A local boy from the slums of Mumbai, Vivian Fernandes, who goes by the stage name Divine, is today regarded as one of the top rappers, songwriters and composers 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 Award for Best Hip-Hop/Rap Artiste and was also awarded Best New Artiste 2015 by iTunes and Apple Music in India, and one of the Top 6 Artists To Watch Out For In 2016 by BBC Asia Network.
What’s more, there’s even a Bollywood movie (Gully Boy) based on his story and that of his hip-hop friend Naezy. Directed by Zoya Akhtar, the film stars Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Kalki Koechlin, and if you have seen the flick, Singh does justice to the role with his apt rapping and acting skills.
At his recent performance at the Sula Fest in Nashik, fans grabbed every available space at the amphitheatre to watch him. After the performance VERUS FERREIRA met Divine 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?
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 lakhs 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 understanding how I could change the pitch… if you utilize the mic properly, it’s a very beautiful tool. Though I never ever trained in music. I learned the techniques of audio software and then went on to record and master my own songs. I realized that I could not record at home, so I found a studio that was very cheap. 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 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 a verse, I showed it to my friends and they couldn’t believe that I had written it; this first verse I wrote was for the song Yeh Mera Bombay. I got 1 lakh views in one month of releasing it by myself. I 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.