Happy Tamil New Year! (Puthandu Vazthukal!)

Puthandu_Vazthukal_Tamil_New_Year

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 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.

Tamils_Love_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 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. 

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.

 

 

TAMILMATIC

 

tamilmaticTAMILMATIC: Releases on Tamil New Year, April 14th, 2016.

Tamilmatic is the latest album, from Professor A.L.I., a Bay-Area based Hip-Hop artist and educator of Tamil ethnic origin.  “This is a Hip-Hop album that tells the Tamil story of Diaspora & [our] post-colonial survival, [it] captures lost narratives and showcases the Tamil spirit; in both English and Tamil,” says Professor A.L.I., and was co-produced by the artist using Tamil music samples and as a result is a true example of cultural syncretism.

Professor A.L.I. spits rhymes in both English & Tamil on the album, exploring figures from Tamil history like Queen Velunachiyar (who sparked the first rebellion against the British East India Company in South Asia), Thillaiyadi Valliammai (the ideological mother of Non-Violent Resistance, Anti-Apartheid movement & South Asian Nationalism), Saint Thomas (the Apostle of Jesus, martyred and buried in Tamil Nadu, South India), and Subramania Bharati (Tamil poet and freedom fighter).

The album also explores themes related to the Tamil experience such as the Coolie-slave-labor system, the multi-layered Tamil Diaspora, the Mappila Rebellions in Malabar, Tamil-Moorish contact and connection, the Tamil separatist movement in India and the war for Tamil independence for a Tamil Eelam in Ceylon.

The beats on the album were co-produced by frequent Professor A.L.I. collaborator: Blue Jones.  The album was mixed by D. M. Adams and was mastered by Glenn Schick.  Tamilmatic is a testament to the adaptability and Tamil people, who have been flung far and wide from being wage laborers and indentured servants in the Middle East, to woven into the fabric of the Maldives, East and South Africa, to their historical importance in Laos and Malaysia, to having linguistic and political influence in Singapore, India and Ceylon, and finally by having a multi-faceted impact on the West through burgeoning Tamil populations in Norway, Germany, Australia, London, Toronto and the United States.

Stay tuned to this page for exclusive videos as we get closer to Tamil New Year and the release of Tamilmatic.

TamilmaticCover