In the long run, he says, “our aim will be to lean into the Web3 element, where we want community members to take more active ownership of the label.” In an effort to “democratise infrastructures” through a DAO, or decentralised autonomous organisation, as the Whitelist claims, the Web3 movement has already begun. The goal is to create an independent creative economy. He explains, “It’s about allowing these artists to put on shows and perform; to assist curate and coach future talents to develop.”
The literature Kapur studied throughout his early years is to blame when you tell him it seems like a revolutionary dream. Azadi is a concept. Even if we fail, someone else will pick it up and carry it forward, the man asserts. In a situation where major labels frequently steal talent, it’s difficult. He murmurs, “It is a problem, but one must move on.” It will be fascinating to watch how far the cry resonates given that we are already five years behind.