If you've binged on Instagram content in the past few months, chances are you've come across Rahgir's viral song 'Aadmi Ch****a Hai', several times over. It's been the background score of Reels ranging from subjects like wearing white pants in Mumbai monsoons to junk food and weight loss. It's been in Reels about dates, men, girlfriends, parenting, curfews, wearing heels, marriage, pesky clients, pets, diets, careers and even chipped gel nails.
The two lines from the 28-year-old's song that was originally over three-minute long: "Phoolon ki laashon main taazgi chahta hai, aadmi ch****a hai, kuch bhi chahta hai (They want life in corpses of flowers, man is an idiot, he wants just anything)" became viral in Instagram Reels.
Over 35,000 Reels were made to just these specific lines from Rahgir's songs over the past year. However, it did not drive engagement to his own Instagram account. "The song didn't really get me many followers because the profile is not connected to the audio used in reels and I have tried to do it but it wasn't possible."
The virality of the song presents the challenges facing artistes trying to use Instagram to expand their audiences. With no strict policy on attribution, and 'creators' themselves disinterested in giving credit for either music or viral dances, it's nearly impossible for people like Rahgir to stay visible alongside their work.
When you click on the Instagram page on Reels made to Rahgir's song — it shows his album cover and name, but doesn't have a clickable link to his profile. Presumably, several creators who used the song did not bother to search him on the app and credit the Reel to him.
Rahgir uploaded a new album, titled 'Mere Gaon Aoge' on YouTube, following which he posted snippets of the songs from the album on Facebook and Instagram. A few weeks later, a White man who lives in India and posts content in India, uploaded a video with the two lines of 'Aadmi Ch****a Hai' as the background. This is when the song blew up on Instagram.
However, the Reels drove people to the song, if not the singer specifically. "On YouTube, the song has 4 million views and more than 1 million streams on Spotify." It was only when his other song, a Rajasthani folk song titled "Kanya Manya Kurr" went viral and was shared from his own accounts, that Rahgir started getting followers.
While you may have come across the song on videos about maggi burgers and other such confusing things, Rahgir's song is really about how there's an inherent hypocrisy in what human beings desire, and how they act to get it. Rahgir released the song last year in an attempt to voice his thoughts about the impact of consumerism on human nature.
The 28-year-old's music usually focuses on social themes, some of which are urbanism, ignorance, public judgements about people's valida life choices, among others. His other songs 'Mere gaon aaoge', 'Kya Jaipur kya Dilli' and 'Safar safar ki baat hai' explore similar themes. Rahgir plays music at old age homes, in schools and at public parks, apart from clubs and events. He is currently on a road tour – The Sand Tunes Project - across varied locations in Rajasthan, having collaborated with two friends, Sorav Gahlot and Karmveer Singh.
He has a subscriber base of 133K followers and 150K monthly listeners on Youtube and Spotify. He has over 80,000 followers on Instagram.
In an interview with BOOM, he shares his experience of virality, sharing music on social media and messages lost in translation.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
On the viral song
Your song 'Aadmi Ch****a Hai' spawned many reels on Instagram after it went viral. What is your take on the amount of content created on just the two lines of your song? Does it annoy you that the song had been used for reels that were far removed from the context of the song?
I do enjoy memes and the funny reels on social media. It is true that the meaning of my song has been distorted several times, but it is also through it that new people have discovered the song. They go on Youtube, hear the song fully and then in the comment section they write that they thought the song was funny but it is quite meaningful. Whatever the approach, the meaning is reaching people by way of reels or stories. I think it's okay, in fact it makes me happy. I didn't fume over any reel, in fact some were very creative - One reel showed a person asking google how to lose weight without exercising, one reel showed an employee asking leave from boss, etc. I have had fun seeing people's creativity with regard to the song.
When the meaning of your songs is distorted by alienating two lines from the whole song, does it affect your artistic image?
No, it doesn't affect my artistic image. Yet it can make things awkward. For example, when I'm introduced as the 'Aadmi Ch****a Hai' singer in front of a senior artiste who is not aware of my work. It can cause people to make judgements over my songs, even as most of them are meaningful and free of cuss-words. I'm working on more songs which will change this image, and some of them are already out.
How does copyright of music come into picture with regard to social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and others? How easy or difficult is it to copyright original content on these platforms?
My music is distributed to various platforms through a distributor and by that way it is copyrighted. I don't need to copyright songs separately. I have links that prove that I am the original creator and I can get others to remove content that belongs to me. In reels, using songs is allowed. Normally I don't bother much when people upload my songs randomly because it reaches new listeners. Songs belong less to the artistes and more to its listeners. If it is being used unethically at some places, I do flag it. On Gaana.com, someone else had begun posting my songs and gaining followers. I got it removed.
On social media fame
Over the past few months, your subscriber base across platforms has amplified drastically. How has that helped your music career and what has changed?
With the rise in my audience base, the work opportunities have increased. Earlier, I used to be approached by all kinds of people, who did or did not value my music. But now, people who have heard me and who see value in my work approach me with serious and quality projects that also pay well. I feel freer artistically, and have been able to invest in equipment, video-editing software, technicians, mics, cell phone and other gear. Earlier I used to produce videos from start to finish. Now I have been able to outsource certain work such as editing of videos. It has motivated me to try and create something better. Things were working out for me earlier as well, but there has been a boom over the past few months. Now when we approach senior artistes or companies, we can expect them to recognize us and respond to us. I'm enjoying the time.
In this age of digital domination, all artistes - be it singer, dancer, chef or anyone else - is a "content creator" and "influencer" first. Do you also create content to stay fresh in public memory?
No, I don't. My Instagram following has boomed to over 80K followers over the past few months. Even if I didn't have these many followers, I would still be singing and making videos. Each one's social media presence depends on what they want. Some want followers, some want to share their art. I do appreciate it if more people connect and follow me, but it is also true that these platforms have the potential to distract you from your work. It can make you post things even if you don't want it. If social media takes you away from your primary passion, it's not worth it. I believe it's much more important to make real connections in the physical world.
A travelling musician
The folk songs you create are infused with your take on issues facing the people of today. Is this a deliberate attempt to make folk music more appealing among the millennials?
I don't write songs for any age group; I write for myself. The song 'Aadmi Ch****a Hai' had been lying with me for a year before I uploaded it. I tried a lot to change the word, but that would have been unjust to the feeling with which it had been written. My compositions have several purposes – what I feel as an artiste about various songs. Someone may not see it as an issue. It is my way to express what I feel. If it brings positive change in anyone's life, it is successful. I've not chosen folk music; it has come naturally to me.
They say that if it was never new and it never gets old, it's a folk song. My kind of music falls into the genre of country music or folk. People here confuse it with regional music. I do, however, sing Rajasthani and Punjabi folk music at times because I really like it and it gives me happiness. If I am able to draw listeners towards regional folk music, I would want to do it. I sometimes sing rare regional folk during live performances. People do discover it and appreciate it, and I would want to do more. I also want to create songs in local languages.
Even today, not many folk artists use digital space to promote their work. Why is this so, in your opinion?
The generation older than us that is still pursuing regional folk music are not well-versed with the internet, nor do they bother about their online image. The new generation is barely into traditional folk, but some practice fusion folk. Because of this, other people take advantage of the traditional artistes by taking videos and growing their own channels. However, children of folk musicians are now rising to the occasion and sharing their music in the online space. Things are changing. The craze of Bollywood music is on a decline as people are now starting to follow independent artistes and regional music. Folk music is here to grow.
You hail from Sikar in Rajasthan. While the pandemic has widened the digital divide between urban and rural areas, what is the level of digital penetration in your village? Is it infrastructurally capable of nurturing budding artists like you?
Internet has seeped into my village as well. There is no WiFi but everyone has mobile data. Smartphones are everywhere, and the struggle to access resources is not so much. However, there is no music academy or classes to nurture talent in the field of music. And for this, one has to move out and visit cities such as Jaipur.