Mawali talks about the underground, upgrading his skills and upcoming UK gigs.
For some of the alter egos maturing in the badass parts of the city, the attitude was always there. An outlook knotted into being street smart and street wise from years of stoic temperament in the midst of oppression and general contempt.
But they could never put their finger on that feeling or quite understand the need for a channel to direct those energies. Until one day they bump into a Lil Wayne or Tupac Shakur video or witness one of those desi rappers in action in the midst of their hardened environment.
One such artist with a deep root and don’t-give-a-fuck-attitude is Aklesh Sutar, better known on the scene as Mawali. He enforces the “message is more important than the messenger” vibe in his shabby jeans, faded shirt and zany hairdo. Safe to say his head is well endowed with hair and words.
While growing up, Mawali’s skinny frame had put him in the radar of bullies in school and destroying them with his “you pick on me and I fuck you back” wordplays was the start of his foray into rap in the east side of suburban Andheri.
A small chillum was doing rounds when I met him in an elevated, sun dried park near Mahakali Caves. The gang included some of the Swadesi crew—of which Mawali is a part—and other bros from the scene. Their usual hangout.
“My character was decided. That character came from within,” says the regional rapper who acknowledges that the name Mawali is something that his mom calls him for his wayward ways.
But the man is not without minerals. A big chunk of his content or poetry has been salvaged through books that he reads like Guru Charitra on Swami Vivekananda. Divine could be credited for nudging him into the underground scene.
He would touch upon subjects from Tesla’s meeting with Swami Vivekananda and theology to Shastras and Metaphysics.
“Rap for me is a knowledge movement. It fits into other genres. I don’t want to be someone else, I want to branch out naturally, like a tree,” says Mawali.
It’s been three years since he baptized himself into Mawali, and before as Akai and Aklesh in the underground scene and rap battles that gained him an unsullied reputation.
Not one to settle, he makes a mean Emcee with his hard line Marathi verses open to honest experiments in an effort to dish out an authentic song.
“I’m learning classical taal (rhythms) to upgrade my skills. I’m not forcing myself, it’s coming naturally,” Mawali says.
For now, he’s been training and collaborating with the likes of percussionist-composer, Vivieck Rajgopalan as well as with the members of Bandish Projekt on songs such as “Gondhal” that revolves around an old Marathi religious tradition.
Mawali has collaborated with Rajgopalan on two tracks called "Om", a song delving into its meaning and "Kaali Yatra" which is about dark matter. They are scheduled to perform on Kappa TV in Kerala this month.
And just like that, Mawali gave me a heads up and burst into a diatribe, busting out machine gun rap in cracking Hindi. Later on he whipped into more such vocal calisthenics presenting his newly acquired taal skills merged into spitfire Hindi. One of his first Marathi tracks “Laaj Watte Kai” packs a raw regional punch while addressing the Delhi rape case.
So has it been remunerative so far? Not yet.
“Nobody’s getting money. Most people want us to do gigs for free, although a little money and production support is coming from abroad from the likes of Global Faction and other entities,” he says.
Mawali feels that rap culture has taken strides in the international scene while its in an embryonic state here, which needs to be changed.
“Hip hop is an art form that needs to be presented well,” he adds.
But things are looking up for him with some UK shows in the pipeline.
“We’re working with Bandish Projekt on this Indian Summer event for which I’ll be going to UK in March and later some of us—including Flying Machine and Zake—will be performing at the Indo-UK cultural exchange event there,” Mawali says.
This particular day Mawali was meeting an international beat boxer who was in town. His phone rings, “Parasite is coming with me. Should I get Mayavi also?” he talks into the phone.
Yes, their bynames and alter egos are pretty much rooted that they hardly address each other with their real names.
Mawali is featured in Hip Hop Homeland, a series about India's underground hip hop scene.
By Mohan KK