[VoxSpace Selects] Alias Babloo Babylon: When Music Goes Incognito

The Invisible Man Of The World Of Music

The underground world of music in India has slowly and steadily made a place for the deliberate rise of the legend Babloo Babylon. His SoundCloud account maintains a steady and consistent production of music. His single –‘Cliche Sound’ –made its way to a successful release last October. Babylon’s songs have been popular mostly because of the nostalgic essence of a lost time that pervades through his music.

He emerges, twists, manoeuvres, organizes and constructs music samples mostly sourced from the musical era of the 1940s to 1960s Bollywood. However, this genius of a musical artist is full of secrets. Babloo Babylon’s identity is a mystery and no one knows anything about him really, except for his ability to create excellent music while hiding behind the anonymity of an alias –‘Babloo Babylon’.

Let The Music Do The Talking

Over the past one and a half years, the anonymous Babloo Babylon has been a part of three gigs–‘Boxout Wednesdays’,‘UnMute’ at the antiSOCIAL, and a session called ‘Listening Room’, all of which were in Delhi. The ‘Listening Room’ session was held at a Delhi art gallery and rumour had it that Babloo Babylon was listed to perform.

The general public and audience were all fired up with speculation that Babloo would arrive just minutes before the performance and disappear as soon as the gig is over.

A conversation with the promoter of the ‘Listening Room’ gigs series, Rana Ghose, revealed the nature of the mysterious artist, the first time he met him during the scheduling of the event. “When we finally met, he was not quite what I expected –perfectly sculpted moustache, fitted shirt, flawless smile –but his music was. For his debut live set, he just deployed an SP-404 sampler, efficiently fingered out his whole set in real time, packed up, expressed his gratitude and left, again suggesting not to reveal his name. To this day, I haven’t.”

The identity of Babloo Babylon maintains its status as a heavily guarded secret. The anonymous artist of Jhumri Telaiya is nothing but an alias, a complex work of fiction. Regarding the intensive secrecy of his identity, Babloo Babylon once commented over a telephonic call, “I don’t like showing my face. Internally, my subconscious tells me, ‘Don’t show your face. What’s there in the face? It’s about the music right?’”

Communication with the secretive artist is almost as hard as it is to know his identity. Any effort to reach him is such a mammoth task that one would feel that he is trying to contact someone from a parallel universe! Babloo’s Facebook account is a clever way to reach him, but it does not give away his phone number. It takes a lot of convincing to gain his trust to finally getting him to agree to a conversation.

Even then, the conversation can only be over the phone and the call is directed through his managing agency, UnMute. Babloo is always very careful in not giving away any personal detail during any conversation and his usual answer to anything that is closely personal to his life is as simple as- “Let’s not get into all that.”

An Unveiled Love for Bollywood Music

Although the identity of Babloo Babylon remains veiled behind secrets, his love for age-old Bollywood music is not a mystery. Supposedly, a man of 20, owing to his fascination and obsession with Bollywood as well as regional music from almost seven decades earlier, Babloo Babylon is perhaps existing in a wrong era. Babloo considers the technologies and the techniques employed by the sound engineers in the creation of music, especially in the Bollywood of the 60s, as more innovative and groundbreaking than the contemporary ones.

There is a strong connection to history that is apparent in each of his works –his love for the music of the past is a pattern that is persistent in all his works. It is conceivable in the various types of sounds he chooses to use, with respect to the nature of his music rendering it with a throwback quality. Despite his direct inspiration from old Bollywood music, Babloo takes care such that the music samples sound rarely like an exact reproduction of the actual musical source.

He manoeuvres and manipulates the old sounds in a manner that structures and creates something new. Commenting on his method music creation, Babloo says, “The moment a sound gets sampled, it doesn’t sound the same. Or maybe the original source isn’t there in anyone’s consciousness.” Babloo’s music is almost like a hub or museum that conserves and protects the lost cinematic and musical history of Bollywood, rearranging it in the contemporary context of modern culture.

Babloo’s sense of the aesthetic and the music wrapped in the idea of a masked identity is that of sincerity, instead of postmodern effrontery. His sampling of Bollywood music insinuates reverence and not some flippant irony. When in the spirit of music, Babloo Babylon treads between articulate passages, both in English and Hindi, enunciating his love for the music of the past, while also giving insights into his work method.

He talks of his instruments of creation and his preference for the colour and the tonality of analogue technology as well as digital sounds, which in his own words gives him “tinnitus” –“It’s like a whole CPU inside. I’m still trying to master this –this becomes my instrument to make music.”

The Musical Journey of a Masqueraded Artist

Babloo Babylon’s journey through music is as exciting as his whole being. From a chance creation of music on his friend’s laptop to performing gigs for thousands, Babloo had always known his destiny and place. He says, “It was always somewhere in my subconscious. Kahin kahin se kuch kuch aa raha tha, hamesha (There were vague feelings surfacing up from someplace, always). I just didn’t know what it was.”

The roots of the name, ‘Babloo Babylon’ lies in a Jharkhand city called Jhumri Telaiya. Although the name is synonymous to a common saying in pop culture now, Babloo claims of having a strong link to it. He had lived there for a short period of time and would listen to the radio on Radio Ceylon and Vividh Bharati where the people from all around the city would send numerous requests.

Among all the names, ‘Babloo’ was a very common one and would often be called out on the radio. Hence, the pseudonym ‘Babloo’ was born. Babloo has suggested some significance for choosing ‘Babylon’ as a part of his pseudonym as well, but he has not revealed much about it.

On more than one occasion Babloo has referred to the influence of the 1988 Kamal Swaroop film, ‘Om-Dar-B-Dar’, on his career and life –“I really feel inspired by that film. The number of times I’ve watched it…I still don’t know where it’s headed. It’s so complex. The characters, they were also on this journey –it was like a secret life, a different life altogether. And I had this signature of the past.” The idea of living a concealed life is something that he connects with from the depth of his being –“I’m living two lives. In one, I’m a regular guy. That ends at, say, seven every day. But in the second, I’m just a figure from a film, like a villain or a hero. Babloo is the secret life, it’s the spirit which resides in this body and comes out when it wants to and feels liberated.”

Babloo Babylon- The Banksy of the Music World?

Babloo Babylon has chosen to live an incognito life of fame and music, because he is inhibited. However, there is a much bigger cause to it than plain shyness –preserving the purity of music by distracting oneself from the attention that might block the path of creation. What is to be taken note of is that Babloo Babylon is not the first on this road to take up a veiled identity. Graffiti and musical artists like Banksy, Daku and Jandek have made audiences feel their enigmatic presence through their mastered works of art, staying anonymous behind their cloaked identities and pseudonyms.

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In this respect, Babloo calls himself somewhat similar to a “backstage guy” –“They make sure everything is alright, all checks are done, and the show can go on. Once you start getting a little limelight, you start to take things for granted. I don’t want to spoil the image –not socially or anything –but the image of this guy I’m raising. I don’t want to spoil him. If he gets to see that world, he might not want to make music again. What if he gets into gambling? ‘Bro, mere ko achcha lag raha hain (I am liking this).’ I don’t want him to get affected by anything around. It’s about focus and discipline.”

Babloo Babylon has dreams for the Indian underground electronic music space to gradually develop into a cultural movement, providing the due recognition to the ones who are building themselves from scratch. He also aspires to perform in live gigs occasionally, along with his music releases. However, despite his dreams, Babloo is not delusional.

He maintains a clear idea about all that he aims to do –working on album concepts as well as writing singles. His priorities for the present are sorted and he is working towards promoting young talents of the nation, who can harmonize with the signature style of his music. This is the reason why he puts his music is free.

His dream of forming a cultural movement through electronic music comes to the fore when he says, “I want a 12-year-old, a 15-year-old, rapping his guts out on that song…At his local haunt, rapping to his friends.”