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Deepak Peace: ‘I Don’t Know Why People Make My Music to Be a Protest, It’s Pure Sarcasm’

The Pune-based singer-songwriter talks about his creative process, what motivates him, his music’s impact and more

Chris George May 10, 2019

Folk singer-songwriter Deepak Peace. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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How does one begin to describe Deepak Peace? You can call him the Indian Bob Dylan, yes with his own share of protest music, literary expositions, contentious metaphors, poignant vocal inflections, harmonica solos and humorous narratives; or you can call him an anti-national hero or a political satirist. Whatever label we choose to define him with, at the end of the day he’s just another frustrated artist, a romantic at core who blends music, poetry and humor to create folk songs for everybody. What sets him apart is his most crucial ingredient – the painful truth of our times, the ‘politics’ which decides the plight of every living being in our country. Make no mistake though; Peace does not categorically write political songs. He writes love poems, just framed in a different way.

Based in Pune, Peace released his debut album, Aaj Ke Naam, in 2017, a mixed bag of protest, belonging, fear, loss, love, peace, hope and freedom. His second record, 1947 Se AK47 Tak, which released less than two months ago pushes his poetic expression further and dives deep into politics seeping into our daily lives and the aftermath of India’s independence. His music is brave and unapologetic, calling out the hypocrites and yearning for the real heroes.

We caught up with Peace earlier this month before his set at Mumbai venue The Finch. Through our chat with the singer-songwriter we learned of his distinct sense of humor which exudes beyond his songs, mixed with his pragmatism that makes for an extremely entertaining conversation. Excerpts:

Tell me about your early years and how you got into writing the kind of songs you currently do?

I’ve been playing music for around seven years now but not really professionally. My entry into the scene was with my first album [Aaj Ke Naam]. Earlier I was in a band and I used to play in that setup but later on it was too hectic and costly to manage a band and I just wanted to put my stuff out there so I started solo. I started writing these kinds of songs — this if you call it ‘political’ or whatever label people want to give it, back in 2014, when i wrote “FTII (protest song)”. From there, a lot of people loved it, so that’s when I decided — this thing, this music; I can really do something about it. [And] The government was constantly giving material and there was no dearth of content, so I started writing. A lot of things are not even related to this government also. The problem is with the people.

What is your creative process like?

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If you’re talking about form — the writing form, then that’s the beauty about poetry — that you don’t say things directly. For instance, in my song “Kasauli,” if you see there’s an undercurrent politics about immigration problem, like going away from your roots. If you see all the villages are emptying as the war is coming to the cities, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it’s just an expression of mine. I’m just saying there’s something wrong going on; it’s not a good feeling going far from your roots. So it’s a love story with under current politics. That’s the beauty of it, that’s why poetry feels so beautiful. For instance, if you tell someone — ‘Tu chutiya hai’ then where’s the fun? If you explain [to] someone with a story just how chutiya they are, then its impact is far greater.

Your song “Hey Mr. Prime Minister” was reported as obscene which resulted in the entire album being removed online.

Someone had complained, and that too some troll, some anonymous guy. So I told them, ‘In that way, so many songs in Bollywood objectify women and are obscene. So if I complaint against them, will you remove them? You won’t right? Because they have big labels. So your problem isn’t the lyrics, your problem is ‘who’s going to ask for him,’ you can easily bury me because I’m a struggling artist.

What motivates you under these circumstances?

It troubles me. It becomes problematic. We have ideals but we didn’t grow up under our ideals and circumstances. We weren’t taught in school that someday such would be the case that right wing will rise so much in our times and so on. On one level, our school education is highly idealist. It strives to make us good human beings only but you tell me, once you got out of school, did you see a single person like the ones mentioned in school textbooks? This was never mentioned in our syllabus. So seeing the current state, troubles me; from these very troubles arises sadness and anger.

Purely in terms of music, the genre that I’m in, you can see what kind of songs are being made in that. There’s a lot of self centered masturbation: “I’m looking for myself… I’m finding myself… In search of myself I’m wandering….In search of the destination, the roads etc..” I’m done with that thing. Tell me your story. What do you feel? For that matter, even if your story is bad, I wanna hear it.

What impact do you wish to have with your music?

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If people start thinking, that’s more than enough. Impact as such is in long term, can’t really quantify it right, as in direct impact, as in someone heard my song and became a revolutionary overnight, that’s not going to happen, it’s just that long term indirect effect which will continue happening just like any art form.

Who would’ve thought that [American folk singer] Pete Seeger’s song “We Shall Overcome” will be sung even today and that song will have so much impact in protests. He would’ve never known nor could’ve he have ever said the impact that his songs would bring, and all the places they’d be sung in even after all these years, he couldn’t have ever known.

What are your plans for the future?

To do a lot of gigs. The main problem is that half of the venue promoters get scared, festivals are also scared of hosting political acts. However, one thing that I’ve noticed is that if the political act is in English then they don’t mind but if it’s in Hindi that’s where the problem arises. It’s peculiar. You see how ironic it is — they know that the Hindi act will reach out to more audiences that is why they’re scared, so they don’t want this kind of music to reach the masses. I’m not saying English is bad, I also listen to a lot of it, there are a lot of political acts in English but probably in our country most people might not understand it.
So, that’s that. I want to reach more people through my music; record more singles, do more gigs.

I want to pursue a record on caste issue — a whole record on it. It’s like an elephant in the room and nobody wants to see it. It’s in our society, right in front of us. And we ignore it with such ease, turning a blind eye. I’ll try to push the awareness forward through my music and it won’t be a serious record. Although, I don’t know why people make (my music) to be a protest song, it’s pure sarcasm, I feel like my songs only have sarcasm. Make a different genre out of it called sarcasm.  

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