Abhijit Jejurikar: Transforming Bacchalog from Ragpickers to Rockstars – Dharavi Rocks

Dharavi Rocks on stage

We were taken aback when we first heard the story of Dharavi Rocks. It’s a band consisting of bacchalog (children!), who were rag pickers from Dharavi slum. They’ve now gone on to perform with the biggest of the biggies. On this Children’s day, we are privileged and take pride in presenting to you the inspiring journey of these kids through the interview of their music teacher, who calls himself a volunteer- the energetic Abhijit Jejurikar.

The Ragpickers are now called as Rockstars

The journey started from a small shed in Dharavi, collecting junk and waste material around the area. Then we all started experimenting with all the junk percussions and started creating sounds. Later, we started getting into some intense practice sessions, workshops and small performances in Mumbai. These 3 years have gone in lots of ups and downs- understanding kids, their background, getting kids into certain kind of discipline, getting them into proper shape by encouraging them to leave all their bad habits behind, and provide them with a platform which gives them the right direction. And obviously a lot of sweat, sacrifices and efforts have gone in achieving this incredible successDharavi Rocks Band Image

Dharavi Rocks started a few years ago but rapidly gained popularity among the audiences. We have been traveling and performing in major cities across India like Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Goa and Ahmedabad, and conducted more than 50 shows. The band has performed with various national and international artists including Salman Khan, Karsh Kale, Agnee, Indian Ocean, Taufiq Qureshi, and many more.

International bands like Under Kontrol, a four-member beat boxing outfit from France, was one of the first to visit Dharavi to conduct a free class. Since then, British jazz saxophonist Soweto Kinch, Australia’s Deep Blue Orchestra, and Australia’s most innovative percussionist, Ben Walsh, have worked with the band. The kids, who have now gained a taste of rap, hip hop, reggae, funk and drum ‘n’ bass, copy each musician’s moves and recreate the beats on the makeshift drums.

The journey still continues, and I would say that we have just arrived and we still have a long way to go.

Recycle, Reuse & Respect

We create music out of waste material like drum barrels, coffee shakers, paint cans, plastic boxes, and all other type of junk that we can find in the area of Dharavi Slums, emphasizing on the concept of Recycle, Reuse & Respect. ‘Dharavi…’ is known as India’s largest recycle hub, and so we thought we should create music on recycled material that is available at our disposal here.Dharavi Rocks Performance

Music can be made out of anything and everything. It’s just that one has to use his/her creativity and innovative thinking.  Point is that this kind of drumming activity on any instrument really helps them focus, improves their concentration, coordination and communication skills. This indirectly improves their personality as well. Whenever we do shows, we make about 200 shakers out of empty plastic bottles by filling some rice or sand into it and we give those shakers in the crowd, to let the audience also feel that they are part of the band. That’s why Recycle, Reuse & Respect for all the kids is the philosophy of the band.

How did it all start? How easy was it to make music by a motley group of boys…

Dharavi Rocks is part of Acorn Foundation. It stands strong and proud on 3 R’s “Recycle, Reuse and Respect”. The ACORN Foundation India Trust organizes rag pickers, and trains them in scientific methods of waste handling, segregation and recycling. Vinod Shetty- the Hon. Director of this foundation has initiated this project called DHARAVI ROCKS, which is a joint educational project between Acorn Foundation, an NGO & Blue Frog Music Club, working for the welfare of slum children and waste collectors/ rag pickers. Dharavi Rocks mission is to give slum kids a voice by initiating them into music, bringing positive and happy creative experiences into their lives, and creating a bond between communities.

When I shifted to Mumbai with my corporate job, my music activities led me to Emma Decker, who was working with BlueFROG. She introduced me to Vinod Shetty, who was looking for a volunteer to teach music at Dharavi Rocks project.

A day in Abhijit Jejurikar’s life

I’m a marketing professional by day and musician by night. I’m a senior brand manager with The Economic Times. I have more than 8 years of corporate experience in different industries.  I completely believe in work and life balance. I have been playing music since my school days. My association with Dharavi Rocks has completely changed my life and how I look at life now. I have understood the meaning of determination and discipline in a very grand way. I see things in a different way now and believe that opportunities are everywhere, and just needs to be tapped. Dharavi Rocks has become my identity and I’m very proud of that. If I get too bust at work or any other place, I always insist to leave right then because more than 30 kids in Dharavi are waiting for me. It is very important to give back to the society, which really helps you grow as a person with a better understanding of the realities in life.

Dharavi Rocks on stage
Courtesy: Kyoorius

Ideas: Ideals: India

My motivation to involve in social causes comes from my father, Pramod Jejurikar, who is a past District Governor with Rotary Dist. 3131. Through Rotary, I was always involved in social activity campaigns in Pune. But here I thought that I can actually make a difference in lives of these children who live in the slum area of Dharavi. I think this is the best possible way for me to give back to the society, what it has given to me.

Vinod asked me to do one session with all the kids just to get to know them. When I met all the kids for the first time in the Xavier College class room, I had no words to express myself. I was so inspired to listen to their stories and the kind of talents these kids have, that I made my decision then and there that I will put in all the efforts I possibly can, to create a platform for all these kids where they can grow and earn respect in life. I wanted them to be proud of who they are, what they believe in, and the talent they have within themselves.

Can you quote an interesting incident from one of your band member’s life?

Though these kids come from slums, their spirits are high. They are eager to move ahead and make a mark for themselves. They strive to improve their level to that of a professional band. I clearly remember the time when I got a call from Delhi from a friend of mine, saying he wanted Dharavi Rocks to perform at one of the biggest corporate event at Taj Palace, Delhi. The band went to Delhi with all-paid flight tickets, full-time cars for the members, and a five-star hotel stay. Just before that when I told all the boys that we are all going to Delhi by flight, one of the kids (Salman Ali) had a strong opposition for not coming as he had no passport with him!

Best moment for the band so far

There is actually no single moment that is the best for us. I always dreamed of going to music festivals like NH7, just to attend and see some amazing artists perform on the big stage. There was a time when I got a call from Karsh Kale, when he invited us to play at the NH7 finale performance. It was one of the biggest moments playing in front of 15000 people, and the best part was that all the kids were wearing artist bands.  Also, the recent one was at the INK Talks in 2014, where we were invited to share our story and perform in front of an amazing audience coming from different walks of life.

Abhijit Jejurikar
Abhijit Jejurikar

Quicky Bytes:

Music – Music is for everyone and it helps communicate through one universal language

Life as volunteer – Selfless efforts always give me peaceful sleep

Why Dharavi Rocks – Dharavi, is where I find my peace and joy with the highest amount of satisfaction

Dharavi Rocks – Tremendous amount of respect and smile on people’s faces

Dharavi – Log kehte hai kitni gandi Dharavi hai, Jara jhaak ke toh dekho kitni azaadi hai ! (People say, how dirty Dharavi is, but look at is closely, how much freedom it has)

KnowYourStar.com (KYS) wishes you a Super Duper Children’s Day. May all of us remain young at heart and enjoy every bit of life…

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