India Calling

Anjali Jhangiani and Anugraha Rao
Friday, 7 February 2020

American DJs Diplo and Illenium, and Sri-Lankan origin Canada-based rapper Shan Vincent de Paul talk about connecting with their Indian fans as they perform at Vh1 Supersonic 2020

I had no money, I was living like a young backpacker: Diplo on his first visit to India 20 years ago

Thomas Wesley Pentz aka Diplo is undeniably a hearthrob, a ‘bad boy’ and someone who needs to put on a shirt (according to his older fans) in the international music industry. As the last decade was phenomenal for the DJ, this year also seems to be filled with lots of excitement. Ask him about his most recent collaboration with DJ Paul Woolford aka Special Request on a much-anticipated album, and his lips are sealed. All he says is, “It is going to be an interesting year! Stay tuned...”

The artist who worked on the Bollywood track Phurrr for Shah Rukh Khan’s Harry Met Sejal, shares that he has exploring the EDM scene in India for a while. “The artists in India are incredibly talented. I am always open to collaborating, anything is possible,” he says. 

He also recalls living in the country way before he was a big name. “I came to India for the first time 20 years ago and I lived here for a while. I had no money and I was living like a young backpacker. The second time I came to India was with the Major Lazer crew to shoot our video for Lean On. People in India have shown us so much love, we can’t wait to be back,” says the DJ who has collaborated on hit songs like Where are U Now, Welcome to the Party, and more . 

Known for his bold fashion statements, Diplo’s latest fad is the cowboy hat. Ask him what’s with the hat, and he says, “I just love them, the history of them. I’m working on a bunch of country music at the moment.” 

But while he can carry off the cowboy look with ease, these props are tedious to carry around. “The hats are a pain to travel with though. You have to get a hat box on the flight and put it in the overhead compartment,” he adds. 

About his performance at VH1 Supersonic presented by Budweiser 0.0, he shares, “Exciting things in store!”
— Anjali Jhangiani

India is definitely having its moment with hip-hop: Shan Vincent de Paul who wants to collaborate with Indian artists

If you haven’t heard of Shan Vincent de Paul already, you haven’t been paying enough attention to the global rap scene. The Toronto-based, Jaffna-born rapper has been garnering praise for his Mrithangam Raps series that released last year. Helming a new genre of Carnatic rap. The artist is known for fusing classical Eastern instruments with Western-influenced rap. Talking about how he took an interest to rap, he recalls, “I started rapping when I was 16. My early influences were Nas, Hieroglyphics, Outkast, DMX, Biggie, Big Pun, Big L, Ras Kass, Fugees, and that era of artists. I was always drawn to lyricists growing up. I loved studying and revisiting verses and discovering new things in them with each listen.”

The series connected with brown people across the world and even grabbed the attention of those who aren’t familiar with the culture or the music because of its novelty. “It was exciting to see how many people appreciated the fusion of the two worlds. It wasn’t just Carnatic fans, or just rap fans, there was just a general appreciation for the innovation that made me happy,” says the rapper. 

Sharing the story about how it all came together, he says, “In the summer of 2019, Yanchan put out a record called I Know that I was featured on. To promote the song, we thought it would be cool to do a stripped-down version of the verse with just Yanchan on the mridangam. We’ve always talked about doing something like that, but it was a good way to test the idea. Sure enough, it went viral immediately. So we decided to really dive in it and evolve the production value for each episode.”

Yanchan Rajmohan is another Sri-Lankan origin Canadian musician who will be accompanying SVDP on his debut India tour — Oh Gawd. “I think we initially connected because we were one of the few Tamil artists in Toronto making hip-hop/RnB. Our experiences are very similar and we had great chemistry as soon as we started working. He put in his 10,000 hours with his mridangam and I put in my 10,000 hours with rap, so it was very effortless when we came together,” he says. The duo will be performing the Mrithangam Raps live for the first time ever at the VH1 Supersonic music festival. “We’re going to be debuting some things at the festival, which is exciting. It will also be the first time we perform the Mrithangam Raps in India. Though the video episodes are fun, the live versions are completely different experiences. I’ve never played a festival in India before, but I’m anticipating great energy, a fun crowd and looking forward to how they will receive my music,” he says. 

Taking their creative collaboration forward, the two will be working together on an album called IYAAA, which is scheduled to be out in April. They have already released a single from it titled Best Friend. This apart, he plans on dropping more Mrithangam Raps episodes and releasing his third studio album titled Made in Jaffna.

 During his time in India, he plans to shoot a bunch of videos for his upcoming album, as well as one for Best Friend. And he would like a chance to connect with Indian artists such as Raja Kumari, Divine, and Sid Sriram for a creative collaboration. 

Sharing his take on the rap-revolution happening in India right now that is churning out new hip-hop artists, he says, “India is definitely having its moment with hip-hop. It’s very exciting to witness and be embraced by that movement. I love hearing rappers rapping in their mother tongue, and bringing their own style to the table. Much like America, there is so much variation in the type of Indian hip-hop as well. There’s something for everybody. I put my bet on India as being one of the biggest players in hip-hop this decade,” says he.  
— Anjali Jhangiani

I receive messages all the time from people in India asking me to come and play: Illenium on his debut in the country

Illenium first came under festival curator Nikhil Chinapa’s radar a few years ago. Last year, when Marshmellow played at VH1 Supersonic, the organisers found out that Illenium was also managed by the same agency and booked him for the 2020 edition. Talking about bringing future-bass to the stage, Jacob Stanczak aka Illenium, says, “Future-bass is a much more melodic take on dubstep/electronic music with a focus on the melodies and chords that make up a song. It has elements of pop and conventional electronic music.”

His most recent album, Ascend, that released in August 2019, scaled to the top on the Billboard Top Dance/ Electronic Albums Chart. “I was blown away by the success of the album. It’s nerve-racking to release something into the world that has so much of my own emotion and passion within it. You never know how people will react so it felt good seeing it do so well. It’s validating in a way and gives me motivation to try new things and experiment more with my music in the future,” he says, adding, “Ascend is my third album and caps off a trilogy that all deal with the theme of a phoenix rising from the ashes (Ashes and Awake were my previous two albums). I relate to that imagery because it reflects my own journey in life. At one point I was in a really dark place with drug addiction and music helped me overcome that. The phoenix symbolises how someone can transform their struggles into something positive.”

After starting off as a DJ, he shifted to live performances. “I’m always looking for ways to elevate my performances, so incorporating live elements seemed like the next logical step. The benefit of live instrumentation is that it gives me the freedom to explore and reinterpret my music in different ways. It opens up a lot of possibilities and is more engaging than just using CDs on stage,” says he. 
His next release is a collaboration with Excision. “I've been playing it at my shows recently. I’m not too familiar with the music scene in India. It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to checking out while I’m here,” says he, adding that his fans from the country keep requesting him to come and perform here. 

About making his India debut at VH1 Supersonic, the artist says, “I receive messages all the time from people in India asking me to come and play.VH1 Supersonic seems to be one of the most popular festivals in the country, so I hope to see a lot of my fans there.”
— Anugraha Rao

ST Reader Service
Diplo will be performing on day 2 (today), Shan Vincent de Paul and llenium will be perfoming on day 3  (Feb 9) at VH1 Supersonic presented by Budweiser 0.0, at Mahalaxmi Lawns, Kharadi 

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