The Casteless Collective is a Chennai based Tamil indie band. The band currently consists of 19 members including Tenma (leader and music producer), singers Muthu, Bala Chandar, Isaivani, Arivu and Chellamuthu, Dharani (Dholak), Sarath (Satti), Gautham (Katta molam), Nandan (Parai and Tavil), Manu Krishnan (drums) and Sahib Singh (guitar).
Formed in the year 2017, the band was started by Pa. Ranjith and Tamil Indie Musician and Composer, Tenma, founder of Madras Records. The band’s name originated from the phrase ‘Jaathi Illadha Tamizhargal’ which was coined by the 19th century anti caste activist C. Iyothee Thass. He was a social activist who urged Dalits across Tamil Nadu to register themselves as Tamils without caste in the first Census in 1871. The band makes music to protest and rebel against the age-old caste-based discrimination and violence. Their songs are political which speaks against the inequalities of the caste system and oppression of women and minorities in Tamil Nadu.
The leader and music producer of the band, Tenma was preparing to put together a group of indie musical artists for the Madras Indie Collective in 2017 when he got the idea from Pa. Ranjith, of training Gaana musicians for it. They prepared auditions for over 150 applicants and looked for artists who had a socio-political motivation in their lives as well as musical strengths. A mixture of Gaana, hip hop, rap and folk musicians were brought together. About 19 singers were selected for the initial ensemble.
It has broken caste boundaries by engaging with the current social and political issues in the state. Instead of making music for entertainment alone the band has tried to eradicate discrimination through its music. Their main intention is “to create political awareness through music and art” because “art which makes us question discomfort is beautiful”. The band is a collective without caste which aims to eradicate caste based and religious discrimination through music.
Jai Bhim Anthem (2018), Quota (2018), Magizhchi (2018), Vada Chennai (2018), Thalaiva (2019), Dabba Dabba (2019) are popular singles of the band.
The Casteless Collective had their very first concert on January 2018 in Chennai. It was their first performance in front of more than 4000 people. The 19 members including one female artist, all dressed in identical grey suits gave a wonderful performance. Their cries of “Jai Bhim!” were greeted with thunderous applause. They had not expected such a big enthusiastic crowd and it was a very emotional experience for all of them. This was also because most of the artists came from small backgrounds and they had mostly performed in one or two funeral processions. The instrumentalists who played katte and chatti were really overwhelmed as these instruments were restricted to only funeral events.
It was not a concert that had people head-banging or jumping to the beat of drums. Instead, the audience listened to the songs with rapt attention. They broke into applause and shouts of agreement whenever the lyrics hit home. The Bhim Rap, a song on BR Ambedkar’s life and work, was met with a very enthusiastic reception. So was the Rap song that condemned honour killings in the name of caste and caste pride which was a major social evil in Tamil Nadu. Another popular track, Madrasin Magizhchi, spoke about the small joys of living in Madras, despite being poor.
They say that people often ask them about the song lyrics and the stories about their experiences, so a discussion has begun. The band believes that social problems cannot be solved unless it is spoken about. Without discussions around caste-based discrimination one cannot attempt to eradicate the social evil. Their songs have already fulfilled their aim and created a stir among people. We hope that the band achieves greater heights and reaches out to everyone out there who has been a victim of caste discrimination and that it becomes successful in eradicating the malpractices of the system.