Remembrance rap: Musicians Shan Vincent de Paul and Yanchan revisit the Tamil genocide in Sri Lanka
The song’s striking video portrays a haunting scene shot in the middle of a fog-covered lake about three hours north of Toronto, the cinematography for which was handled by Gajan Balan
Shan Vincent de Paul was six when his parents decided to leave Jaffna. It was 1986 and the Sri Lankan Civil War was brewing that would ultimately witness the infamous Tamil genocide. It’s been over three decades, but such memories are definitely difficult to put away. For Shan, hip-hop became a way to channel that pain and forge a new identity. Today this Toronto-based Tamil musician, along with good friend and frequent collaborator Yanchan, has paid his own tribute to the genocide with the song, ‘One Hundred Thousand Flowers’, from the Mrithangam Raps series.
The episode released a week before Maaveerar Naal, the official Remembrance Day for the Sri Lankan Tamil community, which is observed on November 27. The song’s striking video portrays a haunting scene shot in the middle of a fog-covered lake about three hours north of Toronto, the cinematography for which was handled by Gajan Balan. The duo wanted to create a haunting mood in order that one feels the weight of the message being conveyed. Working with a relatively small team, it was a difficult shoot.
Add to this the fact that neither Shan nor Yanchan can swim, performing without a life jacket was definitely scary. The response to the song has been overwhelming and people have appreciated the resistance it captures in various forms. Shan believes that the idea of telling one’s personal stories and sharing their experiences is crucial for his community. “We are still seeking accountability from the Sri Lankan government and there are still so many questions to be asked,” he says.
Proud brown artists at the forefront of the global South Asian hip-hop movement, their Mrithangam Raps series has seen them being hailed as creators of Carnatic rap. Shan says as soon as he finished the track, he knew he wanted to do a mridangam version of it. “The mridangam as an instrumental represents our culture so well, in its power, elegance and symbol. I thought it would be appropriate for it to carry the message of the song,” he says.
The artists have also banded together to form a new collaborative project called Kothu Boys, an authentic bridge between hip-hop and traditional South Asian sounds. They decided to use Kothu roti—directly associated with the Tamil community—as their symbol. Their goal was to create an album that their community can relate to and identify with. The collaboration began when they got a chance to see what fans were connecting with on their recent India tour early this year. It led them to tastefully fuse hip-hop with their cultural roots like it’s never been done before. “It really is a cohesive body of work that is an ode to our roots as well as hip-hop influences from the west,” says Shan.
Recently, their self-titled debut album released, which fuses 90's nostalgia and Tamil film samples with trap-influenced sounds from the west. Throughout the record, the pair explores topics of identity, friendship, love, peace and war. It also includes the previously released lead single Best Friend that samples music director AR Rahman’s iconic song, Mustafa Mustafa from the 1996-released Kadhal Desam. There’s much to look forward to from this talented pair. Besides working on their next solo albums, as well as a new Kothu Boys album, there’s also a lot of writing and producing, given that Toronto just went into lockdown again. They hope to get on the road again next year and return to India.