‘Music can change minds’: Vasu Dixit on writing songs about social issues

This Bengaluru-based folk-rock musician’s band Swarathma has composed songs about child sexual abuse, corruption and politics.
‘Music can change minds’: Vasu Dixit on writing songs about social issues
‘Music can change minds’: Vasu Dixit on writing songs about social issues
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Vasu sings with his eyes closed throughout the performance. There’s a certain feel to watching him perform and listening to him sing - his voice penetrates into our touchy edges, like few good music does. Tarakka Bindige of Purandara Dasa, in the voice of this Bengaluru-based musician, feels like a strong beckoning to the inviting laps of a motherly Kannada. TNM caught up with him at Amrapali Jewels where he had alighted for a musical evening. 

Vasu, with his music, began wafting into the hearts of the people with his unique folk-rock songs, ones that people identified as their own, owing to the regional language and the lyrics that struck the right chords within them. He is one who believes that “music is one that can reach out to people very deep inside.” He gives music to his words in the hope that they become a harbinger of change in the society. 

Vasu Dixit, who has been a folk-rock professional for over 13 years now, is one of the most popular singers in the country. The band founded by him, Swarathma, is one that has been strumming to the rhythm of people’s hearts for over a decade now.

Art for life’s sake

Vasu believes in the notion of being a ‘responsible artist’. He thinks that music can be a catalyst for social reform. “I don’t think it’s a conscious decision,” he said. “It is part of my learning that music and art can be more than entertainment. Because music might not change everything at the minute you make a song. But it can definitely change the hearts and minds slowly - it will take its time - for that wave to seep in everywhere.” 

Swarathma sings songs that are deeply rooted in the social scenarios hoping to send tunes of comfort, wisdom and joy to the people. Some of their songs deal with significant social issues such as - child sexual abuse (Ghum), media sensationalism (Aaj Ki Taaza Fikar), corruption in politics (Topiwalleh) etc. 

“We did one show in Mysuru and we played a song which is about child sexual abuse,” he said. “And a mother wrote to us the next day saying - I have been thinking about how to talk to my children about sex education and telling them about good touch, bad touch and things. I didn’t have the courage but then I saw you guys singing about it. When you guys are singing about it in public, why can’t I talk to my children - and she said, that night after the show she went and spoke to her children. That’s the kind of change we are hoping to see.” 

Growing up

Vasu hails from Mysuru. “Mysuru is a place known for its culture, music, education and everything related to art - whether its fine arts, visual arts, performing art, all of it. Like any Mysuru middle-class family, I’d just been put into music from childhood,” he said.

He began taking lessons in Carnatic music at the age of eight, but later lost interest it, he said.  It was later in college in 2002 that he took up music again by forming his own band, Swarathma with friends, who shared the same vigour for music. 

Vasu’s older brother, Raghu Dixit is also a famous musician in the industry and the front runner of the popular folk band, the Raghu Dixit Project.  “He has always been encouraging me to be original on my own and not to do the same that he’s been doing because then there is no originality in that. In that way, he has really pushed me to have my own identity and my own music,” he said.

Musical career

Vasu also performs outside his band, under Vasu Dixit Collective. “There are songs that I’ve grown up listening to and wanting to do, which probably do not find the space in Swarathma," he said, while adding, “So, I thought I should explore some more. Within the band, there is a sense of this is what we are and this is what we can do."

He sings in both Kannada and in Hindi, although there are lyricist friends who help him with Hindi if the need arises while writing a song. “Kannada is definitely closer to me. I’ve felt and listeners have also said that when I sing in Kannada, I sound more believable and it feels like I am meaning everything - not that I feel much different when I sing in Hindi. I am also trying to explore other languages as well,” he said. 

Vasu is a postgraduate from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. When it comes to art, Vasu is an all-rounder. From fine arts to theatre to film production, Vasu is the complete package. “I see colours in music and I think of a structure for the music, which is also fluid and flowing. I am a very visual musician, I would say,” he said.

He is acquainted with visuals just as much as he is with music. While performing, Vasu has a way of experimenting and playing with the visuals. His band dresses up in mystifying costumes to put up a hard-hitting show. “If you see the Indian performing arts, the costumes and the things you present with, has always been a part of it,” he said.

“You can do Kathakali without make up also. Even if it is a half an hour performance, they sit for six hours of make-up and put everything on. The colour that they use depicts the character that they want to portray. And it has an impact on the audience,” he said.

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