Published: 28th July 2020
I am my own inspiration: How Malayalam rapper Vedan became the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’
Vedan’s song talks about the rights of the oppressed, casteist and religious divides, slaves and lords, land and labour, justice and betrayal and the power of a single spark
After he listed out a number of musicians and artists who inspire his musical sensibilities, I ask Vedan, the young Malayali rapper who inspires him in life. Without missing a beat, he says, "Me. I am my own inspiration."
That’s probably one of the most fantastic answers in any interview and pretty much defines the music, art, politics and life of the 25-year-old from Thrissur. Vedan’s song Voice of the Voiceless managed to stay true to its name and garnered him a lot of love and great feedback from people who claimed he had spoken what they had hidden in their minds and hearts. The video has almost 6 lakh views on YouTube and is widely popular even among youth outside of Kerala.
Vedan’s song talks about the rights of the oppressed, casteist and religious divides, slaves and lords, land and labour, justice and betrayal and the power of a single spark. It holds all the anger that Vedan has long carried with him because of the casteist society and it’s obsession with fair skin. Vedan, which means ‘hunter’, is the name the rapper adopted as his stage name paying homage to his people who are hunters and a community that faces immense discrimination. The name given to him at birth is Hirandas Murali and his love for music grew as he watched his father always sing folk songs after a drink or two. From a very young age, Vedan began singing on his school stage. But Vedan’s main dream then and now is to become a filmmaker.
It could be the fact that his mother was from Ooty but Vedan says throughout his life he has been obsessed with Tamil movies. He loved Kamal Hassan and Dhanush growing up and watched Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan over 150 times and his latest favourite is Pa Ranjith. “I just knew that I had to make a film when I grow up and I’m still striving to do that,” he says. In fact, Vedan did a small role in the Malayalam film Kammattipaadam directed by Rajeev Ravi and starring Dulquer Salman and Vinayakan. After he finished school, Vedan completely devoted his time to getting into the film industry and has worked under a couple directors and editors. His return to music happened after an incident during the Kerala floods.
After Vedan’s village was severely hit by the floods, he was on his way to rescue some other villagers when he alleged that a right-wing person shouted at the group he was in to not take him along since he was from a lower caste. “That’s when I decided that I had had enough, I knew it was time for me to talk about this discrimination on a public platform,” he decided. The rapper tells us that he has faced discriminination because of his skin colour from a very young age. “The colour of my skin in black. Here in Kerala, everyone is obsessed with fair skin. Yet, when the Black Lives Matter movement started in the US, everyone here began to show their solidarity. But in our own country, people discriminate against those with dark skin. This really hurt me, no one wants to talk about the issues of caste and colour discrimination here.”
“It’s 2020 and yet people feel it is okay to shout out casteist slurs at me but they will show solidarity with the movements abroad. It has become fashionable to act intellectual but nobody really cares. But I don’t feel bad, it doesn’t matter to me what people say but I worry about other people my age and younger than me, who might not be able to bear such taunts,” the rapper says. After this incident, he began to write lyrics and the members of the band, Oorali heard some of his work and immediately asked him to work on a song. Vedan took a couple of months to pen the lyrics and then started to practise rap, “It was very easy to learn. We just have to figure out the ‘beats per minute’,” he tells us.
When asked who he listened to or watched to learn, Vedan says two names - Tamil Nadu’s Casteless Collective member rapper Arivu and Tupac Shakur. There are other artists in Malayalam that he follows too but he says Arivu has been most influential in his life. “I love all his songs and all the work that the Casteless Collective does. I follow their art very closely,” he says. Besides this, Vedan says he gets a lot of his inspiration from the books that he reads, mostly history related. He says TD Ramakrishnan and Perumal Murugan are some of his favourite writers. He only got deeply interested in books about six years ago and his politics and ideas have been shaped by the books that he reads.
Ever since the song came out, Vedan has received a lot of love from people, many have told him that he had sung the words, their hearts and minds had been wanting to sing and talk about for ages. But not all the feedback was positive, Vedan says he also got a lot of threats from people because of the lyrics of his song, mostly from political party members, “But this doesn’t bother me, I’m just going to keep singing,” he says with determination.
The rapper is overjoyed though with the feedback that he got from Pa Ranjith on Twitter and hopes to set up something similar to the Casteless Collective in Kerala too. After his song’s release, Vedan says he had only one dream - to collaborate with Arivu and perform on a stage along with him, now that will soon come true. Besides this, he is now collaborating with director Lijo Jose Pellissery for a project as well. His family is also overwhelmed by his success and are giving him all their support. Besides music and films, the youngster also dabbles in graffiti art - “I do everything I can to spread the word, to get people’s attention to pressing issues,” he says.
But his eventual aim is to make a film, “I know I will make one. There is this idea that films should be made in such a way or that art is only consumed in a certain way. I want to change that. This is the only way I can talk about my politics.”
And what are his politics?The rapper invokes Philosopher Kaniyan Poongundranar, “Yaathum Oore Yaavarum Kaeleer (All towns are one, all men are kings).”