Music

How growing up in various cultures impacted the music of Dubai-born Indian hip-hop artiste PAV4N

A rapper from many homes

The video of PAV4N’s (aka Pavan Mukhi) first solo, ‘KARMA’, begins with a serene image. A foggy, wide shot of a boat setting sail on still water. Following the visuals of a woman and a South Indian temple, we get a glimpse of PAV4N. Just the lower half of his face. But it is intriguing. For, the face is… blue. A few seconds later, we see him clad in a silk dhoti and gold jewellery; again fully blue, resembling, according to him, the Hindu gods. But the appearance transcends religion.

“The colour blue is associated with all-inclusiveness, the vastness of the sky, ocean, power, time and space and is in my eyes symbolic of our oneness with the universe,” he explains.

This is the new identity of the front-man of the now disbanded UK-based hip-hop group Foreign Beggars.

Not really an outsider

It is understandable if you have deduced from the description so far that Pav4n’s one of the many Caucasians who is overly fascinated with the Indian culture and spirituality.

PAV4N, as it turns out, is an Indian. His identity, however, is complex, fluid. He considers Dubai home but himself an Indian. He is a third-culture kid, born in Dubai to a Lebanese father and an Indian mother. In fact, displacement is a running theme in his family. His father moved from Beirut to Wales to Dubai and mother from Chennai to San Francisco to Dubai. PAV4N himself moved from Dubai to London and to India.

Of the alphanumeric name he has given himself, he says, “It is just that there are a lot of Pavans in India. So, instead of the ‘A’, I thought it will be easier to Google my name if there is a number in it. Also, 4N sounds like foreign… and that is a throwback to my former band, Foreign Beggars. So, it all fits.”

This name and the blue appearance, he says, is now his new artistic identity. “It is going to be a permanent appearance. I have decided to go blue for everything because the colour is an interesting juxtaposition of mythology, my values and hip-hop music.”

“As PAV4N, the fact that I can explore my history and heritage through artistic expression — beyond just the music — has given so much more dimension to how I can express my message and opened so many new doors to collaboration, whether through visuals, fashion or art. Every single detail — from a photograph to a lyric to a location choice — has context and gives me pride to align and celebrate my ancestry.”

‘KARMA’, hence, is not just a celebration of India; it is an expression of PAV4N’s understanding of his motherland.

“I am not just talking about an individual’s karma here, but also the karma of a nation, of its politicians and capitalism, the oppression and exploitation of people who are less fortunate.”

A product of many cultures

Hip-hop music is usually associated with rebellion and anti-establishment. But PAV4N’s ‘KARMA’ is not brazenly provocative. Of this, he says, “I have been rapping for a while, putting out records for 18 years now. So, I am not like a young artiste, coming out and trying to be a bad boy. It is not about proving myself now or making money. At this point, it is important to me to communicate my message and perspective on things.”

Another reason for the absence of an in-your-face attitude is the places he grew up. “Growing up in a place like Dubai, it is very much about how you present yourself, not letting the family down and public conformity. Subversive or anti-establishment culture is definitely not accepted there. And, when I was in England, I didn’t have an English passport and had limitations on how I operate and what I can say.” So, he had to be more metaphorical whilst writing his songs.

How growing up in various cultures impacted the music of Dubai-born Indian hip-hop artiste PAV4N

    Pavan’s reincarnation as PAV4N, he says, has also coincided with many young Indian artistes starting to own their identity. “Over the last 10 years I see young Indian artistes doing things in a way that is world class but completely Indian. They do not have the insecurity that people from the generation before me had. I remember there was a time when people used to fake English and American accents just to feel accepted. It was probably the result of a colonial hangover. That has gone now and it is beautiful to see young Indian artistes just coming out, breaking ground and being unapologetically Indian at the same time.”

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    Printable version | May 29, 2020 3:46:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/dubai-born-indian-hip-hop-artiste-pav4n-talks-about-his-new-single-karma/article31180019.ece

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