I was made aware the other day that a music video, made by students, had been shown at the Tate Modern. As this is a pretty impressive accomplishment, I thought I’d track down the people behind it, ask them a few questions, and hopefully steal some of their creativity for myself.
In third-year English student Zoe Black’s room in Corpus, I get an advance screening of the video, and the opportunity to pick the brain of both her (the video’s director), and of Roshan Gino Ruprai, the President of Hip-Hop Society and the musician behind ‘Bulletproof’.
The song is very much Roshan’s own. It’s one that he describes as “a step towards finding my own musical identity”, and listening to it, I’m struck by how emotionally-charged it is. Roshan explains that it’s about “my mental state after my mum’s most recent cancer diagnosis, and about the need to convince myself that I don’t need to be bulletproof”; the chorus is the title, repeated over and over, until it seems to fall apart under its own weight. Writing it, Roshan imagined himself looking in his mirror, trying to convince himself that he was strong enough to deal with anything: a forced conviction that he and Zoe feel can be damaging. We talk about the stigma surrounding mental health, and Roshan explains how it can feel especially stifling within British Indian communities, much like his own. He tells me the message of the song is that “you don’t need to pretend to be strong. You can accept that there are going to be times of weakness.”
As the song is so personal, I’m intrigued by the dynamics of collaboration that led to the video being made. Zoe and Roshan are clearly close enough to trust one another; they describe the filming process as a free-form exploration of Roshan’s home, and his local area. “I stayed with him for a day and a night, and we just traipsed around. I’d be filming stuff, Roshan would be looking over my shoulder. It was a lot of fun.” The instrumental is by a former student, Patrick Fitzgerald, who, under the name LORE, is currently making headway in the London music scene. What brought all these talents together, I learn, is a real belief in the power of music. “There is a powerful message and we both wanted to harness it, to enact that positivity”, says Zoe; Roshan tells me how, despite initial misgivings about “airing such personal family stuff in a very public setting”, he’s hopeful about the song’s potential impact. Not overly hopeful: “it’s not going to change the world”, he laughs, “but perhaps it’ll make someone somewhere feel less alone.” This reticence hides the genuine impact of their creation: profits from their merchandise, as well as collections from the Cambridge screening on the 2nd (aligning with Pink Week), are being given to charity. The group that first put Roshan in touch with the Tate collective was the Breast Cancer Art Project – it’s clear that there is a belief in the power of music to make a change. As I wonder out loud why this is, Roshan suggests that music works so well because “It’s a deliberate expression. It’s something that can articulate powerful emotions succinctly.”
I ask what’s next for the two. Both plan to continue with their art: Zoe is taking a play to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, while Roshan plans to keep on making music. He refuses, however, to adopt a trendy stage-name. “I don’t think I could be Lil Roshan. I don’t really think that suits me.” In the long term, both are ambitious but cautious about their futures, aware of the danger of blindly following dreams without a plan. We talk about how a person can “follow their dreams” without feeling disappointed when they don’t take home the big prize. Roshan mutters that “if Zoe gets an Oscar, I’m going to Kanye her”, before outlining his own plan B: “I’ll just make myself a trophy and put it in my cabinet.” Zoe retorts: “it’s a very small cabinet.”
As our chat comes to an end, we talk about the Cambridge arts scene as a whole. Roshan, fittingly for his position at the top of a musical society, is adamant that there are voices waiting to be heard. “If you think you have something meaningful to say, you probably do.” I tell him that I’m always on the look out for new voices, new talent, and Zoe offers to put me in touch with some artists she rates. Roshan grins. “It’ll just be me in lots of different disguises.”
Find out more about the Fruit Fly Collective and the Breast Cancer Art Project: