SG Independent Artistes Lash out against the Mainstream Media

How did Dravidar first come about?
Mukthi (M): We started in 2008. Back then, we were called Agarathi.  It was three of us. DJ Sathiya, Navin a.k.a Dravin and I .It started off with Sathiya and Navin first. And I joined both later. We were very much motivated. We even had thought and decided on an album name and had a rough idea of what we wanted to do.  We had also approached a few people, some of whom took us for a joke.
Sathiya (S):  Being newbies back then , we did not really know how album production works and all the technicalities involved  . So we lost out on a lot of things; We got committed to the wrong people.But eventually, after many struggles, we managed to get someone to fund our album

What made you want to do this album and start Agarathi ?
We got inspired by Yogi B’s album, Vallavan. Back then, I was a DJ and emcee. But I wanted to try my hand at rapping and songwriting. Fortunately, I had got the opportunity to rap for the title track for a Kollywood movie – Chennai 600028, thanks to JK Sara, owner of Tantra Productions.

What genre of music were you doing for the album ?
S: We tried to infuse rap into all kinds of genres such as dappankuttu, rock, black metal, hip hop and R&B. It was the trend in those days.

What happened to the album ? Were there any singles released ?
S: We faced a lot of financial issues  while working for the album. Eventually, we had to cease everything. The album was dropped.  That's when Agarathi disbanded and we went our separate ways. Prior to the album release, we had released one single which was called “Athadi”. The singles turned out to be a hit amongst locals here in SG and also across the border. We had performed the song in TV too. Till today, it is still played in indian clubs as a dance song.

Why do you want to restart this project now ?
S: I still want to be a full time artiste. So after some time, I had an idea to release a single together with a music video. I named it “Move ya Aduppu”. I approached Switch Lock Up from KL, and he had agreed to produce the beat for a song, I had also approached ADK for some advice, and he was kind enough to offer to do the chorus for me. That’s when I brought Mukthi back in to take charge of Directing the video and brought in Thiru (Thiru Entertainment), to take charge of our Director of Photography (DOP) and editing work. It was after the success of the video when Mukthi and I decided to regroup and rebrand ourselves and we formed “Dravidar”.  

How are things different this time, compared to your experience with the previous album? Are you more cautious?
S: Once bitten, twice shy. We are trying to avoid all the mistakes we had made in the past.  We do not intend to reveal the name of the album until everything else is firmed up. We have planned a song structure for the album but for now, it’s going to be kept behind closed doors.
Thiru (T): Instead of launching an album immediately, we rather start out with releasing singles first. This way, we can establish ourselves among listeners and also have a proper idea on what kind of music is well received by most. We also need to build up our portfolio so that people take us more seriously compared to the last time.

You have released 2 singles so far- Move Ya Adupu and Kabali Da. What’s in line next ?
We have a single coming out in May called #Biasa Thaane. It was initially planned for a release in Jan 2017, but we had to delay it owing to the reason of introducing a new local female rapper. She is a novice and needs time to sharpen her skills. We want to make sure we give a quality single. She is now almost ready and the song and video will be out very soon. We can assure you that at least one lyrical line in that song can be related back to any individuals’ life. It may turn out to be slightly controversial to some as we intend to involve some trolling here and there. But on an overall aspect, we think people will like it. We are also working on another song which is conceptualized as a celebration song.  We have planned to release it during the Deepavali season, so that the song makes justice to the theme.  

Why haven’t your singles been featured on TV or radio ?
S:  For Kabali Da, we had folks from management citing the song to have copyright infringement. I had even emailed and explained to them, that being in the music industry, I know what copyright infringement is and that you are able to sample 10 seconds of a song without it being considered infringement. When I presented them with facts, they ignored my email. I mean, if you can air commercial songs from all over the world, I don’t understand why a local movie based song cannot be aired. We tried having “Kabali Da” to be played on TV too. But it was to no avail.
I understand that commercial medias wouldn’t  want to play the singles like Move Ya Adupu. But what’s wrong with Kabali Da ? It was made to celebrate Kabali running successfully in cinemas for 100 consecutive days. The song's concept is based on prison life, yes, but we are not encouraging people to go to jail are we?

What other challenges have you faced ?
S: It’s very upsetting to know that even some of our local Indian artistes are not interested in showing some support for local talents. Like, when I request with some whom I’ve worked with before to spread the word around, but only 5 of them bothered to share them. Well passing the word around in social media platform is the trend now to have viral publicity. Sadly, most of the artistes ignored me.

T :But this is totally of the opposite when it’s not with local talents. We don’t understand why they won’t do the same for us - local independent artistes.  It’s not like we are eating from their rice bowls or anything. We are doing this out of our passion and love for music and we just ask that you help us to spread this passion to their followers. Nowadays , many local songs are hitting 1 million views on Youtube .  Our  videos can’t even get a fraction of that. Why? There is no support for local independent artistes like us in the media industry . If you compare the industry in Malaysia and Singapore, Malaysia is a million miles ahead of us . We will take another 20 years to catch up to them if we carry on like this .

S: We are also lacking support from the community . There was a local Association that had requested for our help and we did gave them out fullest help. In return we had requested for some support, but they refused. They want us to help them but they can't help us. On a personal note, I’ve always wanted to run my own deejaying school. I have many times put up applications but every application was rejected.

M: Many Indians have stereotyped full time artistes.  They have stereotyped DJs - “Basically a goner in their eyes. If you are a deejay, you will not succeed or excel in life.”  Singapore has evolved a lot in the past few years. Academics are no longer the sole focus. There is now a greater emphasis on sports and arts where the government itself has recognized that the world is turning towards those aspects.  If the country itself is doing it, then why is the Indian community not accepting it ?

What else can the Singapore media industry do to give more support to local independent artistes ?
T:  Let there be an opening for all independent local Indian artistes. This does not apply to just Dravidar. Did you know that there are many young local Indians out there who are very talented and have the potential to do a lot of good work with music? A handful of boys actually came to us and asked whether we could advise them on how to further their music.  We supported them. Whether their music is fantastic or just at a borderline level. I feel, by giving them the fullest support they will then excel in this field.

M: At the end of the day, whether the song is good or not, it's up to the listeners to decide . But these boys are working hard and putting their hard work out there. Even in international standards, many acclaimed celebrities themselves have had numerous flops before. Before they made a platinum selling album, they had albums which couldn’t even sell a thousand copies. So it’s not up to the industry to say whether it’s good or bad. Let's just support the work that they've done regardless of the how good it really is. Support local talent as a country product.

S: I feel that we need some kind of community or union for independent artistes here to help grow the music scene and ensure that talented people emerge even without having to appear on TV or radio.

T: We wish the government would lend a hand in this as well. The government does fund projects but not for independent artistes or solo acts. It only does this for bands or music groups. And you must have a portfolio. You must have taken part in a local competition recognised by the government. You must have at least come in top 10 or top 5 in those competitions. If not, you must have a million followers in Youtube.  Then only will they fund you. They have funds up to $ 30 000. Even for my film production, when I went to ask for funding, they asked me whether I had done a short film before and whether I had submitted it for international competitions. They make you go through so many procedures. But what they don't understand is, that in order for us to even build up a portfolio, we must have some kind of support. We lack even a basic foundation. How are we supposed to develop then?

How are the Malaysians ahead of us in this aspect?
S: They have a community for independent artistes in Malaysia. And they are called “Mannin Mainthargal”. They actively support local talent and rally them for events like National Day. THR Raaga. The Tamil radio station, also plays locally produced music on air as often as Kollywood songs. They also feature local artistes in interviews on radio and TV.

How is that different from Singapore? Doesn’t Singapore radio and TV play locally produced music as well?
S: Yes, they do but the music played on radio and TV are usually songs featured on a local national dramas or of the same productions. We don’t hear works by local independent artistes.  Of course, there are some radio DJs who want to help us but are unable to do so, probably because their hands are tied down.

T: The only way an artiste can establish oneself, is to go join a Media talent competition, get popular and receive good votes and win. After winning, with good music ideas, you come up with singles or albums, and then you try to get successful.  One good example is Shabir and Suthashini. If that doesn’t work, you'll become an actor in some drama. That’s the way things are now done.

Who have been your benefactors and supporters in your musical journey as independent artistes?
S: My friend Vinod Vijelal has been the producer for our past 2 MVs and he is going to be the producer for another song as well. He has always been a great supporter and good sponsor of our music. Bigshow Kumar will be the producer for our upcoming single Biasa Thane. One person who unexpectedly supported us was Rex Cinemas CEO Senthil Kumaran . He offered to screen our Kabali Da MV before every screening of Kabali in Rex Cinemas.  We went to IMDA to get the proper censor certification done and our video was screened in Rex Cinemas. That helped us a lot. Just for you info, the video was rated – PG by IMDA which was regarded as not suitable for TV.

Any final thoughts?
T: Just start embracing local independent artistes. Accept us, that's all we ask. That’s what we lack even before support - acceptance . You'll be surprised how many artistes are out there, afraid to showcase their talents.
M: We intend to organize an informal event to announce our album and brand . Do it the way it's supposed to be done. Until then, we will keep just try to give good music and most importantly, be in touch with the people with our music. All we need you to do is share and support our music.
S: We are taking a risk to openly say that the media is not giving us the support that we need . Mainly the media , then the community at large. We hope that by saying this , independent artistes will receive the support that they need and in a few years, the local music industry will grow.

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