Latest on the blog

Radical Housing and Socially-Engaged Art

Read Now

You see me, I’m not a black nigga,

My mind is pure like ivory

Translated from a spontaneous rap in French by a young man from Ivory Coast, these words rang louder in our ears than the horns outside the shop. A few minutes earlier, another young man who goes by the screen name Mic-killer, had floored us with his own rap song where he berates and then woos his love with lines such as “Girl, I love you more than my Wifi!”

After five months of running as a phone recharge shop for the exchange of vernacular media ranging from Bollywood movies dubbed in Somali to Bhojpuri and Bangla songs – it slowly transmogrified over the summer into a local recording studio. From sharing of media, the shop has now become a local hub for creating community made videos. It is a space for stories to be shared and a platform for showcasing local talent through recordings of performances which range from musical to comical. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the shutters of the studio go up to welcome the people of the neighborhood to hone and share their talents as ‘Khirkee Idols’ akin to the popular Indian Idol show. Our first performer to walk in with a guitar was a local music teacher who was soon followed by our second performer, a school student and an aspiring musician training to audition for the Voice India. Over the next few days, the latent talent of the community typically tucked away as ‘hobbies’, started surfacing. Very soon it became apparent that everyone here is a star.

From those wanting to break-dance to enacting impromptu impersonations, singing rap songs to religious bhajans, playing the piano through a mobile app to editing their home-made videos on their phones, remixing sounds to creating video art, people started hanging around and sharing their main or often little known creative pursuits. While many started fixing time slots to record a song or a fight sequence, there were several spontaneous drop-ins like two local kids who started belting out Bhojpuri numbers. They then pulled out their mobile speakers, while very quickly also pulling a curious audience from the street, to begin dancing to the latest beats. The man from Ivory Coast who had rapped impromptu in French started humming ‘Munni badnaam hui’ with ‘African’ beats while the kids and I formed the chorus. A trio of local youngsters dropped by next, Mic-killer being one of them while his friend, who goes by the screen name of Budiram, had everyone cackling up with his non-stop spontaneous comical impersonations but refused to be recorded without his wig!

All these performers have dropped by several times since to see their final video, suggest edits and even record themselves again and again till they like the final version. The French rap had to be subtitled in English to be shared (and perhaps next in Bhojpuri?) with the rapper spending a lot of time with us to translate his lyrics which he had created on the spot. While translating his own words, he often found himself surprised at what he had said in the flow, many of them turning out to be very powerful views. The design of the backgrounds of these videos has been a key discussion, with the chroma key backdrop in the studio offering the possibility to experiment with varied images and videos. The art project team now has two talented film-makers supporting it, with Pallavi recording the performances and Purnima capturing all the magic around the recordings, the collaborative post-production process and the street dialogues with passersby curious about the studio.

Over the weeks, the participants have begun to interpret this space in their own ways and pulling in others from the street, slowly transforming it into a crowd-run shop/studio. People who may pass each other on the street every day but still never talk to each other due to socio-economic, cultural or lingual barriers have begun to come together over the language of performing arts and through a space that acts as a local hub inviting all. One barrier still to be bridged is with the women from the community who drop by often to talk but have not yet begun to participate in this process of media co-production as they are not ‘allowed to’ by their families. Can this process of creative self-expression and sharing of personal stories become a way of addressing such socio-cultural issues and having conversations that are not typically spoken?

Everyone wants to be heard. How do we listen, is something that the project is trying to understand through the monsoon months. From media exchange over phone memory cards to community screenings and street projections to online sharing through Youtube, Whatsapp and Facebook, there are different ways of sharing and listening. Over the first few months of the project, I tried to learn what the diverse communities of Khirkee are watching and listening to. Over the next few months, I hope to find out what happens if they can watch and listen to each other.

– Your friendly neighborhood shopkeeper, Swati Janu

You can follow the project here:

Facebook page:

Youtube channel:

Project page: