Indian idioms for free-style western performances? The debate grows (Lifestyle Feature) (With Images)

June 29th, 2012 - 1:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Shah Rukh Khan New Delhi, June 29 (IANS) A debate over whether free-style contemporary western dance and music like hip-hop, R&B;, funk and soul can adapt to regional Indian influences is building up with voices for and against the concept.

“Free-style hip-hop dance as a genre cannot become regional in sensibility. There may be individuals who perform differently at the local level,” argues American hip-hop legend of Puerto Rican origin Richard Colon aka Crazy Legs, who is touring India as a Sony Music Zomba artist.

Crazy Legs, who began his career in hip-hop with funk and soul - the roots of hip-hop - more than three decades ago, is an institution in the US with his troupe, ‘The Rock Steady Crew”, which is celebrating the 35th anniversary this year with a global hip-hop party.

Crazy Legs is loyal to the western origin of the dance. “I pick up my moves from salsa, martial arts and gymnastics,” the dancer told IANS. His signature “W” posture, in which the dancer sits with legs double-backed behind him, is emulated by thousands of free-style performers the world over.

The busy dancer took time off from his schedule to conduct a b-boying (dance) workshop for break-dancers from a non-profit cultural ensemble, Tiny Drops, in the capital.

The Indian dancers, who call themselves B-Boys, are underprivileged children from Khirkee village off the Saket shopping district in south Delhi who dance for the sheer fun of free-style expression.

For the 46-year-old, the lessons were no different from those back home in the US, where his fans are rainbow and multi-racial. “The dancers here are mostly b-boys. I haven’t yet seen the full range of free-style dancing in India,” Crazy Legs said.

Hip-hop is a growing idea in India, he observed.

It is more popular than other contemporary free-style performances because of the opportunity that exists to make money and the fact that one does not have to go to a dance school, the dancer explained. People go far and wide to perform and “compromise the art form” in the process.

In India, the land of powerful cultures, the authenticity of free-style western dance and music is prone to assimilation from indigenous performing arts.

The band, D’Elusive, for example, combines ‘desi’ Punjabi lyrics with rap, hip-hop beats and music to match it to their free-style dance steps.

“You may have heard of Bohemia - the original Punjabi rapper from California who fused traditional Punjabi lyrics and songs with hip-hop beats. Just like the way he created Punjabi hip-hop, we sort of took inspiration from him and managed to combine hip-hop beats with Punjabi rap similar to Bohemia’s act,” performer AK of D’Elusive told IANS.

The Chandigarh-based troupe performed its Punjabi version of hip-hop and rap at a concert in Hinglish Colonial cafe in the capital.

Rapper and hip-hop artist Mani does not believe that Indianisation of hip-hop, free-style or rap is a trend, “but people seem to expect it in the natural course”.

“Every genre of performance gets contemporary after a certain point in time, deviating from its purest form as people want to see something new over time. While this trend of fusion music is popular and present globally, something like Punjabi hip-hop rap is completely new,” Mani said.

The phenomenon is not confined to Punjabi music alone.

“Another example of regional hip-hop in India is in Maharashtra, the Marathi hip-hop. Fusion hip-hop is happening all over the world depending on the cultures from which hip-hop is assembling its elements, Mani said.

Hip-hop, rap, soul and funk are also finding their ethnic expressions in southern India and West Bengal, a state where the genres combine with folk and traditional music to produce a novel performance variant.

DJ Sourav Malhotra calls desi hip-hop “god’s gift”. “Desi hip-hop and rapping are life to us. New listeners - youngsters - want to know what hip-hop is about. In India, I can see musicians who are rapping to their own music and dancing their own free style,” Malhotra said.

Bollywood has been a major influence in the creation of Indian free-style dance-and-music idiom.

Free-style dancing became Indian on the screen with pioneers like Mithun Chakravarty, Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan and Javed Jaffrey innovating on American moves of the 1970s free-style expression to make them identifiable to the Indian audience, a leading capital-based hip-hop and salsa dance instructor says.

The history of the genre of hip-hop, together with rap, in India dates back to the 1990s. It became famous with the track “Pettai Rap” in the Tamil movie “Kadhalan” starring break-dancer and actor Prabhu Deva, music historians say.

The scene later moved to Asian musicians in Britain and the US with artists like Bally Sagoo, Canada-based musician Raghav and Punjabi rapper Bohemia scripting Indian free-style music and dance for diaspora listeners longing for sounds of home.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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