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On Raghav Meattle’s “City Life”: An ode to the city that Mumbai once was.

The music video for Raghav Meattle’s “City Life” premiered on 7th April 2020, during the current COVID-19 worldwide quarantine. Taken from his debut album, Songs From A Matchbox, the music video for this single is our vicarious gateway to what Mumbai once was, in more ways than one.

Directed by Rajdip Ray and shot by Abhimanyu Sengupta on a P camera using a Kodak 8 mm Ektachrome film stock, the video has a nostalgic and slightly anachronistic quality to it; the grainy celluloid film gives Mumbai a glorious golden hue of its yesteryears but also manages to highlight the wild, chaotic and cramped nature of the city. While Mumbai is by far the most metropolitan city in our country, it is still very traditional in its roots and reliant on old structures like the local trains, wooden ferry boats, and the janky BEST buses, much like the analog film format this very current music video has been shot on.

The indie singer-songwriter prides himself in being ‘vocal first’ – he is a firm believer in doing equal justice to both his lyrics and compositions. While country-inspired pop music is not a go-to genre of music for me, I feel the choice of the genre here and the beautifully worded lyrics somehow capture the essence of Mumbai in a very different way, not as the city of dreams per se, but as a city that urgently needs to overcome that myth, and acknowledge the fact that it is languishing in its very concept of “City Life”. As someone who migrated to Mumbai for work and was quickly disillusioned by the general glamorous mainstream representation of this city, I feel this song and video offers a more rooted depiction than most and tells us to take stock of the unhealthy, daily hustling and our apathy towards economic disparities that we often so justify in the name of this city’s spirit.

The percussion never overpowers Meattle’s mellow vocals, in sharp contrast to his presence in the music video, where he is a solitary, tiny figure juxtaposed against the raging machinery of Mumbai: the local trains whipping past, the rocky remains of Bandra Fort, the blue expanses of the jetties, the lush greens of the Aarey forest. However, I did feel that there were certain instances in the track where the guitar instrumentals overpowered Meattle’s vocals. The song redeems itself later, during a very soulful, acapella bridge where Meattle once again assumes centerstage and thankfully, continues that way till the end.

It is interesting to note that the music video for “City Life” starts with a muted cacophony of sounds we associate with Mumbai, the honking of vehicles that startles the thousands of pigeons we see fluttering about in every nook and cranny of this city, the errant waves lapping against its rounded rocks, and the video continues to be peppered by different faces of the Mumbaikar everyman. It ends with Meattle sitting all alone in an empty local train station in presumably the dead of the night, with only the crackling static left behind after the instruments fade out. This only serves as a bittersweet reminder of the current lockdown that Mumbai is currently in – life, as we know it in this city, has completely come to an eerie standstill, with no date on when things will get better. But there is perhaps a message from Meattle in this madness; for the first time in its history, Mumbai’s inhabitants can appreciate the sound of silence.

You can listen to his music on YouTube and all other streaming platforms.
Text by Nikita Saxena.

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