He is s familiar face at many major music festivals in the country and has also made his presence felt aboard. A local boy from the slums of Mumbai, Vivian Fernandes who goes by his stage name Divine, has brought his own style of hip hop and is today regarded as one of the top rappers, songwriter and composer in the city.
His award winning 2013 release Yeh Mera Bombay went viral, while his 2015 summer-smash Mere Gully Mein was not only honoured as the ‘Best Video of 2015’ by Rolling Stone Magazine (India), but further established him as one of the premier hip-hop acts in the county and the face of hip hop in India. In 2014, this Andheri resident won the Radio City Freedom Awards for Best Hip Hop/Rap Artist and was also awarded ‘Best New Artist 2015’ by iTunes and Apple Music in India as one of the top 6 artist to watch-out for in 2016 by the BBC Asian Network.
Verus Ferreira met up with Divine at an AWESTRUNG music event in the city, to know more about his journey as a singer, his narratively powerful as well as technically brilliant videos and his plans for the future..
How did you get into rapping and making music?
I started rapping in the second year of college, but started listening to rap in the eighth grade. When I first heard rap I found it very interesting to find so many words in one song, when rappers used to say words very fast it would really shock me. I used to go home and check the lyrics to see how they write. I was surprised about how they wrote; it struck me that they would say a lot of things in such a short time frame of three minutes and maybe 200 lines. That’s what made me write.
Not many know your life story, tell us about it?
I wanted to study sound engineering, but the fees which were around 4 lacs was just too much and my mom couldn’t afford it, so she bought me something worth Rs 10,000 and a microphone and I started writing every day. The mic really helped me write and record, I started to understand how I could change the pitch….. if you utilize the mic properly it’s a very beautiful tool. So I never ever trained in music, I learned the techniques of audio software and then went on to record and master my own songs. Then I realized that I could not record at home, so I found a studio that was very cheap, Rs.300 an hour. I would collect money, and then go to the studio and make the song and just listen to it by myself. That helped me understand my song and lyrics. No one was there to guide or tell me, I know rappers who would count their syllables and write, I never did that.
And you wrote in Hindi?
I didn’t understand I could do this in Hindi, but no one helped me when I started out, rap was very nascent, no rappers around, no rap jams. Soon people connected to my songs and that is when I started writing in Hindi and the first word I wrote was gully. I wrote the verse, I showed it to my friends and they couldn’t believe that I had written it, the first verse I wrote was for the song Yeh Mera Bombay. I got 1 lac views in 1 month releasing it by myself, shot the video with my friends on a basic camera. The second video came a year later Mere Gully Mein about my gully and now about me.
So the internet helped you a lot.
Yes, I used to pick up the beats from the internet, and then I got in touch with my producer SEZ via Facebook who helped me with my first original composition Yeh Mera Bombay, for which we won 2 awards. I went to Delhi to accept it and there I met him for the first time and we hit it off!
So did you try to take a few learner lessons from what you saw?
I don’t aspire to be like the typical commercial rappers, I want to stay true to myself, learn constantly, I just don’t want to make songs for fun. It’s really me that I put into the song. My lyrics come from my heart and then I just pen it down. I don’t lie as I can’t lie to myself. Musically I want to be very strong, another song Jungli Sher is a mix of English and Hindi, my entire concept is to rap in Hinglish as everyone gets it from rickshaw guys to hawkers, all understand Basic English.
You also shot a music video on an iphone. Tell us something about it.
Vandana Kataria a filmmaker came up with the idea of shooting the video for Jungli Sher on the iphone 6s which blew us all. She was totally taken by my music and my lyrics and that helped her plan the entire look and feel of the video. I am extremely happy the way the video looks and above all Apple music giving me a worldwide exclusive debut which is a first for an artist. This makes me feel lucky and I am humbled.
What other plans, anything for Bollywood work, an album.....?
I hope to release my debut solo album soon, but for the moment I have released Farak Hai a new single that was shot in Goa which talks about my imaginative life adventures over the years while highlighting my pillar of strength which is my mother. I am also in talks with Zoya Akhtar who is planning on making a feature story on Indian hip hop.
Lastly, many would want to know as to why you took a godly name like Divine.
When I first started writing, I would write gospel rap, something which is unique and has a very different style. Also, HE (the Almighty) has always given me strength, and the name DIVINE actually always makes me think that if I call myself DIVINE, then I must live up to it.
Interviewed by Verus Ferreira