How the viral song ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ captured the untold stories of landless Tamil farmers
13th September 2021
As I listen to the first few seconds of the new viral song, ‘Enjoy Enjaami (Enjoy, My God) that took the internet by surprise, it reminds me of Africa. It hints at the red earth. It hints at the exploited, toiling away under the sun on lands that will never be owned by them. But this is no African rap. The similarities are by design and choice only because this story has been experienced for years and years by the poor all over the world during the colonial era. The initial tempo sets the stage, and you are immediately drawn into the music. You wonder, is this an Indian song? What language am I hearing? Why did it garner over 80 million views on YouTube, sung by Australian-Sri Lankan singer Dhee and Indian Tamil rapper Arivu in less than a month since its release? The song from the state of Tamil Nadu in the very south of the Indian subcontinent was an instant hit and inspired hundreds of covers, song reactions and personal dance videos.
The world-class visuals depicted in the song masterfully captures the story of Arivu’s grandmother. Rap has always been the musical voice of the oppressed, poor, and disenfranchised. This song strikes the right chord with its listeners from its very first beat. It tells you the story of colonial India, which used to be a market for cheap labour. As history goes, thousands of poor Tamils migrated to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the 19th century to work in the tea, coffee, and rubber plantations. With time, the virgin forests of Ceylon made way for the city roads and development, and it was the sweat and blood of the Tamil migrants that made all of it possible. However, as the migrant workers became expendable, they were forcibly sent back to India with no prospect of finding jobs there either. Once there, they took up different trades like masonry and painting. Rapper Arivu’s grandmother Valliammal is from the lineage of these workers.
‘Enjoy Enjaami’ celebrates the lives of common ancestors. Rapper Arivu finds his inspiration from Dr B.R.Ambedkar who is considered the chief architect of the constitution of India, also one of the greatest philosophers, civil rights activists and statesmen of the 20th century. Arivu pays tribute to the nonviolent resistance of ‘Mahad Satyagraha’ in March 1927, spearheaded by Ambedkar to assert the rights of the Mahar community to access public water. Ambedkar questioned why the ‘untouchables’ were prohibited from drinking water from a lake, where birds and beasts were allowed to drink. The lyrics – “The lakes and ponds belong to the dogs, foxes and cats too’’ echoes the demands that Dr Ambedkar had fought for.
As you listen to the song, it takes the listener through the journey of human civilisation and questions the role of an individual in space and time. One is posed with the question of self-importance and superior assumptions of their own identities while in reality share a common heritage with every being that played a role (ancestors including) in the journey of the human civilisation as beautifully explained in the following lyrics.
“ The land guarded by my ancestors
The devotee that dances
The earth rotates around
And the rooster crows
Its excretions fertilised the forests
That turned into our country
Then our home too”
Although the word imagery is lost in translation, the sentiment, emotion, and oppression of our ancestors are not lost in the tune itself. ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ is the history of life itself and how the oppressed survived.
Featured photo by Tom Thain