New song on today’s politics

The band members of Thermal and a Quarter with dancers from Citizens of Stage Co Lab.

Bengaluru-based musician and music educator Bruce Lee Mani and his band ‘Thermal and a Quarter’ made music for the common man. His latest song, ‘Leaders of Men’, is the second single from album ‘A World Gone Mad’ — something the band has been working on for a while now. 

Bruce says the album is a dark and rather intense commentary on the state of the world as the band perceives it today. The band has collaborated with Diya Naidu of Shoonya Space for a contemporary dance video. 

Diya is into contemporary dance for as long as she can remember. Diya says that she didn’t find it very hard to come up with a perfect choreography to interpret  ‘Leaders of Men’.

She says that she totally connects to the lyrics and terms it “not as a violent out and out war but a cheeky and sarcastic revolution.” 

Bruce, Diya and photographer Mahesh Bhat in conversation with Metrolife talk about the video, its making and what prompted them to come together.

How did the collaboration start?

“I liked it as soon as Bruce posted the teaser of ‘Leaders of Men’ on Facebook. When I heard the complete song later, I loved it. There was so much of Mark-Knoffler-kind-of-sound. Later, I learnt that it’s Thermal and a Quarter’s tribute to Dire Straits. I called up Bruce and suggested the idea for a music video and they were immediately convinced. After a few discussions, I thought modern dance would be the best way to present the song, visually. So, I contacted Diya Naidu. We gave her the complete creative freedom to choreograph,” Mahesh Bhat, editor of the video and photographer told Metrolife.

The song is intelligent and nuanced: Diya Naidu

Excerpts from the interview with Diya Naidu, contemporary dancer:

What struck you most about the song when you first heard it?

I was struck by the message and the irreverent lightness. It’s intelligent and nuanced. There is a hope in being able to call out bad leadership, which is sort of testimony of being part of a democracy.

And yet there is cynical powerlessness, almost like saying we see you and all your malpractice, yet you have the power.

The song then strips this elevated status away by saying... but you are just like us! “You bleed, you cry and you get fat” just like us. The lyrics are catchy, as historically, songs of revolution or resistance need to be. There was an empowering joy which allowed us to interpret it in dance. 

What was the thought behind the choreography?

The dancers and I love to play around and subvert movement, and not just offer it for its form. We did it because the song seemed to demand it.

I wanted more women to take up the space in the movement sections as it is also a dig at patriarchy. But I also wanted to focus on corruption and dirty politics as it is prevalent across cultures and gender. 

We played with the energy of the music and our own reactions to the current political scenario across the globe to come up with the content and gestural punctuations.

And, of course, that gave a certain theatrical performative leaning and was determined by the world of the song.

Most of the dancers seem very involved in the movement. What do you think got them hooked? 

The ability to connect and understand each other’s frequency comes from this common history.

Now we work together as the Citizens of Stage Co-Lab. Most of the dancers are also choreographers in their own right and so conceptually, it was not hard to dive into what we wanted to say and find an embodied expression together.

Is this piece correlated to the forthcoming elections?

Of course. Our immediate concern is our country but it is one in a long list of states that are now right-wing dominated and becoming increasingly communal, intolerant and undemocratic in their behaviour and rhetoric. 

The fear is palpable, the freedom slowly but surely being compromised, the pro-corporate, anti-environment decisions apparent and, of course, the disregard and in many cases targeting of minority communities is growing. In this light, this directly concerns our choices in the upcoming elections.

We’ve always tried to stay relevant: Bruce Lee Mani

Excerpts from Metrolife’s chat with Bruce Lee Mani:

What inspired you to write the song?

‘Leaders of Men’ fits very well into that narrative. Other songs in the album include the title track, a lament on our world gone mad; ‘Where Do We Gotta Go Now’, a strident inquiry into our available options; ‘Lopsided’ — an abstract reflection of our topsy-turvy lives ; ‘Stone Circle’ — a tribute to our families and loved ones, the only things that keep us sane.

How do you relate it to the current political situation?

The ongoing elections have been described as a ‘Battle for the very soul, the idea of India’. Through our career, we’ve always tried to stay relevant and tell the stories of our lives in ways that may, at the least, spark some thought and introspection.

It is that time of the year when the country gets to decide not just its governance, but its identity; there’s no ‘more appropriate’ scenario to release a song such as ‘Leaders of Men.’

On collaborating with Shoonya...
‘Leaders of Men’ was written a while ago. I put out a short video of the guitar part on YouTube and Facebook.

Mahesh Bhat, a good friend, popped up on the comments and said he would love to work on a video for the track. Mahesh came up with the idea of interpreting this song through contemporary dance.

He suggested that we work with Diya Naidu, who in turn, brought dancers from Citizens of Stage Co Lab. It took just one meeting for us to decide that this was the way forward — the aesthetic, political and simple human alignment was immediate.

They completed the shoot in just two days.

What is the idea behind the song? What did you have in mind when you wrote the song?

I’ve always been a huge fan of Mark Knopfler. The guitar sections in ‘Leaders of Men’ are a clear tribute to his unique style.

I guess the idea was to communicate a powerful message but to do it without shouting and screaming — in an understated but intense way.

We rant and rave and are outraged all the time, but we also seem strangely powerless, reduced to meek, ineffective reactions and outpourings on social media of all things. References abound to current ‘leaders’, with no names being taken, but everybody will get those.

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