A collective of Tamil artists from the diaspora and across the North-East teamed up to celebrate the beauty of the Tamil homeland earlier this year, in a music video that has racked up thousands of views so far.
‘Zha Mann’ or ‘Our Soil’ is a track made by UK-based Tamil artist Santhors, singer S Ravi, rappers C V Laksh and Baveena and a collaboration of Parai drummers, and has over 20,000 hits and counting.
Tamil Guardian caught up with some of the artists involved in the project, to speak about the song, the Tamil music industry and about the Tamil homeland.
"We are a group determined to provoke social change through theatre," said the group of female parai drummers who appear on the track, which included K Sarmila, A Vijitha, A Anusa, A Ajantha, A D Baveena, Thusanthan and the Inpam Parai drum group. They spoke of their involvement in numerous cultural projects expressing their fight for social change by the means of theatre, music and contemporary dance performances.
For many of the parai artists, despite having performed for years, making a music video was a novel experience. "We usually perform in front of a live audience,” they said .”Performing and recording, again and again, gave us little discomfort, however, we were happy to work with new technology."
As women in Tamil Eelam, there is often a negative stigma attached to the notion of performing, especially in front of a camera, they added. However, the women involved in the making of this video explained that "as women artists fixed on evoking social change since 2009, we didn't face many challenges with this particular project”.
"We were hesitant in participating in another love-centric music video mimicking South Indian Cinema," but upon hearing about an opportunity to express their love for their motherland, they were keen to get involved.
"There are thousands of stories buried within our society," they said when asked about the Eelam Tamil arts industry. "If we can address these topics in a creative manner, it will become a one-of-a-kind platform."
This is an aim that Santhors has been passionately pursuing. “I have always wanted to create an industry for Eelam Tamils,” he told the Tamil Guardian. “Eelam's neighbouring country, India is home to many different languages and thriving cinematic industries in languages Tamil, Hindi, Telegu, Malayalam and many more. Due to the war, not many opportunities have arose for youngsters in Eelam to showcase their creativity or talent.”
“We all have different political views, different opinions about almost everything,” he added. “We have many division between us. And it's not wrong, it is nature, but we have one common goal and that is the freedom of our people, and our nation Eelam. We can only succeed by being united. Unity is our strength.”
That concept of unity led Santhors to reach out to artists across the homeland, where he had a chance encounter with S Ravi. “When I was singing at the temple, the producer of this music video came to me and said, 'Your voice is good, will you sing with us?’,” Ravi recalls. He began his journey in music at a young age after his father discovered his passion. He explains that this is the first time he had filmed a music video, and through this project, his performance has reached a global audience.
Amidst the turmoil faced by the Tamils, creative work such as this celebrates the traditions and cultures of Tamil Eelam while also remembering the struggle the nation has been through. The lyrics for this music video touches upon a number of different social and environmental issues, with Santhors stating that he wants the Tamil diaspora to “remember the sacrifices made by our people”. “I will always be grateful for all those people that stood up against their oppressors to save our nation and the Tamils homeland, so the message is to always remember that and stand united,” co-lyricist Amsavalli added.
The song, in particular, has been praised for its coverage of topics related to the Tamil homeland, such as the environment - from the fish in the sea to the natural sea salt that can be found in Tamil Eelam. The lyrics also delve deeper into the ways in which we must align ourselves with mother nature instead of “running in search of modernisation”.
“We are packing chemically processed fresh food in tins and then consuming them to appease our tastebuds and destroying our bodies,” the lyrics state.
That message was echoed throughout our conversations with the artists involved in this project. "If we use art to cause social change, then the value of art will also thrive," said the parai drummers, encouraging the Tamil diaspora to use art as a tool to advocate change.
“We are the children of your motherland,” added C V Laksh. “Please give us your support.”