Sisters Contra And Eboshi Ramesh Of Cartel Madras On Creating Hip-Hop Music In Canada

Sisters Contra And Eboshi Ramesh Of Cartel Madras On Creating Hip-Hop Music In Canada

Their immigrants status helps them compose rap, gangster rap and new sounds they hear from South Indian cities

Verus FerreiraUpdated: Saturday, December 09, 2023, 09:59 PM IST
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Pic: Courtesy of the artistes

Sisters Contra and Eboshi Ramesh (born Priya and Bhagya Ramesh) were still young when they moved with their parents to Western Canada. Over a period of time they realised that their status as immigrants barred them from music and cultural spaces, particularly rap music, something both were very interested in. In 2017, the duo formed Cartel Madras: a hip-hop duo focusing on rap, gangster rap and new sounds they heard coming from South Indian cities. As part of their repertoire, both make the LGBTQIIA+ and POC artistes part of their songs. The duo performed last weekend on the second day of Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Pune.

Excerpts from the interview:

How did you get into professional hip hop and the music you are making?

We’ve been making music since we were quite young, this includes writing hip-hop music. Our transition into becoming professional musicians happened one summer. We were moving around in Calgary’s underground scene figuring out how we wanted to make a mark. The haze of going to a ton of shows, watching many of our favourite artistes and a lot of other moments in our life coming to a head; it created a really interesting energy for us. A moment where we intuitively felt like the time for Cartel Madras to be born had arrived.

How was it to start making music in a foreign land?

Making any form of art in a Western ecosystem has its advantages and disadvantages. For us, we arrive in this industry with our charged ideas, inspirations and vision to create. However, we still have to find ways to speak to the space we are in. Making music for us is formed within the larger story of writing stories, making movies, figuring out who we really are in this time and era. Canada in many ways is still young when it comes to a lot of contemporary genres of music. It has a really interesting way of fitting into the global entertainment scene. We think it's still shifting and maybe artistes like us are playing a small part in forcing it to become more unique. We’ve been able to plunge into the Canadian underground over the past few years, and it has taught us a lot about the strangeness of the music industry as well as helped us expand our discipline.

What does the name mean to you?

We were born in Chennai, aka, Madras. We wanted to be very clear that we were from South India. That context was important to us in how someone from the West would perceive us. We also felt like we were starting a movement. There was a lot of aggressive, intense, and at times abrasive energy packed into our sound and spirit. Cartel felt like the right word to signal to the world what we were about to do.

What do songs like Drif and Dream Girl Concept speak of?

Our lyrics, our songs, they weave together our life experiences, our ideas, our beliefs, our at times larger than life moments. We also try to tell people through our music a lifetime of stories, all the good, the bad and the chaos.

Your lyrical flow is a bit tight and complex with a lot of power, including the music score. What references do you make while writing songs?

To be in hip-hop, first and foremost you have to be a skilled rapper. We were rapping and recording in secret years before we became Cartel Madras. There’s an almost athleticism to rapping and we took it very seriously even before we began to write fully fledged songs as Cartel Madras.

To someone listening to you the first time, what style of rap would you place your music into?

It’s hard to say, our music draws influence from rap, house, punk and so many other niche, emerging genres of music. We think calling our style of rap as alternative and experimental is a safe way to describe it. It gives us the freedom to sound however you want.

How do you go about writing a song, with the verses, melody?

Often, the melody comes first and we’re able to tie it into a larger idea we’ve been exploring lyrically. The pieces all have to fall in together at the right time. Sometimes we’ll sit on a melody for ages before we know what song idea to explore with it.

So tell us what Goonda Rap is all about and your similar titled EP, Age of the Goonda?

When we started making music, it was clear that we were trying to do something new — a new sound and philosophy in music. Even us as Eboshi and Contra were two brand new characters in the Western music scene. We wanted the freedom to experiment and play with our art without the confines of being boxed into a specific genre. Goonda Rap became our own way of placing our sound into a new genre, something being born in real-time.

There’s also the Goonda Trilogy. What’s the history behind it?

From TRAPISTAN, our first mixtape, to Age of The Goonda and then The Serpent And The Tiger, the Goonda Trilogy felt like the beginnings of our story. We’ve been setting the stage for Cartel Madras, we needed to give its two voices a world to evolve in. We’ve been creating the Cartel Madras universe since TRAPISTAN, leaving hints and clues on who we are, informing each project with new sounds and ideas. Once we arrived at The Serpent And The Tiger it felt like we had painted a pretty vivid picture through three EP’s, allowing us the space to really think about a new chapter when we release our upcoming debut album.

Your last work was in 2021. Anything new for 2024?

Since The Serpent And The Tiger, we’ve put out two collaborative singles; Can U Make Me with Young Saab and Kallitechnis, and MMM with Skinny Local. The latter has since been placed in EA Sports’ FC24. We’ve spent a lot of our time developing our art and production house, Foreignerz Media. Through FRNRZ, we’ve directed, written and produced a variety of projects including documentary, and commercial work. We’re working on a new scripted series and upcoming album.

What music influences you?

Our influence has been pretty vast since we were young. When you hear our music you will hear the influence of MF DOOM, Freddie Gibbs, Illayaraja, Danny Brown, Sam Gellatry, JPEGMAFIA, Azealia Banks, Astrud Gilberto and even The Shins.

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