Art and music doesn’t always have to stem from something that happened to the artiste — sometimes, a stranger’s suffering can hit harder than one’s own. For singer-songwriter Maalavika Manoj, it was the image of armed conflict at someone else’s doorstep that inspired the words of her song ‘Age of Limbo’. The visuals, however, present a contrast: the utter emptiness of 15 sprawling cities across 12 countries, all stoppered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The combination of both has raked in views and streams in thousands, since the song’s release over the weekend.
Says Maalavika — or Mali, as she is professionally known — over a phone call from Mumbai, “I was watching an episode of Conan Without Borders (an on-field series by US TV personality Conan O’Brien) set in Israel. There was a scene shot at the border of Israel and Syria, where he was interviewing troops, during which you could hear machine guns and bombs going off in the distance. It made me think of whose life might have been lost in those few minutes, whose house may have fallen apart. It haunted me for a long time.”
The song itself is haunting too: echoing softly, it yearns for change, for a much-needed shift away from life as we have lived so far, all around the globe. Yet, when she wrote it a year ago, she could not have imagined how snugly its message would fit in with a world now stopped in its track by the COVID-19 pandemic. The lyrics: “Something ought to turn the tables / Something’s got to give / Welcome to the age of limbo / Welcome to no man’s paradise…” unwittingly reflect what many have been saying about our too-fast-to-handle lifestyles that helped escalate this crisis.
Mali has not only acknowledged these parallels, but also worked them into the song’s release. A striking feature of this song is its video: a beautiful yet eerie montage of empty roads, silent cities, neighbourhoods and parks bereft of a single soul.
“It is pure coincidence that it is relevant now,” she says, “I was going to release a different song altogether, and was going to fly to Japan to shoot for it. But that fell through because of the lockdown, and I had to think of what else I could do during this time. Could I release a different song?” The answer, she says, was under her nose all along: a song penned a year ago, yet suddenly relatable to a global situation. The visual idea was sparked by images sent to her by family in different countries — “many would invariably reply to questions like ‘how are you?’ with a photo or video of their city.”
Once she put out a request for such visuals from different parts of the world, she was flooded. Mali and editor Jishnu Guha had to sift through hundreds of contributions before zeroing in on 17 entrants’ works. “There is footage here from Mumbai, Bengaluru, Guwahati, Kathmandu, Sao Paolo, Los Angeles, London, Oxford, Austria, Sweden and more.” Clearly, the emotion she has hit upon is also a shared one.