By Anurag Tagat Mar. 22, 2022
Dharmesh Parmar was not just a singer, but also a philosopher, an environmentalist and the rarest of all, a principled artist.
Recently when I saw Swadesi, the socio-politically charged Mumbai-based hip-hop group, it was in early 2019 at the crowdfunded festival Control ALT Delete, at an open-air venue in Malad. It was a familiar playground for Swadesi who took the event to a whole new level when they performed “The Warli Revolt”, a seismic fusion-rap song featuring a chorus injected by Prakash Bhoir, an Adivasi activist from the threatened green cover of Aarey Colony and forest in suburban Mumbai. A song that pledged solidarity and demanded action on a grassroots level “The Warli Revolt”, sung in unison by hundreds gathered at the festival, showcased what was powerful about Swadesi; their protest hip-hop felt authentic and did not shy away from questioning those in power. It’s why the early, unexpected demise of Dharmesh Parmar aka MC Tod Fod feels as much a national loss as it does a personal one.
The early, unexpected demise of Dharmesh Parmar aka MC Tod Fod feels as much a national loss as it does a personal one.
Tod Fod, who rapped in Hindi and Gujarati, condensed his learnings from the world (and not necessarily from school) into rap, particularly taken in by the speeches of late activist Rajiv Dixit, whose videos he followed. Tod Fod believed that India still had to shake off its colonial hangover. Promoting a love for nature alongside environmental rights and rapping about corporate greed and exploitation of the working class, Tod Fod was also a philosopher who spoke from the heart about living for oneself, unburdening the heaviness of life and the quest for peace of mind. Growing up in the erstwhile Bombay Development Directorate (BDD) chawls in Naigaon, Dadar, ideas of revolution and freedom arguably came naturally to Tod Fod, given that his chawl was formerly a British jail.
Tod Fod and Swadesi were rare protest acts in the face of the increasingly commercial, cash-grab opportunities present in the mainstream.
Coming from that sort of environment, Tod Fod had no time for anything superfluous in his rap. On songs like “Khaari Baat,” he addressed ‘fakeness’ while on “Galliyan Bhool Bhulaiya”, the rapper cemented his place on the hip-hop scene at large. At their (pre-pandemic) launch show for their 2020 album Chetavni at Vh1 Supersonic festival in Pune, the artist summoned a consciousness and shook up a few comfortable, privileged attendees about the state of the country and why it needs fixing. Watching Tod Fod and the crew unfalteringly deliver Chetavni made theirs a rare protest act in Indian hip-hop that stuck to its guns in the face of the increasingly commercial, cash-grab opportunities present in the mainstream.
They were real examples of hip-hop artists who would walk the talk.
On stage and off the stage, Tod Fod and Swadesi were real examples of hip-hop artists who would walk the talk. Sure, he was turning devotional chants into rap verses on “Dakla”, the Navratri song produced by Bandish Projekt and featuring singer Aishwarya Joshi. But there was a lot more versatility in store. Tod Fod performed at protests and gatherings to save the Aarey forest and he crafted incisive takedowns of corporate greed: “Aur MNCs har prakar se hai khoon choos rahi/Par hum toh beheke, hume sab lagta hai sahi”, he sang in the clarion call for vigilance, “Khabardaar”. Over quaking beats on “Khaari Baat”, Tod Fod rapped about pharmaceutical giants who were playing with people’s lives along with governments. This style of eye-opening rap was never about talking down or spouting conspiracy theories, because Tod Fod often addressed the listener as a friend, trying to inspire them into thinking and acting.
Tod Fod will live on through his music as much as he will live on through his principles, and the things he wanted to sing about.
Tod Fod, along with members of Swadesi, had learned the practice of ‘konnakol’, a kind of vocal percussion style often heard in Carnatic music. Taught by producer and percussionist Viveick Rajagopalan, the technique added a new dimension to the singer’s rap, where konnakol would open up new ways to think about meter and cadence. Where other rappers were turning to Autotune and mimicking flows from American artists, Tod Fod was digging deeper into his own country’s vocal tradition. Not only did this lead to Tod Fod joining Rajagopalan for his fusion act Ta Dhom Project, it also brought Bandish Projekt and Swadesi back in the same orbit to record a follow-up EP to Katal Kalaa, giving a socio-political bent to their 2019 EP Khulle Naagde.
Electronica, fusion and konnakol wasn’t the only kind of music that Tod Fod and Swadesi wanted to keep up with. Tod Fod was part of “Kaali Yug”, made with metal band Providence while he also sat down and jammed with Irish dub/reggae artist Cian Finn on a song called “Love Life”. He could speed rap to match riffs but also slow down and talk about living in the present, finding happiness and being compassionate toward one another. Therein lies the beauty of a voice like Tod Fod, who will live on through his music as much as he will live on through his principles, and the things he wanted to sing about.