Exclusive Premiere: NUKA and Kaam Bhaari Want You to Get Your Shit Together With ‘Ayo Burn’
The IncInk records producer-rapper duo go all out on the synth laden track that examines the country we live in
“You can be an activist and an artist and you can keep your integrity. Because otherwise what are you saying through your art anyway?” says Anushka Manchanda aka NUKA. The producer/lyricist has had a storm brewing in the back of her head for about a year and a half now and her experimentation in production finally found its synergy right when she realized she had a lot to say. “When you do more research and you start reading about stuff, you realize that it’s not just the last two years…The story has been the same for a long time. The kind of revolution that’s happening in the country right now…I haven’t seen this before, ever. I feel like maybe, now, things might change.” She’s talking about public dissent and people taking to the streets to stand up for what they believe in as they respond to the ongoing political current about citizenship in India. And what better medium for dialogue than art?
Incoming is “Ayo Burn,” Mumbai label IncInk’s latest release helmed by NUKA (who is also head of music at the label) featuring Kandivali rapper Kunal Pandagale aka Kaam Bhaari. The four-minute track is a bolt of a reckoning, with the producer and rapper spitting bars that bear the weight of both truth and protest as they speak about communalism, corruption, data privacy, war, feminism and more. “What a fucking world to live in/ But maybe we can turn it round/ If we get our shit together/ Before we’re six feet underground,” NUKA says on the track. These lines have changed since she originally penned them; an urgency to affect positive change leading her to rewrite the verse and offer a solution, to essentially say: we could die trying or do something about it. Kaam Bhaari too belts, “Leunga haq mera bolne ka/ Waqt mera, desh ka main naagrik/ Bolne ka farz mera (I’ll take my right to speak/ This is my time, I’m a citizen of the country/ It’s my duty to speak,)” remarking that freedom of speech is lacking in India, and “Ayo Burn” is a way to take that back.
Emerging with electronic beats like a pacing heartbeat, “Ayo Burn” gives way to a dissipating horn, like the sound of an emergency before all hell breaks loose. Spurned by a plugin, the constant ringing of the cymbal is insistent and the track unfolds, laid out on a progressive glitch bearing electronic flares and a detuned, rubbery synth line that weave around in interludes. NUKA’s bars in English and Kaam Bhaari’s bars in Hindi collide and merge on the bi-lingual track and the anger is palpable with the production seamlessly making room for both voices to be heard and understood, making sure listeners can’t ignore the beat or the words. It’s commentary on the state of the country after all, and NUKA and Kaam Bhaari want you to pay attention.
“It’s not only NUKA and my duty to talk about what’s going wrong in the country, it’s the duty of every citizen. That’s what we are trying to say with this song – that we should feel the burn that will push us to raise our voices on what’s going wrong around us,” says Kaam Bhaari who has previously taken on issues such as fair artist contracts on “Zeher,” the environment on “Ganpati Aala Re” and caste on “Shuru Karein Kya?” His presence on the track though was coincidental, occuring by way of conversation. The rapper happened to be hanging out in NUKA’s home studio while she was working on the track and an impromptu writing session led to the song growing into its final state. “He spoke about the stuff that mattered to him and I thought that was really cool, because between the two of us, we do come from different spaces and different backgrounds. So, it was a really good mix of things we wanted to say. It was really organic,” says NUKA.
The producer/lyricist calls “Ayo Burn” a collaborative IncInk effort. From the track to the video, the team’s creative and logistical input and support really made the track what it is with Ananya Dasgupta (Head of Operations), Henna Brar (PR, Communications and Alliances – Lead), RĀKHIS aka Shikhar Yuvraj Manchanda (Head of Music) and Navzar Eranee (Co-founder and filmmaker) working closely with NUKA during the making of the song. Shot in multiple long takes, NUKA helmed direction (her debut venture) and editing for the music video, working closely with National Film award-winning cinematographer Shanker Raman and choreographer Rajit Dev to bring her vision of awaking ‘sheep-le’ to reality. Eranee assisted the artist in direction while National Film award-winning makeup artist Preetisheel Singh of Mumbai-based makeup, hair and prosthetics company Da Makeup Lab (who also collaborated with the artist on her socially conscious, Gandhian photo series NUKAxMonkey) came on board as the makeup artist. IncInk’s Mihir Sud (Creative Director – Art and Design) served as production designer for the music video, subliminally tying in the messaging of the song to create an eclectic party space for commentary. He also created the artwork for the song in collaboration with IncInk’s lead designer Avian D’souza.
“The track is…I don’t want to use the word manipulative, but it is in a way, because it has all this super hardcore stuff that we’re talking about. But the vibe of the track is like, ‘heheheheheh,’ you know. It’s upbeat, high energy and has a high tempo vibe going on,” says NUKA. She wanted the same for the music video, keeping things super fun and easy on the surface to reel in the ‘sheep-le’ i.e. people who are still sitting on the fence. The video follows NUKA and Kaam Bhaari as they introduce you to the world as they see it, portraying the undercurrents of mundane occurrences such as a party where dialogue and dissent can too come into play.
NUKA’s last independent release was “Don’t Be Afraid” in 2018, an electro-pop track that outlined the cycle of life, death and rebirth. When asked about why she wanted to release “Ayo Burn” under IncInk’s label, the artist said, “This is something that my label stands for, and the people that work here stand for. This is a group of people who are revolutionaries, who want to do something, who have something to say. So I wanted to put it out through the label.”
She also gives us a sneak peek at upcoming releases from the label, telling us that there are already tracks lined up for release in February and March and that IncInk will be coming out even stronger in 2020. But for NUKA, there was no other time but the present to finally let “Ayo Burn” into the world. “I feel like this is a good time. People are paying attention, people are actually talking about things and listening. Anytime is a good time for this track but now just feels right. There’s hope,” she says.