Phir bi Dil Hai Inquilabi
I will never forget playing a show with Red Baraat in Erie, PA on August 5, 2012, hours after the gurdwara shooting in Oak Creek. That day, my trumpet screamed with rage, even within the context of our joyful, celebratory music. That day, I felt especially vulnerable to be on stage in front of a couple of thousand mostly white folks in middle America, yet it felt extremely important. It was not easy. I didn’t know if the audience had watched CNN that morning or had any clue what was going on in Wisconsin, but I knew that either way, us being on that stage doing what we do on that horrific day was necessary.
Red Baraat doesn’t prescribe to a particular political agenda as a band, but our music, which tears downs boundaries of musical genres, embraces a certain rebellious spirit—indeed, a spirit of Ghadar. Much of our music has no lyrics, which on the surface might seem to imply that there is no message to it. But, like all art, so much can be communicated without uttering a word. At our best, our instruments are extensions of our emotions. Perhaps that inherently emotional quality to music is why it has been such a powerful force to galvanize and uplift people to fight against various forms of injustice for hundreds of years throughout the world.
The song that I want to share for this issue of SAMAR in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the Ghadar Party is called Azad Azad. In Punjabi (and many other languages), “azad” means freedom. The song does have lyrics, which I partially wrote and partially borrowed from the famous 1955 Hindi song “Mera Joota Hai Japani.” The chorus of the original song is “Phir bi dil hai Hindustani,” which means, “In my heart, I’m all Indian.” This nationalist song celebrated India’s sovereignty after hundreds of years of colonial rule by the British.
Perhaps the Ghadarites would have sung along to this song in 1955, but Indian nationalism has come to mean something very different today. In Azad Azad, I changed the line to “Phir bi dil hai inquilabi” meaning “In my heart I’m a revolutionary.” Azad Azad is a song about breaking down borders – especially those of nation-states – and getting to the essence of what connects us all as human beings. While I support the vision of a free India that the Ghadar Party and many others fought for a hundred years ago, in many ways I question nationalism in itself, as it is inherently based on exclusivity. My heart is not inherently Indian or even South Asian for that matter. My heart yearns for something bigger and deeper than we can find in nation-states, regional identities, or religion.
As we chanted “Azad Azad!” with the audience that Sunday in Erie last year, my entire body was shaking—in sadness, in anger, in desperation. Many in the audience had likely never seen a turban-wearing Sikh in their life, much less heard the sound of the dhol. But at least in that moment of collective chanting and singing, my hope is that we were breaking down some walls and getting us all closer to freedom.
Written by Sonny Singh
Mera joota hai Japani
Sir pai lal topi Rusi
Phir bi dhil hai Inquilabi
My shoes are Japanese,
pants are English,
on my head a red Russian hat,
but in my heart, I'm a revolutionary
No borders no walls freedom sings through us all
No borders no walls freedom dances through us all
No borders no walls freedom rings through us all
No borders no walls, Azad!
Phir bi dhil hai Inquilabi
In my heart, I'm a revolutionary