Radio Jockey (RJ) Malishka Mendonsa made a video song talking about poor performance of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in Mumbai and uploaded it on YouTube on 10th July 2017. Inspired by a Marathi song Sonu Tuza Mazyavar Bharosa Nahi Kay it become a huge hit, and made Shiv Sena, a party which leads BMC, angry as they threaten to file a defamation case against Malishka. In a rearguard action, Shiva Sena announced that RJ Malishka could face action under Section 381B of the Mumbai Municipal Act for allowing dengue mosquitoes to breed at her home. Then, Red FM made another ‘Sonu’ song with RJ Raunak defending Malishka while RJs from many other FM channels in India also made their own ‘Sonu Songs’ with changed lyrics taking about various theme including politics.
Not only FM channels, since then and even before the Malishka song, ‘Sonu Song’ has been made into various languages by people who modified its lyrics to suit what they want to say. There are even ‘Sonu Songs ’ about recent Lalu-Nitish feud in Mahagathbandhan (in fact several) in Bhojpuri.
A certain motif and similarity is running across the almost all the ‘Sonu Songs’; familiar rhythmic style of the composition, people formation of group selfie frame in the video and the head or body movement on a particular beat. The duration of the song varies from 40 seconds to 100 seconds. If one searches social media platforms especially Youtube, there are thousands versions of the song created and uploaded by people with their own way of remixing, reuse, appropriation, aesthetic, style and beat. It has even found popularity outside the country; a group of comedians from Pakistan made a ‘Sonu’ Song’ which is shot in a swimming pool and satirizes about the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in relation to his involvement in Panama Papers expose.
All of these called for further inquiries as I was curious to know the origin of the song. I dug the internet to find that according to a news report Marathi singer Ajay Kshirsagar has been identified as the original writer-singer of the ‘Sonu ’ song. The report also said Ajay was inspired by a ‘picnic song’ send to him by his brother on Whatspp which motivated him to make the song. In another video interview, Ajay also said he had made the ‘Sonu Song’ on 12th January 2017. Although Ajay is happy that song has gone viral but he is also unhappy for not getting the due credit for the song as people jumped to make their own versions. Here, It also to remember that ‘Sonu Songs’ is a video phenomenon and the people who are making ‘Sonu Songs’ are probably inspired by the ‘Sonu Videos’ that has been made after Ajay’s ‘Sonu’ song became popular among the audiences. But question here is, how did ‘Sonu’ became a viral video phenomenon from a hit Marathi audio song?
I further mined Youtube for the earliest ‘Sonu songs’ on the platform and i found a video from as early as 21st February 2017. This ‘Sonu Song’ was of about 47 seconds and contained only the famous refrain Sonu Tuza Mazyavar Bharosa Nahi Kay which was also there in Ajay’s song. Mixed with a piece of music, the song was either not lip-synced with a visual of a man holding a selfie pose with his friends, or was probably matched with a video which didn’t have the ‘Sonu’ song.
Next in the Youtube history was a video uploaded on the 26th February 2017, where four young men posing for a selfie and singing the ‘Sonu’ song for 47 seconds. Saurabh Parvekar who uploaded the song, in a Youtube comment claimed that only after this video that people started making more ‘Sonu’ videos.
Another song uploaded on 28th February 2017 was more interesting since it also added to the form that it has taken now if you notice the subsequent ‘Sonu Videos’ that was made after this. The video has three girls posing for a group selfie with their head movement matched with a beat (bobbing heads), a similar head movement or the body movement which has become popular with thousands of uploads of ‘Sonu Songs’ now. This video particular video was uploaded by a lot of people and it became quite popular with lots of views and multiple uploads
Funnily enough, on further investigation I found that the visual from the video is taken from another video where the three girls are narrating a joke in a group selfie. This was a bizarre revelation since it indicated that the video form that we have come to associate with ‘Sonu Song’ might have its origin in such digital manipulation or morphing. It also suggested that not only the lyrics of the song have been appropriated but the visuals too have evolved to inform itself in the making of the cult of ‘Sonu Songs’.
But how do we read this phenomenon or make sense of it? There might be other Whatspp videos older than these videos but closely examining its pattern and constituents it is certain that the ‘Sonu’ song has its codes which can be read in many ‘old’ and ‘new media’ logic. First, the video song is embedded within a popular digital and visual expression of contemporary time; i.e. a group selfie. ‘Sonu Songs’ have also been produced and circulated with hardly any resource or large scale production infrastructure. This has been made possible only penetration of the digital technologies and spread of the internet where videos can be readily and cheaply produced, published, consumed and distributed.
Apart from this, in terms of form, one of the ways to look at this phenomenon is folk- not the folk whose origin precede the digital-but which are ‘born’ into and produced through digital. Just like folk, it has a certain mysterious angle to its origin since Ajay himself confessed that the original ‘Sonu Song’ that he made was inspired from a ‘picnic song’. Also note that, the ‘Sonu songs’ has gone through a process of transformation where it is no longer about the lyric or the audio, but it has become a new visual digital expression; and folk cultures as we know it grow, evolve and are constantly constructed by the people who come across them; and the few examples which are documented above gives its proof. Plus, the songs have also been adapted into different languages with changed lyrics which have been produced and reproduced through community with no sense of ownership and a conscious attempt to monetise them. All of these attach a ‘folk like’ character to ‘Sonu Songs’.
Having said that, it is also unlike folk in a sense that its popularity has been communicated ‘virally’ rather than orally, a nature which historically has been associated with folk. Where viral nature is as such that a ‘folk’ is no longer remains confined to a boundary of a specific ‘culture’ but ‘crosses-over to other cultures’ rapidly in globally connected networks-barring digital divide-which is still very big in India. It is also to remember that folk is also associated with something which has lasted to known for a long period time and ‘preserved’ by the people whose generations have able to pass it to the next. But ‘Sonu Song’ phenomenon most likely to be forgotten and buried in internet histories or one of the data centres of Facebook, Google etc as it viral magic fades away just like series of parodies which once became popular. This brings us to the point that could ‘Sonu Songs’ be categorise as folk which are born in the ‘digital’ or are these just series of parodies made by fans of the song? And if we are to understand this through the lens of folk; how we imagine folk in the digital age where almost every other kind of cultural expression are likely to be produced, consumed and circulated digitally? Is folk something that will always precede the ‘digital’; which will only reproduce itself when it is contacted with digital mode of production and communication or a folk can also ‘born’ in the ‘digital’ amidst the danger that is likely to be ‘lost’ in the next wave of viral videos? In that case, does ‘digital’ threaten the ‘longevity’ that a folk requires to qualify itself? Several questions emerge; but one thing is certain that phenomenon like ‘Sonu Songs’ are an interesting site to understand emerging cultural practices in the digital age.