[paul song]‘Neeye Oli’ rapper Shan Vincent de Paul wants to bring the Tamil diaspora closer to the motherland
In a pre-pandemic 2020, music composer Santhosh Narayanan remembers being blown away by a man rapping to the beats of the mridangam at a music festival. The two decided right away that they must collaborate at some point.
A year later, that man — Canadian hip hop artiste Shan Vincent de Paul, has released ‘Neeye Oli’, with Santhosh. Part of the soundtrack for Pa Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai, the thumping trap-inspired anthem ensures the adrenaline flows until long after the boxing drama ends.
‘Neeye Oli’’s video, which premiered on maajja, is the third song on the AR Rahman-led platform for Tamil independent artistes. The video features Canadian Tamil rappers Shan and Navz dressed in futuristic, avant-garde fashion. “My vision is to strengthen the bridge between the Tamil diaspora and our motherland,” says Shan, sitting in his Toronto home, as he tears himself away from reaction videos to his song.
Shan’s raps are rooted in the feeling of displacement, alienation and resilience of the Tamil Eelam community, which is also the theme of his upcoming album, Made in Jaffna. It was one of the reasons Santhosh felt his voice was needed in Sarpatta Parambarai’s anthem. “I felt that an authentic rap that understands the history of Tamils in India and Sri Lanka would be appropriate and would also connect with people,” says Santhosh.
When Santhosh sent the track (with Arivu’s lyrics penned in Tamil) to Shan, to add his English portions, he also described the character of Kabilan (played by Arya) in the film. “Santhosh told me about Kabilan’s story of perseverance and how the character had to restart his career. And I felt like that has been my story too, in terms of the trajectory my music career has taken. I have had to reset a bunch of times,” he says.
Commercial success came late to Shan, well into his thirties. He started out as part of different rap groups, then as part of a duo, before going solo in 2016. “It was a constant battle to find my audience,” he says. This, he did in 2019, especially in South Asia, as his Mrithangam Raps series took off.
Shan’s music now is often about bridging cultural worlds with Tamil identity at its core. In his recent rap ‘Savage’, he collaborates with Usha Jey, a Bharatanatyam dancer. The aggressive, swearing lyrics are channelled through the classical dance form.
“The term ‘savage’ was used against us by colonisers. They would point out to our everyday routine, like using our fingers to eat, and call it ‘savage’. So this is a tongue-in-cheek response to it. ‘You wanna see a savage? Okay, I will show you that savage aggression — ironically’,” he says. “It is a similar conflict even within our South Asian community (within different castes), that I wanted to tap into.”
‘Savage’ also premiered on maajja, just before the release of ‘Neeye Oli’. The latter is, however, Shan’s first song to be included in a movie. “Santhosh is the first major artist from India to believe in me. That someone like him, who is at the top of his game right now, recognised my talent meant the world to me. I hope that his debut in the cinema space opens many more doors for independent Tamil hip hop.”