Exclusive: How Cartel Madras' queer diasporic sound takes up space in hip hop's narrative

Eboshi and Contra make some time to explain Goonda Rap to us

author_img UJJAINEE ROY Published :  17th January 2020 12:31 AM   |   Published :   |  17th January 2020 12:31 AM

Cartel Madras tell us about their soundscape

The last couple of years have been hugely significant for queer, PoC (people of colour) voices in hip hop. And entrenched in the South Asian diaspora is the soundscape of the Calgary-based, Chennai-born sisters Bhagya (Eboshi) and Priya Ramesh (Contra); their project Cartel Madras which started in their basement is now on its way to become a movement in identity.

“Our sound has been inspired by the complicated and beautiful music of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the passionate and fiery tone of queer house parties and the DJs who keep the night moving, and so much of the revolutionary poetry and writing from women of the Global South,” reveal Eboshi and Contra.

Eboshi and Contra tell us how Goonda Rap came about

How exactly is Cartel Madras’ Goonda Rap taking up space in the hip hop narrative? Eboshi and Contra help us understand:

Tell us a little about Goonda Rap, and how it came about

Goonda Rap is our way of representing new voices and narratives into hip hop authentically and honestly. We want to pay homage to the subgenres which have come before us and have influenced our sound, but we also recognise that we are not inheritors of those subenre’s traditions, geographies and experiences. 

Cartel Madras at a gig in Alberta (Image: Instagram/ Cartel Madras)

Goonda Rap melds the sounds of grime, trap, rap from the south, gangsta rap, and house and makes room for different marginalised groups; hip hop has always given voice to the underdogs and that is now expanding to include more communities. 

You released Project Goonda Part 1: Trapistan last year and Age of Goonda last month. Tell us a little about the kind of responses you've been receiving

Our first mixtape, Trapistan, was a very DIY project which we recorded in our basement and it came out to only 12 minutes of music. It was very untethered to release schedules or media so we were astonished by the level of attention it garnered. Since the release of Trapistan, we received global attention, we were able to tour, and secured a deal with Seattle-based label, Sub Pop Records. 

Cartel Madras just announced their new US tour

In 2019, we worked with producers from Canada, Europe, India, and America and we recorded and released Age Of The Goonda (AOTG). As our debut Sub Pop EP, AOTG has been monumental in our careers and in cultivating the Cartel Madras’ sound of Goonda Rap. 

Your music has a huge focus on the cultural identities...

As artistes with membership to specific cultural communities (women, POC, LGBTQ+, South Asian) we have so much to say with our existence and within our music. We are in constant conversation with these groups and there is such rich diversity within each community which cannot be reduced to monolithic beliefs or tastes; so we write authentically and uniquely. 

Do you wish there were more queer voices in hip hop?

Of course, and we are so grateful to the queer voices who have paved the path that allows us to exist in hip hop today. There are extremely talented and hardworking LGBTQ+ artists in this genre including Cakes Da Killa, Young KSB, Big Freedia, Mykki Blanco, and more. The legacy of queer hip hop is a testament to creating space for new narratives and voices in the industry. 

What's on your playlist right now?

Pierre Bourne, Jack Harlow, Santi, Jackboys, Higher Brothers, Goldilox, Danger Incorporated