Delhi Sultanate’s Potent Rhythms

Taru Dalmia (left) collaborating with the musician Lima (right) in the tribal village of Kucheipadar in South Orissa.

Taru Dalmia (left) collaborating with the musician Lima (right) in the tribal village of Kucheipadar in South Orissa.

We are sitting in Lodhi Gardens with the doyen of Indian dancehall music. Taru Dalmia, best known by his “Delhi Sultanate” moniker, is integral to the India’s modest but highly audible contingent of reggae, ska and dub acts. He’s explaining how dancehall, with its roots in 1970s Jamaica and the ghettos of Kingston, has life on the subcontinent:

“I felt that this music comes from the margins… For me the only way to represent this music in India in a way that has meaning is to go around and to try to build connections with musical traditions that share that ethos, which means you have to go out and search for it – and there’s a lot of it.”

And of course, dancehall was built on confronting dominant narratives and social injustice. Dalmia channels that sensibility into Word Sound Power, a project that forges relationships with musicians across India’s hinterlands to create new songs of protest and resistance. Equipped with a mobile studio, Dalmia and his team collaborate with communities for whom music is a respite and a tool: laborers facing caste-based oppression, indigenous groups fighting exploitation of tribal land.

Electronic producer Chris McGuinness masterfully weaves these elements into songs that stir mind and body — and provide a wider platform for often-unheard struggles. With voices and musical samples from the city and the countryside, Word Sound Power attempt to bridge the divide between rural and urban India, and inject an unexpected dose of politics into the clubs of Delhi and Mumbai.

Dalmia is associated with a number of colorful projects, including the Ska Vengers (India’s first ska band) and Bass Foundation, but the subject of our conversation is music for action.

Our feature on Taru Dalmia aired on Deutsche Welle’s World Link. You can listen to the piece here.

Taru Dalmia (left) with dalit musician and labor organizer Bant Singh (center).

Taru Dalmia (right) with dalit musician and labor organizer Bant Singh (center).

Producer Chris McGuinness recording local musicians in Goratikiri, Kashipur Orissa.

Producer Chris McGuinness recording local musicians in Goratikiri, Kashipur Orissa.

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