Indie music has been thriving in India for the past few years bringing a refreshing change in the music industry that has been lopsided otherwise towards the tunes of Bollywood. Here is a list of 13 indie artists to get you inducted into the genre.
Genres such as reggae, folk, jazz and rap have created ripples across the world reflecting the socio-political state of affairs in different geographies at different time periods. An art form that started its evolutionary journey apparently about 40,000 years back, music continues to evolve giving shape to new genres.
Indie music, derived from its longform ‘independent’, is one such genre that came about in the late 1970s through independent labels in the UK and the USA. They operate independently from mainstream corporate labels. A still-evolving music genre, it’s hard to pinpoint the music aesthetics of indie which has branched out today into indie-rock, indie-folk, indie-hip-hop and more.
In India it gained popularity quite recently when artists from small towns and cities came forth with their music and eventually started going on multi-destination tours without any backing from big music labels. In a country like ours with its diverse social and political state of affairs, indie music has developed into a strong medium of expression. In fact, it’s been refreshing to see a Sofia Tenmozhi Ashraf rapping ‘Kodaikanal won’t’ protesting the mercury pollution in Kodaikanal by a Unilever factory, or a Vedan piercing through the ugly casteist core of the society through his music, proving that Indian music is capable of much more than shaking to the tunes of Bollywood.
We’ve listed down 13 of the most terrific indie artists who make music that is for a cause.
Brought up in a small town – Arakkonam near Chennai, Tamil Nadu, Arivu Kalainesan grew up with limited or no entertainment gadgets like television or radio in his household. He used this to his advantage and learnt a lot of folk songs that he heard as a child which in turn developed his cultural and socio-political knowledge while growing up. Arivu’s latest smasher, Enjoy Enjaami (featuring Dhee) has earned over 200 million views and 3.8 million likes on YouTube! Before this, Arivu shot to fame with Therukkural, an album that has songs with hard-hitting lyrics based on social structures and political tragedies. Catch his revolutionary music here.
Vivian Fernandes, popularly known by his stage name, ‘Divine’, is the epitome of ‘Gully-rap’ and a popular figure in the Indian indie hip-hop arena. Born and raised in Mumbai’s suburban gullies, Divine started writing lyrics based on what he observed around him while growing up. At a young age, Vivian spent hours listening to songs by American rap legends Eminem and 50 Cent, on a CD player that belonged to his grandmother. He chose his stage name also because of his grandmother who would take him to church every day throughout his childhood.
At the tender age of 15, Naveeni Athanasious Philip a.k.a. Navz-47, wrote the lyrics to a song that would later be her pilot number in indie music. She honed this revolutionary trait and went on to use her music as a ‘weapon against the bullies’ she encountered in life. Tune in to her music here.
- Sanjeev T
Known for his work with the likes of A.R. Rahman, Sanjeev T is one of the best indie musicians in the country. He is so passionate about music, that he intends to impart music education the right way to young enthusiasts and make it accessible to those who aspire to succeed in the music industry. Rainbow Bridge Music School, his dream project, was set up in Bangalore in 2015 and has shaped the musical career of many aspirants over the years. Apart from covers, Sanjeev released three songs in 2020 from his ongoing EP titled ‘Future’. According to Sanjeev, the songs in this album are based on emotions we face as humans through the Covid pandemic. The lo-fi or low fidelity sounds used in these songs are representative of the different feelings everyone globally is undergoing in this situation. You can listen to his music here.
- Joshua Singh
Having written and composed songs in alternative rock, this indie musician entered the arena in 2019. His music is varied and he has written songs that deal with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Catch his tunes here.
- Thugs Unit
The Hyderabad-based duo, Mudassir Ahmed and Syed Irshad, have emerged as the pioneers of Urdu hip-hop in India. With a beautiful blend between sufi music and hip-hop, Thugs Unit ‘raises voice against evils in the community and power establishments’. Learn more about their music here.
- Abdon Mech
Raised in a musical family in Dimapur, Nagaland, Abdon Mech wrote his first single, ‘Again’, as an attempt to voice the different ways in which the Covid-pandemic affected various sections of our society. Gifted with a versatile voice that fits perfectly well in multiple genres, Abdon has written songs about breaking away from addictions and fighting identity crises – issues that haunt many youths in the country. He wishes to leave an impact on his listeners through his music which you can listen to here.
- Anoushka Maskey
This soulful musician from Mumbai and Sikkim, has made songs on some global issues like environmental depletion and the complacence of humans as inhabitants of the earth. She is one of the very few musicians around the world who plays a right-handed guitar with a left-handed position. Explore her music here.
- Black Letters
This Bangalore-based alternative-rock indie band comprising four musicians makes music that gives out strong messages about issues like sexual abuse and mental health. Through their music, the band intends to improve the way the audience perceives music these days and ensure that the crux of the message given out by indie music does not go misunderstood. You can listen to their music here.
This hip-hop indie artist is all set to put Kerala rap on the global music map. Vishnu M.S, also known as ThirumaLi, writes his lyrics on issues like the increasing gap between the rich and the poor in the country. Through his intelligent music, he throws light on problems like greed and poverty which are composed in RnB, pop-influenced rap and EDM-based hip-hop beats. Catch his music here.
Remember listening to Paper Planes which was remixed and used in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire? At a time when the world was just getting introduced to indie music, ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam, better known as M.I.A tried to throw light on the crimes in her home country, Sri Lanka. Although she faced a lot of challenges while doing this, she did give us some really thought-provoking numbers. You can listen to them here.
- Saby Singh
Born and raised in the beautiful region of Jammu and Kashmir, Saby Singh is another indie prodigy who has a lot of soothing music to his credit. Saby was raised with no or very little scope for a social life, unlike his urban counterparts. He likes to experiment with sounds and create something heart-rending and soulful. Listen to his music here.
- MC Altaf
When one mentions MC Altaf, you can’t help but think of Gully Boy – he was the one who taught Ranveer Singh to rap for the movie. Altaf wants to inspire young minds in our country to dream big and never give up. Hailing from Dharavi, Mumbai, Altaf aims to put ‘India’s music on the charts’. Tune in to his music here.
The list is not exhaustive. Like the genre that’s evolving, the list too goes on. There are notable artists, such as Arya Dhayal, Poojan Sahil, and many more. We hope you will enjoy listening to these artists as much as we enjoyed creating this list for you! Have we missed any of your favorites? Do let us know!
Stay safe and listen away.