Starting from the title and express herself in multiple languages, the Swiss-Tamil artist introduces herself and her mixed cultural background
Singer Priya Ragu’s background
Last summer the singer and songwriter Priya Ragu broke into the world of music with her debut mixtape, Damnshestamil, which has been introduced by other singles, as Kamali, Good Love 2.0, Chicken Lemon Rice, Forgot About and Lockdown, the last in order of release. Born in a small town in Switzerland from parents of Tamil origins, Ragu had a normal job until recently and music was just an engaging hobby to survive the daily routine. In fact, she was employed as a technical purchaser buying aircraft parts for an airline company, but she was dreaming to be an artist and, at some point, she made an important decision, even if the world was facing a global emergency as the pandemic. «I was at my home in Switzerland and I was keeping to have my job, working remotely from my apartment, but in the meanwhile I was starting my music project without a label, without a contract and I didn’t know what would happen. Inside me, I was ready, but around me everything was stopped: no festivals, no concerts, all the gigs and the events cancelled… Of course, I was thinking that a new path in music should be complicated. So, in that moment I switched my mind, asking myself if I wanted to do my best to reach my goal in music or I was just gonna lose myself. I heard a click in my head, I changed my mindset». Priya Ragu decided in her adulthood to make music as a job, but music itself has been a constant presence in her life since she was a child. The singer gives the impression of being determined and this feeling is strengthened by the title of her first project, defined by the artist herself as a mixtape, not a proper album, and titled Damnshestamil. It is impactful and it could have different interpretations. «Damnshestamil is also my aka, my stage name, and when I got Instagram for the first time I chose that invented word as my username». We wonder why she considers it a mixtape, when it would have all the characteristics to be a proper album. «Because it is diverse and the songs are different from each other or because there is not just one type of sound and there are many musical influences in this project. It is also because it is my first project. You can consider it as a mixtape or as an album, it doesn’t matter, it is a body of work».
The balance between English and Tamil
Priya Ragu was born and raised in Switzerland from Tamil parents, who came from Sri Lanka. In her songs, produced with her brother Japhna Gold, she expresses herself both in English – the language of US hip hop and R&B she has loved since her teens – and in Tamil – the language from her family and roots. The balance between these two languages, so different from each other from the phonetic, formal and grammatical points of view, it is a stylistic code that comes from instinct. «It is something that has to do with intuition. Sometimes Tamil words come out, especially for some strong emotions, and I just write down them, it happens in an organic way. I can’t tell and explain well why and when I choose to use Tamil or English language, it depends just from the feeling of the moment. It also depends from the musicality of words, for example, when I’m rapping, it is easier and more comfortable for me to use Tamil words in the lyrics, because their flow is better. And the same thing happens for Tamil influences in my music: my brother and I, working together on my tracks, never know when we are to put it in a song. Sometimes we feel that some traditional sounds are right and we put them in, instead, other times we feel that folk influences do not fit in it and we don’t put it in. It is easier to do it than to explain the reason». Going back to the family issue, the artistic pair of Priya Ragu and Japhna Gold – she is singer-songwriter, he is producer and arranger – is a good example of winning blood bond, like others in the arts and music history (thinking about, in recent times, to Billie Eilish and Finneas). «Sometimes we fight, in the daily life we have to talk and argue about everything, but musically we get along well».
A question of models and (lack of) representation
Due to her mixed European and Tamil background, Ragu has been often compared herself to the rapper, singer and producer M.I.A., who is British from Tamil origins, too. Ragu does not consider her as a music reference though. «I didn’t listen to M.I.A. music when I was younger, even if I was a fan of her. I had a deep admiration for what she represented and for what she stood for but in that period I was more involved in R&B, jazz and more. Ragu was growing up in love for Lauryn Hill, Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder, and she has also admired great Indian composers as A. R. Rahman and Ilaiyaraaja. Now she likes some of the most influential artists of the current hip hop and R&B scene, as Snoh Aalegra, Anderson Paak and Tyler, The Creator. At the same time, Ragu has always been grateful to M.I.A., because as a young girl she felt that there was a lack of representation for her and other girls like her in the mainstream media. «It is sad but true, I felt a lack of representation when I was younger and M.I.A. was the only one who could represent us – girls from East and Asia in Europe – before she came, there was just black music for me and for identifying myself and for being related to. I was wondering where are the brown people. Apart from M.I.A. there was no one else to identify with in the music scene, at least speaking about mainstream scene». Today Priya Ragu herself can be a model for many young girls of Eastern origins (or foreign origins, generally speaking) living and growing up in Western countries.
Singer and songwriter, born and raised in a small town in Switzerland from parents of Tamil origins. Her debut mixtape is Damnshestamil, which is produced by her brother Japhna Gold.