When Is Death Sweeter Than Honey?



When Is Death Sweeter Than Honey? by Professor A.L.I.

Contrast the warmth of honey’s sweetness on the lips of youth,

With the coldness of a mouth, of a martyr who spits truth.

The candle light flickers, no one clambers towards door.

The armor is sorted, and honey is the metaphor.

For the sharp death that comes from an oppressor’s blade!

So speaks the smallest strand of Hassan’s DNA.

He asks his uncle’s permission to go into the fray alone,

To represent his father into a future unknown;

Reluctance was his answer, but Qasim had a letter,

Written to his uncle, from his father, to whom he was indebted,

For when Hassan was dying, poisoned, his last request,

Was to be buried next to his grandfather, Muhammad.

Husayn tried to fulfill it, but archers shot the procession,

And his corpse became a symbol of this family’s oppression.

So when he sees his brother’s writing after such a long time,

He gives Qasim what he seeks, as tears drop from his eyes.

Not tall enough to get on, he helps the young man on the steed,

Who couldn’t even reach the stirrups, for too small were his feet.

He somehow maintained balance and rode on towards this war,

He fought, till they smothered him, and Qasm from his horse.

Crying out for his uncle, as  wicked riders trampled his form,

So when Husayn finds his nephew, it’s a puzzle of corpse.

He takes off his cloak and gathers the pieces of Qasim,

Like he was plucking flowers from a most beautiful garden.

His slings the bundle, over his shoulder, but it drags beneath,

And this is the same small child, whose feet wouldn’t reach.

The devil’s forces, used the bloody horseshoes as tokens;

To hang within their homes, as a good luck omens.

Death is as sweet as the blood dripping from those shoes;

The purest honey, from flowers collected, upon the lips of youth.

A Touchdown For Freedom

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick answers questions at a news conference after an NFL preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. Green Bay won the game 21-10. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Colin Kaepernick

A Touchdown for Freedom by Professor A.L.I.

Colin Kaepernick is trending, and the die-hard ‘9er’s fan in me is excited hoping the news is good, that he’s healthy for the next preseason game.  I’ve supported the team through our great successes and triumphs throughout the ‘80’s and 90’s, only to watch us claw back to relevancy, and then have that fall away.  I’m a Colin Kaepernick fan as a result, and my hope was this year would be different than what the pundits had predicted, if only to piss off all the Oakland Raider fans who have been needling me throughout the summer.  However, as I tuned it to the trending timeline, it became clear that Kaepernick was trending for reasons even more relevant to me as a person, and furthermore as a person of color in America and so I watched closely like a fan rooting for the home team during the Super Bowl.

I watched Colin sit for the anthem now, just as I had watched Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf sit as a young Muslim kid who’d saved up money to have a custom poster of Abdul-Rauf made, which showed him supplicating as opposed to standing for the national anthem.  This was a picture that I hung proudly on my dorm room wall and even when his career shifted because of his religious-political stand it stayed there to remind me of the sacrifices a person needs to make for their convictions.

When Mahmoud came to speak at UC Berkeley’s Muslim Unity Conference, it was shortly after the height of the controversy and the lecture halls were rightfully packed with eager American Muslims who had felt the same way, disenfranchised by the American promise because of one’s Blackness or Islam; so the flag didn’t hold the same weight for us because in our minds its symbology was besieged by police brutality, an injustice system, and policies that privileged some over others.  Mahmoud stood up for us by sitting down and he sacrificed his career to do so.

People have forgotten how good Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was.  He was the prototype for Steph Curry, and he made an impact on the game in an era where the rules did not favor that style of play.  He never missed a free throw and had one of the silkiest shots in the game.  People forget that when he was still known as Chris Jackson at LSU, a teammate of Shaquille O’Neal, that it was Chris that people came to see. I still remember his 50 point explosions and battles with Larry Johnson.  Most people don’t remember any of that, in fact he has become obsolete, made so by standing up for his beliefs.  He might have been on my poster, but he was made a poster-child for un-sportsman like qualities.

From not standing up for the anthem to fasting in Ramadan, he was painted to be selfish.  Sam Perkins, a Jehovah’s Witness never stood for the anthem but he was never outed by the media nor was he made an example in the same way.  Hakeem Olajuwon fasted in Ramadan, but when he did it no one made it an issue.  When Mahmoud covered up the logos on his shoes, instead of being praised, he was ostracized.  And the scrutiny took its toll and deprived many a basketball fan of watching a truly uniquely gifted talent from evolving into one of the game’s greats.

Mahmoud Abdur Rauf FlagThis was twenty years ago, and the injustice done to Mahmoud for standing up for his faith still bothers me, because it remains an injustice that is so incongruent with what the flag stands for that those who stole his right not to stand actually disrespected the principles of the flag more than he ever could by not standing.  Freedom is a concept that must be lived through experience, not pseudo-honored through conformity and denigrated by the complacency of those who don’t truly know what that concept means.  The flag waves for freedom.  The freedom to stand or sit.  The freedom of faith and the freedom to express it.  What happened to Mahmoud was senseless then and remains so now, and to call for the same to happen to Colin Kaepernick only showcases how much we have regressed in two decades.

In twenty years the issues of injustice remain and I’d argue along with those who would say that things have gotten worse.  Thanks to social media and devices that capture everyone’s single story, we have become hyper connected to the narratives of oppression that exist in this country.  Police brutality is no longer a myth that privileged groups can choose to ignore.  It is real and the movement to create accountability and shift policing is one that has been born of the work done by all those who have brought attention to this issue.

Colin Kaepernick scored a touched down for Black Lives, for the injustices done towards people of color and he made the nation pause and cheer and jeer for him, just as if this was in the Super Bowl.  His growing friendship with our mutual friend and my brother and colleague Dr. Ameer “Left” Hassan of @LeftSentThis, a true educator who uses social media to teach as effectively as he does in the classroom, is a testament to his growth as a human being and his victory in the eyes of the people.

I write this as an American who understands deeply that a fundamental quality of being an American is to recognize the freedoms an individual has, and this includes the freedom to burn a flag, let alone remain sitting when the national anthem is played.  Those that doubt the patriotism of Colin Kaepernick or Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, should consider Jackie Robinson’s stand for the same right, and check their love of figures like Muhammad Ali at the door.  They should question what they are patriotic of, a flag that stands for nothing, or a flag that stands for freedom.  If it is the latter, they too should sit with Colin, but if it’s the former, I guess they should vote for Trump, because after all, his promise of an America devoid of any difference, any choice or freedom of faith, is precisely the flag they seem to be saluting after all.


Tamil Identity, Nationalism and Imagination


The song Red Dot, about the old DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) flag, which belonged to a failed political movement of pan-Dravidian and/or Tamil nationalism is one that wonders what a Tamil nation state would have meant to Tamil peoples in the modern age.  Aside from a failed civil war for Tamil Eelam in Lanka, there have been no other Tamil nationalist movements that have lasted in the modern day.  Most Tamils living in the Diaspora ascribe their national identity to South Asian nations or to their adoptive homes.  Tamils who live in the Indian subcontinent, the islands of the Indian Ocean or South East Asia similarly identify themselves with pre-markers like Malaysian Tamil or Indian Tamil—the will for a pan-Tamil identity has all been lost.

As an artist of Tamil origin, living in the Diaspora, this identity became more real to me as I navigated my own consciousness and awareness around my identity in America.  The discovery of my late father’s loyalty to the DMK flag and what it represented only furthered the fuel of this fire.  This along with my own sensibilities around the injustices carried out toward my people in Lanka, created within me the imagination of a Tamil state.  It recalled the legend of Kumari Kandam, from which, it is believed Plato may have been inspired for Atlantis.  The lost Tamil continent that sank into the Indian Ocean.  The pseudo historical theories of the Tamil connection to the Mayans, the actual Tamil connections to East Africa and Yemen, and the journey of the Tamil, known as Damo, who established the Shao Lin Temple in China.  I wondered if I was such a global person because my Tamil identity was woven into the fabric of the world.

Then came the National Geographic documentary about the first genes out of Africa and lo and behold, the Tamil DNA marker shared the same markers as the Andamanese, the Papuans, and the Aboriginal peoples of Australia as the first out of Africa.  As I imagined the migration of my people over the water, I thought of my own spiritual connection to the sea and wondered if something deep in the fabric of my genetic make-up inspired my fascination.

Finally, there was the theory of the renowned linguist Susumu Ohno, who put forth the idea in the 1980’s that Japanese (held to be an Altaic language) was overwhelmingly influenced by Tamil, believing the connection to have happened over 2000 years ago in the Yayoi period of Japan.  Ohno was not the first to propose this connection, but as a linguistic scholar of Japanese he was by far the most qualified to make the claim.  Although Ohno is not without his detractors, his theory is backed by an sound argument that picks apart Japanese words and shows the Dravidian linguistic connection, grammatical overlap, relative pronouns, a likeness in word order, striking resemblance in the rhythm of each language and the presence of Tamil influence upon the Yamato kotoba, or words that existed in Japanese prior to the Chinese writing system.

In his book “Seeking the Origins of Japanese Language”, Ohno takes it further by looking at cultural development and influence on ancient Japanese customs such as those connecting with the harvest, religious ritual, and nuptial rites.  While Ohno’s ideas are compelling, they are not backed by sound archeological evidence, and rely on Ohno’s linguistic arguments alone.  As a Tamil, who has had great affinity for Japanese culture, I found his arguments compelling and again they tickled by imagination and I began to wonder, what if there were proof of this connection and influence.

I wrote Red Dot as a fictionalized narrative that begins with the Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu sending ships to follow the nautical path of Damo; it flashes forward to Japanese imperial soldiers being slaughtered by a combination of saltwater crocodiles and the British Indian forces in Rangoon during World War II.  In this imagined narrative these Japanese soldiers were coming to rescue their Tamil brethren from British colonial rule.  The narrative also examines the Moorish connection to Tamil, the dead language of Arwi, a combination of Arabic and Tamil, the Moorish bloodlines that mixed with Tamils during the viable and long standing Indian ocean trade.  The East African connection to Tamils both by trade and genetics and finally the little known fact of Tamil coolies who were converted into the Atlantic Middle Passage Slave trade via South Africa, though they only account for a small percentage of that trade having numbered two thousand, that genetic story is also a part of the American Slave Trade epic.  All in all, the song explores all these strands and ends on a black banner, with a red dot, or disc fixed in the middle.  Ironically its similar to the Japanese flag in construction, save for the black taking place of the white, and it imagines a place that has never been allowed to exist by Indian, French, Dutch, British and Sinhala hegemony and that is a pan-Tamil state:


In the world we live in Tamil nationalism is a footnote at best, but Tamil identity is very much alive and vibrant.  Linked to a language and culture that continues to thrive wherever it goes—from Trinidad to Toronto, for Johannesburg to Jaffna and from Malaysia to the Maldives, Tamils continue to have a profound impact.

Dear Mama: Remembering Afeni and 2pac


Afeni2pacThis piece is dedicated to the Shakur tribe, on this occasion, which would have been Tupac Shakur’s birthday, we commemorate his soul and that of his recently departed mother, Afeni Shakur as well.

The news of Afeni Shakur’s passing was abrupt and sudden, just days before Mother’s Day, Dear Mama had left us and as a product of the Bay, an extension of the Panther legacy and a cultivator of Hip-Hop, I felt personally affected, even though I had never been blessed to have met Afeni in life.  I immediately contacted Sheikh Hashim Alauddeen, who had known 2pac, and had seen Afeni before, to share the heartbreaking news; and when he, who is usually loquacious, had no words save remorse, it furthered my heartbreak.  We were both dumbstruck and I didn’t know what else to do but to pray for her soul, and the soul of Tupac, as I also prayed for Sekyiwa and her children, Mopreme, Mutulu, Zayd, Assata and Jasmine Guy, who had purposefully helped me connect with Afeni through her writing.  To all those to whom Afeni was linked and to everyone she touched via her impact on social justice and through her children, I say and said inna lillahi inna ilayhi rajioon, “we are created and unto the creator do we return.”  Peace and Blessings.


Motherhood Besieged

Mother’s Day in America has many narratives, though all are of struggle; this is due to the fact that all mothers in America are born under the yolk of patriarchy, and the fact that there is no physical or metaphysical equivalent comparison for carrying a human being to term for up to nine months.  However, there is one matriarchal narrative that is so steeped in oppression that it stands apart from the others; this is of the mother whose child is stripped away from them as chattel and sold.  This narrative is of the captive mother, and it echoes from the skeleton closet of our nation’s history and it continues to reverberate in recent times.  The two most infamous examples of this oppression is manifest in the wombs of two women, held in captivity, who navigated their motherhood while they fought for their freedom; both women took on the surname Shakur.

Shakur in Arabic means to be thankful, which seems a word at odds with the adopted surname of a mother who was imprisoned for a crime for which she was eventually acquitted while she was pregnant—and the name seems especially ironic in that the Shakur tribe bore this oppression because America feared what was in their wombs, far more than any other force.  Sadly, this is not hyperbole, but the sad truth regarding the maneuverings of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which fought actively to prevent any Black Messiah figure from emerging and that included being born; COINTELPRO was directly utilized under Hoover’s guidance to snuff out any leadership of this type.  The irrational fear of a black messiah directly led to circumstances that found the government involved with or having knowledge of the assassinations of Fred Hampton, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.  So it is unsurprising that this gripping phobia also led to the scrutiny of the wombs of black activists since the goal of phobic was to prevent a Black Superman from uplifting “the people” a.k.a black folk and pulling a modern day Moses routine on the machinations of a modern day Pharaoh.

Assata Shakur explicates this fear in her Autobiography, which shows in her descriptive prose capturing the reactions of the prison guards and government officials when they come to learn that she became pregnant while they held her captive in gross violation of numerous rights she should have been afforded.  She perfectly breaks down the state of oppression that consumed her being, as one that was so complete that those imprisoned didn’t realize that their perceptions of freedom were but a façade; Assata stated that “in AmeriKKKa she [had] always been in prison” and the only difference then, when she had been placed in a cell was that now she could see and feel the bars.  This is a type of consciousness that was born in the teachings of Malcolm X and both members of the Shakur tribe, Afeni and Assata would argue that their motherhood pales in comparison to that of Betty Shabazz, who carried her twins to term, while held captive to the assassination of their father, Malcolm X.  It was Malcolm’s inspiration that birthed the Black Panther Party and it was this organization that helped awaken consciousness in both Afeni and Assata, though they both would transcend its socialist construction and find spirituality in Islam and in New Afrikan identity.


The Tribe of Shabazz and the Tribe of Shakur

Sheikh Hashim likes to tell the story of when he was with Tupac and ‘Pac was using a label maker to punch labels out on sticky tape and place them underneath pictures he had pinned to his bedroom wall.  One of the photos was of Malcolm X, and under it Tupac had labeled “Original Gangsta.”  It makes me chuckle inside when people label Tupac a Gangsta Rapper, since they are unaware to which “Gang”, Tupac truly belonged.  Tupac was a member of the Shakur tribe, and learned lessons that shaped his consciousness under the tutelage of Mutulu Shakur, and took inspiration from Assata and his mother Afeni.  Young Tupac Shakur, renamed after the Incan emperor and revolutionary, spent his gestation in limbo, as his mother Afeni stood trial as part of the Panther 21.  She was acquitted and Tupac would be born a free child—however Assata, another member of the Shakur tribe did not fare as well and gestated her daughter in prison.  So his cousin Kikuya (Assata’s daughter) came into this world with the unenviable circumstance of being born in captivity—a circumstance that hearkens back to the matriarchal narrative of so called slaves.

Afeni passed away on May 2nd, one week before the third anniversary of the passing young Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, who was our close friend and whose death and funeral consumed much of our spirit and community energy.  I was one of the few brothers called on to wash his body, as per Islamic ritual, and the memory of the lukewarm water running over the cold skin of his empty shell, the smell of camphor and the circumstances of the murder that put the lifeless form of my brother in front of me will haunt me till the day of my own death.  Afeni’s passing, was another blow to the tribe of Shakur, just as Malcolm’s was to the tribe of Shabazz.  These two families while distinct, remain connected in my mind via the conduits of affinity they had with Islam, celebratory blackness and an unapologetic adherence to social justice; and because of these things, there was a fourth connection, which was of trial—where members of both tribes experienced the inner workings of criminal “justice” system and domestic intelligence organizations for challenging the status quo on issues of faith, race and social justice and for having the tribal capacity to birth and train and black messianic figure.


2pac in Tamil pays homage to Afeni directly with the lines “reincarnated in Afeni’s womb”, and references to the Panther 21 case.  The song pays homage to Afeni as the conscious matriarch of Hip-Hop, which is to take nothing away from the contributions of other powerful women in Hip-Hop, but to give credit Afeni because she imbued one of the greatest, if not greatest M.C. in Hip-Hop history with the legacy of the Panthers, which in and of itself was a legacy of Malcolm, thereby inextricably linking Hip-Hop with the two tribes, Shabazz and Shakur.

2pac would have been 45 today, but we will be forever deprived of the wisdom he would impart as his experience grew.  In his later years, some have critiqued that 2pac was a slave to the music industry, and that the more popular he became the stronger the shackles did as well.  Yet these shackles, which came with a related shift in this self-professed feminist and socialist’s lyrics to misogynistic themes and capitalist lyrical content, seem to show a dramatic shift in an artist, who was perhaps Hip-Hop’s first male feminist lyricist up until he was shackled this way.  Songs like Brenda, Keep Ya Head Up and Dear Mama dedicated to Afeni Shakur, stand in sharp contrast to Wonder Why Bitch, but 2pac remained astute enough, Panther enough and truly hip enough to insert coded lyrics, like the captives of old did when they sang codes into negro spirituals, so that even songs with seemingly sexist lyrics carry secret messages to those in the know, see Me and My Girlfriend as an example—a song which deep sexual imagery that is constructed as an ode to libertarian values and the ownership of a gun.

2pac was a panther cub, and for those who don’t know Afeni or the Panther 21, understand that, it was as if Assata or Angela Davis had a child and that child retained the consciousness of the mother in his voice to/for the people.  Tupac was a conscious artist, and even when his music was not conscious, and constructed for popular construction it was still coded with consciousness for the people.  “The people” are the global black community and it is why 2pac is an icon for the continent of Africa, along with Bob Marley and Lucky Dube; it is why 2pac t-shirts sell in the bazaars of the Middle East and why in Latin America and South East Asia his visage is an icon reminiscent of Che or Ho Chi Minh.  2pac Shakur brought the voice of the tribe of Shakur to join with that of Shabazz, by the enduring connection elucidated earlier to speak to global issue of injustice.  He was taken from us, long before many knew what he represented and with the recent death of Afeni, it would seem that the strength of the tribe is waning—but like Malcolm’s words, Tupac’s songs live on and like Malcolm continue to inspire each generation that stands up to oppression everywhere on this planet!

2pac_Is_A_Global_IconShout out to the City of Oakland (#BayPride) for making today Tupac Shakur Day.



Terror In Orlando: Ali Bomaye!



Terror in Orlando: Ali Bomaye!

I was prepared to continue mourning the loss of Muhammad Ali in private, with my family and local community, and then this morning I awoke to the the horror in Orlando, and I just wanted to scream.

I am a Muslim.  I am a Muslim in large part due to Muhammad Ali, who was a childhood hero of mine, long before I knew anything about the faith.  He remained a hero into young adulthood and into this present day, because he represented many of the things I also rep for, such as Islam, blackness, social justice, humanity and love.  He took two holy names and made them a part of global lexicon, so much so that people throughout the world scream Muhammad and Ali in unison, just as they had once had in Ghadeer Khum in the middle of the desert for only the faithful and historians to hear.

Muhammad Ali represented many things.  Those who outcry the participation of many at his funeral, who they feel are incongruent with the politics of Muhammad Ali, have themselves “flattened” Muhammad Ali to a sliver of his robust and intricate persona.  He was many things and his funeral was attended by many people, and his Islam was a global Islam, evolving beyond the backwards fatawa (plural of fatwa) of Saudi clerics who label anything new an innovation and associate it with shirk (polytheism), in order to destroy it, so that they can further manipulate and control the faith.  Muhammad Ali also represented Islam, better than anyone without the surname Shabazz in the West and like Malcolm X, who was his mentor, Muhammad Ali continued to evolve and grow, becoming a better human being day by day.  This is what I know of Islam and why I became a Muslim, and this is why I hate what happened in Orlando and mourn it doubly.


What happened in Orlando is sick and it has no faith, let alone Islam.  If you think it has something to do with Islam, then check your own timeline for posts about Muhammad Ali and have fun trying to reconcile those two very disparate things.  Muhammad Ali represented Islam, what Orlando represents is faithlessness.  Today the community in Orlando is mourning, and I mourn with them.  The LQBTQIQ community is reeling, and I too reel.  Gun owners feel they are being homogenized with terror and I too feel the same.  Yet there is a sliver of hope and it is named Muhammad Ali, for even in death his memory destroys the argument that this is Islam—it knocks out bigoted polemics and stands victorious, so that we all can chant “Ali Bomaye!” while facing terror with the poise of this unique and singularly powerful soul.

Muhammad Ali walked away at his prime, because he did not want to kill.  His stance, which cost him dearly, represents Islam greater than any singular bomb blast or mentally unstable individual with an Islamic name.  No one has ever done that in my memory.  Imagine Lebron James  Steph Curry stepping away from the sport of basketball, or Joe Cool walking away from the field in the late 80’s because he did not agree with the Gulf War.  My Bay Area pride aside, no one has ever come close.  Mahmoud Abdur-Rauf, whom I had the opportunity to meet in 1996 at a Muslim Unity Conference, came the closest in my opinion, but even he never walked away from sport for his beliefs—and as ill as he was with the rock back then (check tape if you are Steph Curry fan), he was never the G.O.A.T.

I never got to meet Muhammad Ali and it will remain an unrequited item on the bucket list.  I was lucky to go to Louisville last year and visit his museum, walk through a street named after him and imagine as a squinted the segregation of the city in which he was bred.  Last year as I visited his city, I was mourning Paris, events in Nigeria, Syria, and Yemen.  This year I add Orlando to the list—as we as a human population try to heal, while we are baited into a never-ending conflict of us versus them.  Like Ali versus Frazier, one side versus the other, where victory can only come when bodies hit the floor—and yet, if we understood Ali, we would know what Ali versus Frazier truly was.  Frazier supported Ali as he took his moral stand and walked away from boxing, financially and stood by his side—these weren’t enemies caught in a never ending cycle, but two human beings who stood beyond the sport of boxing and became friends.  This is the Islam that Muhammad Ali represented and this is the Islam I know.

17822_837194406315646_7409196219918621380_nSo I ask you, if you have been reading this to invoke Muhammad Ali in your mind.  Let him fill your consciousness and allow his memory to knock out the media fabricated mythology of the Islamic terrorist.  Islam is about justice, peace and the evolution of the human being to become a better human being; that is why you love Muhammad Ali and why in that love we have to have to battle bigotry and hatred as he once did, in order to rise.  It is why we have to build bridges and not walls, to paraphrase Billie Crystal, and why we have to stand for justice, instead of giving into the easy path of hatred and indiscriminate blame.  Let us mourn those who we have lost and let us stop this cycle of hatred, by reminding those who would terrorize us that we will no longer give into their greatest strength, which is bullying us into conflating our hatred of them with a billion innocent Muslims—because these Muslims are represented by Muhammad Ali and nobody can’t beat the GOAT.


Professor A.L.I. is a spoken word and Hip-Hop artist and educator; in his piece “The Pen” he immortalizes Muhammad Ali with these words, “or channel Sonny Liston with devil intuition and fight Muhammad, then, pen becomes a prison.”

Professor A.L.I. has also written the book “A Muslim Trapped In Donald Trump’s America”, which speaks to the issues outlined above.



Happy Tamil New Year! (Puthandu Vazthukal!)



Puthandu Vazthukal! (Happy Tamil New Year!) by Professor A.L.I.

This morning my children awoke, like I did as a child, came downstairs with their sleepy eyes and looked upon the Tamil New Year display with mango, guava and green bananas representing the fruits of our people, betel leaves showing our fortune, turmeric for our health, gold jewelry passed down my family for generations, coins from places we as Tamil people have lived in the Diaspora, next to it is an open copy of the Tirukkural showcasing the spiritual knowledge of our people and a mirror to reflect on our past. Next to the table were gifts for my two children and this year we celebrated the new year of our people by playing Tamilmatic, a piece of art, telling the Tamil story of struggle, sacrifice and survival.

2pac in Tamil explores the impact of the Kavi, or poet on society

Tamilmatic, the album, is in a way, its own display for the Tamil New Year. For example we Tamils great each other on this day by saying “Puthandu Vazthukal!” or “Happy New Year!” and Tamilmatic opens with an introductory track that introduces the album, greeting the listener with a Sanskritic hymn/prayer that is cut short by a the nadaswaram, a Tamil clarinet, and affirmation of the Tamil culture. The rest of the album is like the Tamil New Year display itself. The song Vampire Kiss, talks about the history of the gold jewelry and Red Dot traverses the planet, like the coins on display, and speaks to the Diaspora of our people. The fruits of the album are Saint Thomas, Herstory, and Our Queen, which pay homage to figures from Tamil History who had a profound impact on humanity. Coolie High, Mappila! and Serendipitious showcase our survival and like the turmeric our health and longevity on this planet, in spite of the challenges we faced. 2pac in Tamil, which explores the power of words, of our Mahakavi, or greatest poet, Bharatiyar, and is like the holy text the Tirukkural; and Card Game, which tells the story of our people’s success, despite our hurdles and shows our fortune like the betel leaves in the New Year’s display. 

Our Queen tells the story of Queen Velu Nachiyar who defeated the British East India Company

Tamilmatic follows the following three branches of our global journey: the Coolie Slave trade, Post-Colonial migration and a refugee crisis stemming from a brutal war and it finds a way to remain upbeat and positive, like the impact our people have had on this planet. So please celebrate Tamil New Year with us by getting a copy of Tamilmatic on iTunes or Amazon, or streaming it for free on Spotify and through the music, walk the journey made by millions of Tamils.



2pac in Tamil


2pac in Tamil

2pac is a global icon. Like Bob Marley before him, his music reverberates in the hearts of millions as it blasts through speakers around the world, just as his image captures the imaginations of his global fan base, on t-shirts, murals and posters. 2pac transcended Hip-Hop, like Bob Marley transcended Reggae. They became larger than the music and were intertwined with the values that were woven through their art, which they shared with the world. Foremost of these was an uncompromising devotion for standing up to oppression. 2pac was an opponent of hegemony, of predatory economic structures, racial inequity and political disenfranchisement. The spirit of 2pac stood and continues to stand against oppression, just like the icons of old that he inherited.

Exactly 75 years to the day before 2pac was assassinated, another like soul was taken from this world. A Tamil man from British ruled South India protested their oppression through his art and was also killed; though his death was tragic, like 2pac it did not diminish his poetry or songs, or throw shade on his message and ideals he stood for, which were the same as 2pac’s. The British government and authorities from Hindu hegemonic structures based on caste had already labeled him a pariah for his views, yet he remained resolute in his convictions and was struck down as a stalwart opponent to imperialism. He was an opponent to them, of the British economic divestment of his people, the racial hierarchies they imposed and manipulated and for Tamil nationalism. He is remembered as Bharatiyar, the mahakavi, or greatest poet in Tamil, or in Hip-Hop speak, the illest M.C.

Those who know Hip-Hop culture know that the most asked question in Hip-Hop is who is the best? The debate of who is the illest M.C. is one that seems so subjective that it can lead to seamlessly never-ending conversations or social media threads, with no true consensus. In part this is because people define “best” through various categories, from “rocking the party” to “best lyricism” to the “best content.” Beats, samples, production and engineering factor in as well and only further problematize the question. However there is one name that shows up on everyone’s list from the casual listener to the most stalwart of Hip-Hop heads, and it is the closest consensus that exists regarding this question and that M.C. is 2pac.


The Mahakavi and Illest M.C.

Bharatiyar was born in Ettayapuram, near the southern tip of India, in what would become Tamil Nadu. He was a pioneer in modern Tamil poetry and his work sparked patriotic fervor and nationalism and were part of a larger independence movement. He worked against gender stereotypes for women (though he still operated in a traditional mindset with his own life partner), and stood up against the caste system. He was exiled and imprisoned, but throughout his life was a prolific writer and poet and his songs and poems continued to inspire, as Tamil people fought for their freedom along with other South Asian peoples from under British rule.

2pac was a fetus while his mother fought for her freedom during the Panther 21 trial and grew to embody the values of his Panther family. He championed the power of the people and was the first erudite Hip-Hop artist to speak out against misogyny in his lyrics (though he remained a contradiction through his association with artists who were the epitome of misogyny). He had been shot, hospitalized, and imprisoned, yet in his short life, he was one of the most prolific Hip-Hop artists of all time and his music continues to inspire people throughout the world to stand up to the powers that be.

Can you see the connection?


Tamil Hip-Hop 

Tamil people have long embraced Hip-Hop culture as a part of our own. Hip-Hop Tamizha may be a strong and recent example, but Hip-Hop may be strongest amongst Tamils living in the Diaspora. My brother Yogi B in Malaysia, or The Prophecy in Toronto are examples of Tamils embracing Hip-Hop culture and using the voice of Hip-Hop to make our presence known. Tamilmatic is an attempt to do just this and tell our story, explaining our impact on this planet and showcasing our deep values as a people.

Tamils love 2pac, because 2pac’s lyrics translate well to the Tamil struggle. Whether we talk about the Coolie Slave Trade, the post-colonial struggle and our Diaspora, or the war and the refugee crisis stemming from our fight for Eelam and the impact of the war crimes committed against our people, 2pac’s songs could very much form the soundtrack to our struggle. Just as Bharatiyar’s songs became the songs of resistance of our grandparents generation, 2pac’s lyrics spoke to the grandchildren living in the Diaspora.

So 2pac in Tamil is the first official video to accompany the release of Tamilmatic for this Tamil New Year’s Day and it imagines whether the souls of Bharatiyar and 2pac were intertwined just as the struggle for human rights amongst Black folk in America and Black folk in South Asia still is. It explores Black Lives Matter and champions the idea of global liberty and justice. Bharatiyar and 2pac clearly stood on common ground; they were both poets and revolutionaries and both were taken from the world too soon, and finally they both reminded us of how the power of voice can transcend death:

2pac in Tamil is my attempt to use my voice, to bridge the global struggle of my people with the problems plaguing our planet and state emphatically that 2pac is alive, because he lives through all of us, and through this, like Bharatiyar, he lives through me.

2pac in Tamil is a song off of the Tamilmatic album and is available for download on iTunes and Amazon, and for free streaming on Rhapsody and Spotify. 

Happy Easter!


Happy Easter – The Story of Saint Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ by Professor A.L.I.

Most Christians hearing the name of Thomas remember him as having “doubted” in the resurrection event, celebrated as Easter, of Jesus Christ. This has given rise to the phrase “a doubting Thomas,” which describes/disparages a person who doubts in an event that has happened and has been witnessed, simply because they have not seen it themselves. The irony, is that many European Christians, especially those who lived during the days of colonization of South Asia, believed in the myth that it was they who brought Christianity to the “heathen” South Asian, when in fact it was the efforts of Thomas, the apostle of Jesus that had brought millions in South Asia into the knowledge of the Gospel; so in fact Eurocentric Christianity was the “doubting Thomas,” in that they doubted in Thomas in the first place!

Saint Thomas, the apostle of Jesus came to India, arriving by ships that frequented the South Western coast, known as Malabar or Kerala, as part of the lucrative Indian Ocean trade, and upon disembarking, sought aid for the sailors who had fallen sick on his ship. One of the great miracles of Christianity is Pentecost, which gives the Apostles of Jesus the ability to speak in the various tongues of humanity. So when Thomas communicated to the people, he may have been speaking Malayalam (a sister language to Tamil) or Tamil, but whether one believes he did this in the native language, in the very least he conveyed the idea that the sailors needed medical attention. There was a Hindu family that lived near the beachhead that responded by giving the sailors limes, which began to cure them. Most likely they had come down with scurvy (which can be treated with a dose of vitamin C). Thomas paid this family with the coins he had in his pocket, which were Jerusalem shekels. This family, never converted to Christianity, but recognized Thomas as a special person and kept the coins, which they passed down generation after generation and nearly 2000 years later those coins still remain in the custody of the family bloodline in modern day South India!

Thomas then began to proselytize and he is directly responsible for the conversion of so many souls to Christianity in South India, the numerous ancient churches in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It was in Tamil Nadu that his preaching became targeted by the Bhramins, who saw his growing following as a direct threat to their hierarchical supremacy in that area. They cast him out and still unsatisfied, they committed the unforgivable act of murder, hence making Thomas a martyr. His grave is remains are not shrouded by a special Church, in what is called Saint Thomas’s Mount, and is nearly adjacent to the Chennai (Madras) airport in Tamil Nadu, India.

In the following song, I recount the story of Thomas, the eventual colonization of my people and end with the phrase “Saint Thomas came to save Tamil people; he was murdered for trying.” This line foreshadows the struggles faced by Tamils afterwards, which has led to a diaspora throughout the world:

International Women’s Day

International Women's Day

International Women’s Day and the Story of Queen Velu Nachiyar

International Women’s Day by Professor A.L.I.

International Women’s Day has its origins in both protest and socialist movements, but it has evolved to a day which functions as a lens for the myopia of patriarchy through which we normally see our world.  It is a time for us to pause and reflect, as well as to honor and remember, all those around the globe who’ve been marginalized by the patriarchal norms we accept as the status quo.   Considering our all-too familiar binary construction of gender, history is only half the story; hence it is only a half-truth, which is akin to a lie.  Herstory was an attempt to expose the whole story, and on International Women’s Day, it is incumbent upon all who breathe in the patriarchal air that deadens our senses to the feminine energy that surrounds us, to take a moment to focus on this metaphysical force and imbue our spirits with the feminine; this necessary invocation requires an anchor, and there are many to invoke who represent its power like: Fatima bint Muhammad, Zaynab bint Ali, Rab’a al-‘Adawiyya, Nana Asmau, Queen Nanny of the Maroons, Harriet Tubman, Yuri Kochiyama, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Valliamma, and Amina Al-Sadr, to name a few.  Each name represents immense power of spirit and the best examples of what human beings can become, and each of their stories are shrouded by attempts to dim their light in the smog of patriarchy.  Yet there is one place that stood above many others in honoring the feminine; giving it its proper elevated status and honoring this force, and it is in this place so many examples arose to champion the human condition using this power.  The place is South Asia, and it is here that the concept of Devi was constructed, and where women like Queen Velu Nachiyar arose to champion resistance and freedom; she will be the anchor through which we will explore the power of the feminine and celebrate this day as it should be celebrated, in hopes that one day, there will no longer be a need for a day to correct our myopic vision, since we will see clearly through both eyes and honor the entire gender spectrum of human contribution, but until then: Happy International Women’s Day and An Everlasting Victory to Queen Velu Nachiyar!

Rani Velu Nachiyar

She Made Patriarchy Call Her Devi!

The Devi

The Sanskritic concept of Devi was constructed two thousand years BCE, as a feminine form of the divine.  It was a way for practitioners of ancient Vedic faiths to understand a pantheon of divine beings, which included celestial beings who were perceived as mothers, consorts, and sisters to cosmological concepts.  Over time this term evolved and in the text Devi Mahatmya explores the idea of the ultimate truth and supreme power as manifest in Shaktism, a movement that was an important branch of Hinduism.  This term is still used in the modern era and its concept has continued to evolve even into vernacular usage that is divorced from its theistic origins, yet honors the power of the feminine.

The night before my father died, he awoke from a powerful dream and woke my mother. This is something he never had done in their marriage and according to my mom, he excitedly shared with her his dream in the pitch black night, which was about a vision he saw of a woman made of light calling him towards her; he referred to her as a Devi; he died later that afternoon, on the outskirts of the town he was born in, land once liberated from the yoke of British colonial rule by Queen Velu Nachiyar in a taxicab.  Unbeknownst to him, the day he passed fell on the lunar anniversary of the day that Fatima bint Muhammad died; and the great irony is that her adherents often refer to Fatima as the “lady of light”.

The great lie in the history of colonialism/imperialism of South Asia is that the South Asian peoples did not resist and the only form of resistance was non-violent and authored by Gandhi.  The second half of this lie was exposed in Herstory, but the first part is also not true.  While those tuned into South Asian history will be able to mention the Sepoy Rebellion as one specific example of resistance, it is still viewed as an exception to the norm.  Sadly this erroneous presumption is a result of patriarchal smog, which diminishes the light of numerous examples of resistance movements towards European control, all of which were sparked by the feminine.  Whether it’s the Mappila Rebellion, which came from the matriarchal Mappila community, or specific examples of leaders like Queen Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi or Queen Chennamma of Kittur who fought British interests in South India, or Queen Abbakka of Ullal who fought the Portuguese, it was the power of the Devi, which manifest itself in the spirit of freedom from the yoke of colonial oppression.  The first to fight against the British, in the middle of the 1700’s was Queen Velu Nachiyar and her story is truly remarkable, one worthy of our study and invocation every International Women’s Day.

The story of Queen Velu Nachiyar is one of extreme sacrifice!

The story of Queen Velu Nachiyar is one of extreme sacrifice!

Queen Velu Nachiyar

Born on January 3rd, 1730, Queen Velu Nachiyar was destined for greatness.  A daughter in a royal family, she had access to and studied the art of war as a young girl, mastering the art of silambam (the fighting stick), horse riding and archery along with the science of strategy.  She was a scholar of multiple languages beyond her mother tongue of Tamil, including Urdu, French and English at a time where few knew how to read and write in one.  She married a king, birthed royal heirs and shared a rule that was peaceful until it was interrupted by violence sparked by the greed of the British East India Company (BEIC), which wanted the lands she governed.  They killed her husband, and children, and she escaped into the forests, while the BEIC dismantled her rule and ensnared her lands just as they practically enslaved her people in servitude of wealth extraction.  She formed a guerilla army, made up of forest dwellers, struck alliances with neighboring rulers for arms, trained her forces and strategized a way to victory at great personal cost.  Her adopted daughter, Kuyilli, agreed to be the vehicle for Queen Velu Nachiyar’s victory, and according to plan doused herself in oil and stole herself into the British military stores, exploding their armory and herself into herstory books as the first human bomb (or suicide bomber in history).  This was the tipping point in the revolution and allowed Queen Velu Nachiyar and her forces to defeat the British and re-establish her rule.  She held onto the liberated lands for a decade, until she died and was South Asia’s first revolutionary.

Velu Nachiyar Parade - International Women's Day

A parade honoring Queen Velu Nachiyar .

Our Queen

Queen Velu Nachiyar’s story is barely a footnote in HIStory, and “Our Queen” is an attempt to commemorate her more than a singular stamp issued by the government of India in December of 2008.  Her story is as symbolic as it is iconic—and it represents the power of the Devi, i.e. the feminine spirit as well as the will of Tamil people to be free.  “Our Queen” is the second track song leaked off of the Tamilmatic album as well as its first video, and it features the soulful singing of Tony Thomas, which wraps around the lyrics of a Tamil griot (poet/oral historian) who recounts the story of the life, death and struggles of Queen Velu Nachiyar.

The song and video invokes the spirit of the feminine, using the story of Queen Velu Nachiyar as an anchor.  Her light beckons through the smog of patriarchy like a lone lighthouse inspiring sailors with hope to navigate treacherous waters to shore; and this video, inspired by her story evokes other images of Tamil women, from soldiers in the army to tea pickers, representing her resistance and the people she liberated respectively.  The music video also portrays a simple sketch of her, and the placing of it in a forest clearing; it symbolizes the forest clearing she once hid in as she planned, trained and strategized for the victory of her people.

Celebrate International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day was born of protest and social struggle, and the lens it provides through the smog of patriarchy allows us to commemorate figures like Queen Velu Nachiyar and through her struggle and revolution become inspired to carry out our own—one that helps us dispel the half-truths of history and understand the human experience wholly and at all times.

Celebrate this day by making your own sign: “I need feminism because: _______” and fill in the blank in a way that reconciles your spirit with the feminine—and share it.  Share it, and tag/link this article, share it and use the hashtags: #Feminism, #OurQueen, #Tamilmatic, or share it with the video/song above.  Let’s link each story, with each other, so that these disparate lanterns representing the truth of herstory help dispel the smog of patriarchy forever.

I Need Feminism Because

I Need Feminism Because _________; #OurQueen #Tamilmatic

Each name represents immense power of spirit and the best examples of what human beings can become, and each of their stories are shrouded by attempts to dim their light in the smog of patriarchy.