Songs of Hope: Delhi’s J Block Collective Brings Artists Together to Share Beats, Life and More
In his first song with the music collective J Block, Siddhant proclaims:Queer haan mai, paaji insaan v(I’m queer, my brother, a human too). “Kalla Killah” is Siddhant’s story laid bare for every listener who comes across the song. It’s a story he was able to share with the world once he encountered a community of music producers and artists who strive to provide a safe space for people to “just be themselves.” “.
Named after Sarita Vihar’s J Block in Delhi, the music collective came together during the first lockdown at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when two artists, Lonekat (31) and Aatmbodh (26) , moved in together to make music. While the duo have moved to a different part of town now, their home continues to welcome anyone looking for respite or professional collaboration.
For Siddhant, however, the collective has become the birthplace of an artist. He ended up singing with Lonekat, an artist name used by Siddharth Sengupta, at a friend’s party one day, striking what would become a friendship of shared heartbreaks, strengths and worldviews. Once Lonekat invited him to J Block and Siddhant recalled, “I was just quiet. I watched everyone and came back. But something hit me that night and I felt I had to write, I have a lot to say.
Having found a space to let his thoughts run free, Siddhant, from Hanumangarh in Rajasthan, says, “I wanted to mention that ‘yes, I’m queer’ – I wanted to be so open about it. I wanted to say it so people would start caring about it. I exist man, it’s me. You can’t abuse me anymore. After the song’s release, the 26-year-old says he feels like he has a “superpower” now. “I’m so happy about it. People message me about their experiences and I tell them we’re in this together.
While ‘Kalla Killah’ is a heartbreaking take on the LGBTQ+ experience, a song like ‘Ghamandi’ examines the politics around the pandemic. With verses from Punjabi poets like Shiv Kumar Batalvi and Hazrat Sultan Baahu, the J Block explores the talents of its various members across genres like rap, folk, hip hop and lo-fi – sometimes fused together.
The collective also produces its own music videos, offering surreal visuals like in “Baahu” and trippy digital artworks. Songs like “Sukoon” and “Saer” offer insight into the J Block house, its people, and the locality of Sarita Vihar. While ‘Faqeeran’ follows artists through the streets and markets of Paharganj – representative of the city’s young crowd who form their audience.
Often referred to as “Delhi underground artists” in musical circles, the members are however reluctant to be “categorized”. “A common thread between all the songs that came out of the J Block is that there was no way to box the artist,” says Faizan Rahman aka Faichan, a 22-year-old music producer from Delhi. Adam Bo alias Aatmbodh adds: “In big studios, the central motivation is profit. Here, the central motivation is above all this mutual respect that people have for each other. That’s why the kind of stories that come out are very different, and even the genre is very different. So if you see, ‘Kalla Killah’ is very different from ‘Bohot Kede’ and it’s quite different from ‘Thehra’ which Faizan released recently.
Siddharth adds that while they have more control over the song and its visuals, being an independent collective comes with its own challenges “like arranging equipment and actors, because we have limited funds – less than we could have. in association with a big name.”
However, members attempted to overcome this challenge by pooling their resources. “It’s like a co-op, for those in it,” says Siddharth, a digital marketer by profession. He adds that apart from their own music video and concerts, they earn money through paid projects, offering creative solutions, from videos to soundtracks, brands and artists. “It’s just a very self-contained thing where everyone is taken care of. We all pool together,” he says.
The collective, says Siddhant, is like a “family that pushes you to be the best version of yourself.” The sentiment is shared by several members. Abhishek Vishwakarma, who prefers to be called Kabeer or Lil Kabeer, shares, “I had been there for four days but stayed for 12. Woh in heaven ki tarah tha bilkul, har taraf music ka cheez ho raha hai (C was like heaven where music was produced in every corner. It’s a great group of producers and sound engineers. I even improved my sound with them.
Originally from Kanpur, Kabeer (22) found the collective when he needed accommodation in Delhi while filming a music video. At the time, the rapper didn’t have the funds to book a hotel and Waris (another member of the collective) put him up at the J Block.
Kabeer was an “alag sa bacha”, an outsider, during his schooling, as he was the only one among his peers who spent his time listening to rap. Although he got number one in Uttar Pradesh in a Class 10 Olympiad and had an interest in coding, by the time he finished Class 12, Kabeer knew he wanted a career in coding. music. Her parents, who are tailors by profession, supported her decision.
However, now a “community” has become the backbone of the 22-year-old’s musical career. While his first laptop was bought by his parents, scraping together their savings, Kabeer’s setup now includes a microphone, donated by a friend, and an upgraded laptop, bought through crowdfunding. Thanks to J Block too, he says, “I found friends who raised me in a city that was unknown to me.”
Siddharth goes on to explain that since the collective started during lockdown and “with the kind of isolation that many of us had mentally faced due to Covid-19, Block J had actually become a safe space for many people. The thought process behind it was simply, hum sub dost ek saath rahenge (we friends will all stick together) and take care of each other. Siddharth recounts times when 10 people stayed together and even gave job interviews.
For Faizan, who settled permanently in the residence, J Block became “a space where I could collaborate with other people, even artists that I admired. It was a friend’s house that started to look like my own house, then it literally became my house.
Faizan, Adam and Siddharth share a vision for the collective to continue to grow and enrich its talent pool. Adam hopes they can soon get everyone working full time while still getting funding on their terms. Siddhant adds, “My dream would be for one of us to explode, be a world famous artist, so that we can do more. Each of our individual careers will have all of our hands in it. »