It has been less than a day since rappers and beatboxers Akilesh and Tavasi Kannan arrived in Chennai from Mumbai. In the last 18 hours, they have had several firsts.
These two 11 year-old artists, who recently went viral on social media for rapping about what it is like to live in Mumbai’s Aarey Colony, have jammed with their Tamil rap idol Arivu, signed autographs, and had their biggest brush with fame yet. “We sang Enjoy Enjaami for Arivu and watched a full length Ganaa show. Pattaya kelapitanga (They aced it),” says Akilesh.
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The two artists, along with others in their crew, are all set to get on stage and perform during the ‘Hiphop, Rap and Indie Night’ at the Margazhiyil Makkal Isai event on Wednesday, December 29. “We will be singing about two or three songs. The themes of these songs will be society, nature, and love,” Tavasi adds.
Incidentally, several hundred people from Aarey Colony have been part of the ‘Save Aarey’ movement, an initiative by the residents to protect over 800 acres of land as a reserve forest area.
Until November, Akilesh and Tavasi were just school children; they learnt to rap during the lockdown. The prospect of beatboxing was fun and they had seen several people in their neighbourhood learn this art. “The two boys were just practising the verses that their teacher, Elijah Emmanuel, had taught them at an eatery. Someone who was eating there saw this, filmed them and posted the video on social media. These kids suddenly began getting a lot of attention. This is exactly what we were waiting for,” says Dhasarath Annadurai.
Dhasarath’s cultural centre in Aarey Colony has been training 30 children, including Akilesh and Tavasi, to rap, write their own lyrics, beatbox and dance for the last 10 years.
His dance crew Rich Dance Group regularly competes in major dance battles across Mumbai.
They also host large cultural events in Aarey Colony to boost the morale of the Tamil-speaking people in the area. “Aarey is second only to the slum settlement Dharavi in terms of the Tamil population in Mumbai, but not many know this. Our people can all read, write and speak Tamil well. However, there is rarely enough celebration of the language in Mumbai. My aim is to create an environment for Tamil speakers to take pride in ourselves,” says Dhasarath.
He believes that art is a great means of dissent and self expression. In 2014, Dhasarath began a small-scale Pongal celebration with a talent-exposition component. “The children in our area had tons of talent but no guidance or stage. We hence began training small groups in the art forms they were most interested in. They would come to a spot in the neighbourhood every day after school to learn and practice. Over time, the children began dancing, singing, rapping, beatboxing, and even performing stunts. All are multi-talented. All speak Tamil and all of them care,” he says.
A music festival like Margazhiyil Makkal Isai is the perfect platform for his crew to showcase their talent, Dhasarath notes. While several people, including those from the Indian film industry like Vishal Dadlani, have praised Tavasi and Akilesh for their talent in the video, Dhasarath says he did not anticipate any immediate major opportunities. He was thus pleasantly surprised when their well-wisher and Ambedkarite leader from Dharavi, Vennila Kartikaran, said that the organisers from Neelam Cultural Centre were looking for the two children to perform at the fest. “The pandemic had put a plug on all major events, making us believe opportunities were elusive. This music festival is a big boost to our confidence,” he says.
Akilesh and Tavasi say they are really excited to get back on stage as it is where they truly feel at home. They will be performing with two other members of their crew – Aashish and Santosh – rapping the song that made them famous, while also introducing some new material to their set.
“I want to be an actor and my favourite place is the stage,” says Tavasi. “I think it will be a fun performance. Come and watch us!”