It’s Bhakti Vibration – a new genre of intense electronic music from Uttar Pradesh, northern India, known for remixing the speeches of religious leaders, Bollywood stars and politicians, including the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While some of the tracks focus on Bhakti, Hindu devotional music, others take on a much more political, often vehemently nationalistic tone.
Despite the strong political overtones of many Bhakti Vibration tracks, including his own, DJ Lucky denies that he creates anything other than entertainment.
Religious devotion and community tension
The most popular songs from the new genre focus on religious devotion, and comments under YouTube videos often praise Hindu gods and call for unity among Hindus.
But to engage their followers and gain maximum reach online, DJs often choose provocative titles and samples for their tracks.
The tracks remix Sufi Islamic devotional music, sample political dialogue and use repetitive slogans like “Nara-e-Takbeer” or “God is great”. With tracks like “DJ Qawwali AK 47 mix” – in which gunshots are sampled alongside Sufi music – some tracks are as combative as Bhakti Vibration.
Shabnam Hashmi, a Muslim activist and founder of Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), a human rights group, said both sides were reacting to an increase in communal tensions in recent years.
According to Hashmi, “both (Bhakti Vibration and Miya Bhai) are very dangerous”, although she points out that Miya Bhai Electronica’s audience is arguably more limited.
India’s population of around 1.3 billion is made up of a Hindu majority of around 80%, along with a large Muslim minority of around 185 million, or around 15% of the total.
If Bhakti Vibration has a home, it’s in Allahabad, officially known as Prayagraj, a town in Uttar Pradesh that hosts some six hundred DJs.
DJ Deepu is a rising star in the Prayagraj scene who started learning how to remix songs when he was 15 years old. Now 18, he runs his own studio in the city and teaches others how to DJ. At Bhakti Vibration events, he engages in DJ battles, taking on another musician while a crowd dances in the middle.
“The crowd wants to feel the vibrations, so whoever is able to produce the highest, most enjoyable vibrations wins,” Deepu told CNN.
Like DJ Lucky, Deepu’s success is fueled by a large following on YouTube, though his mostly focuses on Prayagraj. Having become a local celebrity, he is paid by event organizers or residential communities who hire DJs for religious festivals.
“We don’t play music in clubs or pubs – there is none in Allahabad. We play it for the public and our public loves to vibrate,” he said. “But since I have a studio, I can now participate in bigger projects.”
His most recent project was a song for a political party, which he declined to share with CNN. “It’s mostly filled with slogans,” Deepu said.
“Part of a larger trend”
Music and Hindu nationalism have a long and complex history, said Richard Williams, lecturer in ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London.
“Since the beginning of the 19th century, many Hindu musical scholars in northern India have denounced Muslim musicians and blamed them for the alleged ‘degeneracy’ of classical music,” he said.
“Since then, Muslim musicians have been regularly cast aside in Indian music histories, and reformist groups have successively attempted to ‘purify’ Hindustani classical music as a form of sacred music, i.e. say Hindu.”
While many Bhakti Vibration DJs don’t see themselves as driven by communalism, Williams said it’s “fair to say they’re responding to popular demand from anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistani media. That’s part of a larger trend.
But DJ Lucky sees nothing wrong with Bhakti Vibration and rejects the suggestion that he is intentionally provocative.
“I make music because I love it, it’s my passion and my hobby,” he said. Although he said it may have gone too far, referring to an incident in which Bhakti Vibration was played outside a mosque, Lucky said his intention was not to promote hatred.
“No DJ would play music that would upset other people or cause other people trouble,” he said.