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Bhoomthayi Balage performing at an event.
Bhoomthayi Balaga’s ‘Coca-Cola’ is a popular song that has crossed 10 lakh views on YouTube. The idea was to talk about food contamination and the promotion of unhealthy food and beverages post globalisation.

Music has been perceived as a unifying force for centuries, and it has a vital role to play in many historic movements. Songs can be used to disseminate a message easily with the help of catchy tunes and lyrics. On this premise, a group was formed in 2007 in rural Bengaluru, it started out as a theatre group and later evolved into a band when it worked for the Arkavati River Rejuvenation Campaign. In this group, like-minded individuals have come together for a cause, and are driven by their passion to protect the environment and work towards social reform.

The group was then called Gangamma Vokkalu, and it used to travel to nearby villages to spread awareness on water pollution, conservation and exploitation of natural resources. A few years ago, they performed at the inauguration of an organic food store in Bengaluru. People loved their style, approach and lyrics to bring about a ‘green awareness’. Soon it evolved into an initiative that seeks to create awareness about social justice, environmental hazards and much more, and thus, the Bhoomthayi Balaga was formed.  

Towards a better society

 “Sky is the limit for people who want to play a role in enabling change. One of our main approaches was to use entertainment as a medium to convey an important message. This way we have ensured the cause reaches more people,” says Nirmala Ravi Shastry, singer of the band. 

Environmental hazards and protection, gender discrimination, crime, social justice, community development, etc, are some of the subjects that the group performs on. They say that while absorption and internalisation of the message is the easy bit, their mission will be successful if more people are willing to participate and collaborate in the activism to ensure change. 

Karnataka woke to environmental issues in the late 80s and early 90s, post globalisation, by creating awareness of the impact of these issues on the people. Prior to that, music was used to focus on the freedom struggle, farmer welfare, Dalit issues etc. ‘‘Our State has a growing rural youth population and it is important that we are aware of their environmental and social issues. Using music ensures that the message reaches faster,’’ says Ravi Shashtry, a band member. 

Bhoomthayi Balaga’s ‘Coca-Cola’ is a popular song that has crossed 10 lakh views on YouTube. The idea was to talk about food contamination and the promotion of unhealthy food and beverages post globalisation. While, the song ‘www.com’, questions if the benefits of technology were meant only for certain classes. In 2008, they composed a song on genetic modification of fruits and vegetables. Compositions on disappearing lakes of Bengaluru and on the theme of friendship beyond boundaries have been quite popular. Their songs are inspired by folk traditions and are popular on social media, garnering a huge viewership.

The group also performs in colleges on an invitation. It has performed in cultural fests, music events, in lake festivals and other occasions. In 2014, they launched ‘Haadu Bengaluru’, literally, ‘Sing Bengaluru,’ which successfully ran 100-150 shows that year. In 2017, they performed in over 100 shows in 120 days. This is inspiring and motivating for the group, as over the last decade, they have seen greater acceptance of their music by all generations of people, especially the youth, who can be the torch-bearers of important issues. “This is our unique way of contributing to the cultural development of our society and we have a great team that works towards this, tirelessly,” says Janardhan, a lyricist and group member. 

Nirmala Ravi and Arun Kumar are the lead singers of the team.  Balu Jambe leads the instruments side and other members include Mahesh Kumar, Praveen Kumar, Obalesh, Vivek Mourya, Gowtham Mourya, Vinod, Ravi Shastry, Soundarya, and Radha.

Samvada, an organisation engaged in sensitising youth on social environmental justice, supported Bhoomthayi Balaga in the initial phase by organising performances in colleges. Today, the band is growing, both in popularity and responsibility. Each day is a new challenge, because, it is important that the band members remain motivated and committed to the cause.

Cultural tool

There is a growing need for such art forms, where, music is used in a unique way to voice our concerns, to bring awareness and drive the need to bring about a change. Culture is a key component of our society and through music, we will be able to seed the thoughts in young minds, the place where change must be initiated. 

 “One of the most effective ways of engendering social change, building greater awareness is through culture. This group has used folk and local music effectively to communicate key aspects of social justice and change, environmental concerns, hazards and advocacy, for a green world. The most inspiring thing about them is that they have no ulterior or personal motives for success or recognition. They are from the grassroots and want to give back to nature and the community. They truly want to bring about a societal transformation. People connect instantly with music and their music is quite popular. In our society today, there is a dire need for more such organisations, groups and citizens to participate,” says Jayaram H R, advocate and organic farmer.

Janardhan recalls two special occasions, when he feels, they had truly touched a chord. One was a reunion of Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) employees, where, at the end of the performance, all the retired people and senior citizens were on the dancing floor, grooving to the music and, generously contributed to the cause. Another such experience was when they performed at a college where students put together money to contribute to the cause, after listening to the songs. 

 “This group has a team of passionate individuals with a great knowledge of folk music. They are driving and empowering change in the society with their music. Each song is unique and has an objective of change embedded in its message. Their music is popular with the youth and builds a great amount of awareness on various issues that are impacting our society and world at large,” says Pandit Ravindra Suragavi, Hindustani musician and popular Kannada film singer.   

While, Gopal Navle, lyricist, guitarist, Esperanto, says, ‘‘Music leaves long-lasting impressions on the human subconscious. It is a powerful and effective tool to impart messages. This group does this successfully. Their songs are unique, catchy and have a clear message for people. They are a talented set of people who have come together for a cause.”

And, at the same time, there needs to be greater awareness of such groups so that the word about community issues spreads around.

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