Independent artists in India have been in and out of action since early 2020 — though adapting at every turn, jumping off quickly-eroding stepping stones as though they were in a video game.
Late in 2021, Bacardi NH7 Weekender, one of the country’s mainstay events for indie music discovery, announced they would return to an on-ground edition in February in Pune, Delhi NCR and Kolkata. But as the third wave rolled in, it had to issue an update that they were postponing all their events until further notice.
The unpredictability of the live events industry has meant that there’s just one sure-fire avenue for independent artists to make it: the digital space. Through streaming platforms, clutter-breaking music videos (cheeky ones with a visual aesthetic to edgier takes embracing cultural roots and femininity) community-building apps like Discord, or even NFTs, they have learned the ropes of thriving despite the lack of gigs. Even if 2022 hands us another round of musical chairs when it comes to live performances, these artists are ready to launch into the stratosphere.
Sound: Everything from hip-hop to Tamil pop to jazz and soul
Sample this: ‘Attached ’, the buoyant, action-filled bop off her collaborative EP593, Vol. I with producers Clifr and Issamood
Bengaluru-based Ranjani Ramadoss, 23, first wowed as a vocalist-saxophonist in 2020 when fusion band Kelvikkuri began gigging fervently in South India. Since then she’s been proving there’s a lot more to her — her debut solo single was an open-hearted Tamil song ‘Nee Mattume ’ and she quickly teamed up with music producer friends such as Samudra Dasgupta aka Issamood and Chlipher Christopher aka Clifr for an EP project titled593, Vol. I , a smash blend of bold funk, soul, pop, hip-hop and more.
In addition to being confirmed for NH7 Weekender for a set with Clifr, RANJ has quickly become in demand, picking up collaborations with the likes of guitarist-composer Sanjeev T and Mumbai duo Second Sight.
Sunflower Tape Machine
Sound: Mellower psychedelic rock that occasionally bursts into swirling shoegaze
Sample this: ‘Sophomore Sweetheart ’, a dreamy journey informed by the likes of Tame Impala
Chennai-based Aryaman Singh, 19, is the brains behind his one-man project Sunflower Tape Machine. With just three singles out — ‘Sophomore Sweetheart ’, ‘Death. Colourised ’ and ‘Within You ’ — he’s proved that the power of psychedelic rock can surpass generations. Paired with flourishes of mind-bending styles like shoegaze and dream-pop, Sunflower Tape Machine ended up in Spotify’s Fresh Finds 2021 playlist globally and has so far been tapped to perform in Chennai and Mumbai.
His latest single ‘Internet Friends’ arrived via Mumbai-based label Export Quality Records on February 4, as an ode to all the long-distance friendships we’ve cultivated. Colour us hyped.
Sound: Playful reggae mixed with hip-hop and R&B
Sample this: ‘Bless Ya Heels ’, a life-affirming, sensual anthem that intertwines divinity with femininity over Afrobeats
Kottayam-based Tribemama Marykali aka Anna Katharina Valayil, 37, had a different life before she became a singer — studying media and training to become a pilot. But she had been introduced to Madonna’s music at around age six, which had created a deep-rooted inclination towards music and becoming an artist. By 2012, she had already become known in the Malayalam film world for singing ‘Mel Mel Mel ’ and ‘Appangal embadum’ inUstad Hotel .
As an independent artist, however, the last two years have been a gradual takeover with English and Malayalam songs. Crooning with a pronounced friskiness on songs like ‘Freakay ’, ‘Bless Ya Heels ’ and ‘Concrete Jungle ’ (a collaboration with neo hip-hop group T.ill APES), Marykali also taps into an Afro vibe, drawing from her childhood in Nigeria. Expect more singles and benchmark-setting aesthetics from the artist this year.
Sound: The boldness of hip-hop weaved into friendly pop, Nineties rock and Bollywood
Sample this: ‘Milansaar ’, an acoustic guitar andtabla aided lover-boy anthem punctuated by an emphatic sample that goes ‘Jai ho !’
Udbhav Acharya, 23, is a New Delhi-based artist who raps like a beast but also turns on the charm like a hero straight out of an early 2000s Hindi movie.
A beatmaker/producer as well as singer, Udbhav — and Teesri Duniya, the crew he’s part of — has quickly come to represent alternative hip-hop in India’s machismo-flexing circuit. Existentialism is a key theme that has run through the three albums he’s released since 2020: YATI, Nanku Sharma and Jaadui Ghadi.
On ‘Milansaar ’, the title track off his new EP, he is cheeky in his Hinglish lyrics: “Adaa so lit, tujhe karu commit / Tujhe dekh yeh mann ashcharyachakit / Teri palkon se vichlit, futuristic /Har gaana tera hit .” With shining sense of experimentation, Udbhav is well on his way to break out of the capital’s hip-hop scene.
Sound: A dash of dancehall into pop, R&B and jazz leanings
Sample this: ‘You Don’t Have To ’, a real-talk takedown of insecurities and superficialities in relationships, with a music video that draws from the ‘plastic’ world of doll houses
Hyderabad-based singer-songwriter Peekay aka Pranati Khanna, 25, has spent a few years with indie rock band The Ragamuffins (who later christened themselves Spell Check), but she’s put her best foot forward with her solo material since 2020. With refreshingly candid takes on matters of the heart and mind (‘Good Old Fashioned in Love ’ featuring rapper Aishan Vali, ‘Much Better ’ and ‘You Don’t Have To ’), her music is exactly the kind ofvibrant we need.
Her upcoming single, ‘Sunshine on the Street ’ calls on Shillong-bred actor/singer Andrea Tariang for a jam about understanding and respecting the LGBTQIA+ community. Also a visual designer and artist, Peekay is Khanna’s outlet for channelling her inner Ella Fitzgerald to reggae and pop-rock influences.
Sound: Swirling electronic-pop that also flits between multiple genres, ranging from folk to trip-hop to rock
Sample this: ‘L.I.I.T ’, driven by fist-tight basslines, chopped up rhythms and airy vocals that pull in several directions, exciting at every turn
Between themselves, Goa-based siblings Belinda, 28, and Brandon Mendes, 29, play piano, keyboard, guitar, and violin, and sing and produce their music. Electronic music remains the wider field of play, but there’s so much more going on — their 2020 debut single ‘Flip-Side ’ is like a dramatic story told with campfire jam-like flair, while ‘Multicolored Dreams ’ unwinds with psych-rock flourishes.
Last year, Merak’s composition ‘Time-Travelling Soul ’, a piano-led piece that brings in gargantuan bass elements, won the Platinum Track of the Year in the electronic music category at the India Film Project’s 50 Hour Music Challenge competition. With their new single ‘Pluto Town ’ bringing in jazz guitar and string arrangements, the duo is covering a whole spectrum like few other indie artists.
Sound: Rock, Kashmiri folk and an occasionally infectious sense of groove
Sample this: ‘Dazaan ’, a wiry 2020 collaboration with rappers Ahmer and Straight Outta Srinagar, raising a clarion call for artists and Kashmiris to persist against naysayers
Kashmiri singer-songwriter Ali Saffudin, 29, centres his music around resistance, but also delves on spirituality and often reflects on life minus the glare that the world focusses towards his land. With an earthen, rustic voice of a troubadour, Saffudin combines Kashmiri folk melodies and guitar virtuoso on ‘Asaan Gindaan ’, but brings an intimacy to his albumHome Recordings (Vol. 1).
He roars with power on ‘The Spring Song ’, but is measured with melodies on Kashmiri folk renditions like ‘Karyo Maz Jigras ’. Signed to Mumbai-based Azadi Records, Saffudin’s studio full-length album is expected this year, packing in stories of the beauty, importance and persistence of Kashmiri lives.
The Hindu Weekend