Penned and produced during the tumultuous period of national lockdown following the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus, IncInk Records’ roster artists come together for a powerful cypher track, titled Mehfil-E-HipHop. With a roster of genre-defining artists from around the country, the label welcomes a fresh talent in the form of 21-year-old Abhay Prasad, aka Devil The Rhymer, who features on the track alongside the lyrical stylings of Kunal Pandagale, aka Kaam Bhaari, poet-turned-rapper Nitin Mishra, aka Spitfire, and Chaitnya Sharma, better known by his stage name, SlowCheeta.

Styled around the idea of a traditional Mehfil, the track is reminiscent of the early age of India, where courtly evenings were enlivened with the quintessentially Hindustani flavours of poetry, music, and intimate dance performances. A modern reimagination of this golden age, Mehfil-E-HipHop witnesses the coming together of four unique voices, each with their own individualistic style and flair, recorded cities apart and in the safety of their own homes. While divided by physical distance, the track’s seamless flow and building energy culminate in absolute sonic unity, a Mehfil of artists and poets united by music and sound.

A culmination of years of artistic growth, both for the vocalists, as well as the team that brought the track and its lockdown-themed music video to fruition, TheVibe got talking with the movers and shakers behind the sonic enigma, Mehfil-e-HipHop.

°The Shayars

Launching their careers on the silver screen, the artists of IncInk Records roster have come a long way since the wrapping of the Indian Hip-Hop biopic, Gully Boy. With individual journeys that have shaped and polished their personal styles, the voices of Mehfil-E-HipHop share their thoughts on this latest release.

“I think hip-hop has always been about being inspired by songs that you relate to, despite being been written in a corner of the world far away from where you are,” says Chaitnya, “The distance didn’t seem to matter because the work of every artist hit a chord that felt like home!”

With a verse inspired by the enforced silence of the global situation, SlowCheeta explains that this was his chance to let it all out. “It’s scattered. It’s blatant.” He says, “I like the way it flows because it has no specific pattern. It’s organised chaos.”

“It’s raw, because what you will hear on this track is unadulterated, it’s the mood of the day that we’ve captured, all in our own ways,” says Nitin Mishra, better known as Spitfire, “Our art is our only form of communication. I personally love Indian instruments, but to use them like this is mad. This is IncInk’s takeover season. Be ready.”

To Abhay Prasad, the Devil incarnate, the track marks a much-awaited return to music, as well as a powerful debut into a promising career alongside long-time friends and professional associates. “The gang is reuniting after 3 years for a single track, which in itself is a big thing for me, and I’m very excited about it. I don’t have words to describe it, but this one track is filled with four different flavours, and I know you’re going to love it,”

°The Karigars

Known for their visual and stylistic choices, Mihir Sud and Avian D’Souza of IncInk’s creative team get talking on the colourful, other-worldly artwork for the track. A creative reimagination of a traditional Mehfil, the art features the artists and audience clad in space-suit like protective gear over a turntable, enclosed in an intimate setting.

Inspired by futuristic fashion trends, products, and gadgets, Creative Director Mihir Sud elaborates on the visual choices made for the track. “Each character has his/her own customised hazmat, modified and designed specifically to the character as all of us usually do when we dress up to go out, our style and expression being unique to us. So, to imagine this time where we all would look the same in the same hazmats, I thought it would be impossible to not humour the thought that we would start to personalise them with our own individualistic sense of style.” He says.

“I tried to imagine the whole run-through, of how this could be a possibility and to enable this, we even put up a signboard which says ‘Fumigation Zone’ suggestive of the idea that we’d all be physically sterilised before collectively entering a space. Our drinks were connected through a pipe from the face shield to the glass. There is also a bouncer, if you look closely, walking amongst the crowd with an infrared thermometer annoyingly spot-checking one of the kids on the dance floor.”

Drawn by Avian in an old wood-cut style, the artwork is reminiscent of an age and time, while staying true to an idea that is both futuristic, and yet completely in the now.

“The people are in suits protecting you from the ‘outside’ world. It’s intentionally over-the-top, to highlight the fact that, regardless of the trouble, people want to be among other people and have a good time,” Avian says “I have had chance to visit a Qawali, and felt the energy in the air, due to the music. The experience is heightened due to the fact that people are also close together as an audience. A cypher is quite similar, in the sense that people usually drift towards a sound that creates an atmosphere, and calls for the people to come together. Both the worlds are full of similarities but occur in different generations. The artwork tries to encapsulate that air.”

°The Darbaaris

The gatekeepers of the Mehfil, producer Anushka Manchanda aka Nuka, and filmmaker and Co-founder of IncInk records, Navzar Eranee weigh in on challenges and highlights of the track’s journey.

“The challenge was to get good clean recordings, and for the mix and master engineer RĀKHIS to make them all work together,” Says Nuka, “Mehfil has also been crafted in the likeness of a cypher, which means that all the rappers would jam and freestyle on the beat. A highlight would be one of the rappers constructing a makeshift home recording booth by making a shed in a cupboard full of clothes. I have done this myself in the past when I didn’t have my own studio, and it was sweet to see it happen like this.”

An audio experiment that combines traditional Indian instruments with bass, Navzar elaborates on the cultural roots of the track. “The song is a celebration and a starting point for a move forward with our work this year. I do feel troubled about the times we live in. It marks maybe a sense of fearlessness. I dislike fear-driven narratives,”

Having guided the artists through the process of shooting the music video for the song, with each individual element coming together from the remote to the collective, Navzar explains that artistic freedom was paramount to the process. “I didn’t really direct (the artists). They always take it and make it their own. In a way, we were playing with more unknowns than knowns.” He says, “The experience of life is in the freedom of exploration, so, I don’t subscribe to this home video-style beyond a point. We may as well transfer our consciousness into 1’s and 0’s and get rid of our bodies and human experience for the fear of safety,”

Watch the music video for Mehfil-E-HipHop here!

Collaborating with the Access Mantra Foundation for an Indian Sign Language (ISL) music video for the track, IncInk carries forward their long-held aspirations to make music accessible to the hearing impaired. “There is an opportunity to share experiences. Those that are impaired are not less than, rather it is about creating access road so we don’t differentiate ourselves purely on ability,” Says Navzar, “A cause is a cause. There is so much that needs our support. Take your pick. Sign language is also a very beautiful and art in its own right. Music affects us all in the most positive of ways. Why see that denied to another?”

All images used in this article are courtesy of IncInk Records and belong rightfully to their original owners.

©️ 2020 Gut and Flow Media Pvt. Ltd.

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