Sarpatta Parambarai: All you need to know about Neeye Oli
We first noticed him when his Mrithangam Rap series took over Indian social media with quite the storm in 2019. Shan Vincent de Paul was already a name to reckon with in Canada, where his debut album Saviors (2016) catapulted him to fame within the rap community there. Originally from Jaffna in Sri Lanka, Shan is now a well-known icon within the Canadian Tamil diaspora. “We have one of the biggest Tamil populations outside of Asia in Toronto, so our scene has a lot to offer,” says the rap artiste who now has an audience all across the globe. Known for his thirst trap videos that often feature him shirtless with a physique to match (and his brilliant rap of course), we catch up with Shan to talk about his most recent release — Savage from his new album Made In Jaffna that juxtaposes a classical bharatanatyam choreographed piece to explicit and powerful rap — and his brand new single, Neeye Oli, featuring female rap artiste Navz-47 that is now synced into the OST of Pa Ranjith’s Sarpatta Parambarai).
You have built a sound that is uniquely yours. How would you define it?
My sound is a product of listening to acts like Outkast, Jay-Z, DMX, Hieroglyphics, Organized Konfusion, El-P, Kurupt and Pharoahe Monch while watching a lot of work by directors like Paul Thomas Anderson, Lars Von Trier, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino and Gasper Noé.
Most of your lyrics are a commentary on the society we live in. How important is it to you that your music is socially relevant?
I would say most of my lyrics are about love, resilience, identity and my personal experiences. I have a few songs wherein I comment on society. Those songs end up as the talking points for a lot of people and then I’m tagged as a political rapper or something. I’m not. I have no interest in politics.
You represent a new wave of Tamil musicians representing a global Tamil diaspora; what does this identity mean to you?
Discovering, re-discovering, figuring out and continuously navigating what our identity is, is part of the Tamil diaspora experience. Trying to capture that through my art is something that I’m always striving to do. I’m still figuring it out myself as it’s a constantly evolving thing.
How do you choose who to collaborate with and why?
I work with people I believe are great. The collaboration has to be a symbiotic relationship. It’s important that I feel like I’m evolving my craft when I’m collaborating with someone. I’m not into doing phone-in verses for a cheque. There needs to be a genuine interest to make something incredible.
‘Savage’ is a great way to launch your new album ‘Made in Jaffna’. Do tell us a little bit more about the song and the video — how did you envision it?
When I first saw Usha Jey dance to Da Baby’s Bop (the first video in a series titled Hybrid Bharatham, available on Usha Jey’s YouTube channel), I was floored. It was a true innovation in the space and the East/West hybrid was also something that was common in my work as well. I knew right then, she had to be the star of the video. The pandemic did prevent me from being on set to direct the video, but fortunately Aresnij Gusev did an incredible job of helping me bring the concept to life and directed it with me while also handling cinematography duties.
You seem to be an artiste that wants to change what rap means for a Tamil audience but you also have a healthy interest in the perceived ‘classical’ arts — the mridangam in one series and now a ‘Hybrid Bharatham’ performer in ‘Savage’, what drives you to bring these styles together?
There are more commonalities with Carnatic music and rap than people would assume. The rhythms, structures, patterns, cadences — you can find similarities in both worlds. I find the fusion of East and West to be a beautiful balance. It’s also just the true nature of a lot of our influences growing up.
We’ve listened to ‘Neeye Oli’ and think it’s very interesting. Tell us a little bit about the single and how this collaboration with ‘Sarpatta Parambarai’ came about?
The team at maajja brought me and Santhosh Narayanan together. Santhosh sent me the initial demo and I loved it. I’ve always wanted to work with him. I really had to do his production justice. He’s also the first major producer in India that has opened the door for me to that world, so I’m forever grateful for that. I’m beyond excited for the song and the film. It’s a big moment for the entire team.
Tell us a little bit about the video. We heard you co-directed it?
Yes, I wanted the aesthetic of this video to represent me and my collaborators (his personal stylist Zola Zee, Toronto-based St. Lucian designer Kyle Gervacy, rap artiste Navz-47 and co-director Kalainithan Kalaichelvan), and fashion was that catalyst. This is Toronto meets Tamil Eelam. It’s a place where couture meets the ancient past, avant-garde intersects with traditional gowns… it’s the meeting point of all these different identities. The Made in Jaffna world is a surreal, sci-fi world where the ancient past meets a new future. The Tamil Eelam experience is always shown through the lens of oppression and suffering and I want to show people our glory and innovation, a world which is futuristic and avant-garde. There is a South Asian renaissance and I want people to sit up and take notice of us.
‘Neeye Oli’ is streaming on all major streaming platforms and ‘Savage’ is available to stream on YouTube.