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Priya Ragu / Appetite Publicity

Five on it: Priya Ragu is bringing Tamil culture to Western pop

On damnshestamil, the rising artist is unapologetically herself. Plus the incredible new album from Little Simz, and releases from Little Mix, KIRBY and Tokischa x ROSALÍA.

03 Sep 2021

This week’s release of our 2021 one to watch Priya Ragu’s debut mixtape, damnshestamil, is the culmination of a damnlotofwork plus a heady dash of unwavering ambition, conviction and vision.

Her story is an unconventional one. Raised in a strict Sri Lankan household following her parents fleeing to Switzerland in the 1980s during the country’s civil war, her Asian upbringing began to clash with the European culture she had grown up with, and she wasn’t allowed to listen to Western music. Eventually, she moved to the US to pursue a career in music, and now she sings in the Sri Lankan tongue of Tamil, as well as in English. Priya is also, at present, 35 – which is practically unheard of when it comes to beginning a career in pop. 

With M.I.A being one of the exceptions to the presumptive rule, it has largely been rare for women of South Asian heritage to permeate Western pop music in recent years, especially if they persist in incorporating said heritage into their music. 

Her breakthrough single ‘Good Love 2.0’ is responsible for her meteoric rise with its lush production, funky rhythm and punchy melody, on the overall scale of damnshestamil, it is the gateway track to Priya’s sound. Teaming up with writing partner and producer brother Japhna Gold to concoct a style quipped as “Raguwavy”, tracks such as ‘Chicken Lemon Rice’ deploy dynamic tabla beats and samples for a vast and colourful celebration (“brown skin tone, peng ting like that”). Then there’s the evocative ‘Lighthouse’, inflected with meandering Sri Lankan flute around its coercive bass groove. Inspired by a short film of the same name, her recent single ‘Kamali’ pays homage to a mother’s love for her daughter atop its rolling flow, while latest release ‘Lockdown’ is a vibrant and assertive invitation that has Priya playing with staccato and breezy melodies as she calls for human contact. 

While her use of Tamil is woven throughout damnshestamil, the mixtape’s closing track ‘Santhosam’ (which translates to ‘Happiness’) is the purest expression of Priya’s heritage in her music so far. She eschews English completely, and beckons traditional instrumentation for a magical and hypnotic ambience. It is a reminder of how linguistically homogeneous pop music can be. Yes, mainstream UK and North American charts have intermittent injections of Latin-derived languages like Spanish or Portuguese, or even Jamaican patois, whilst the ascent of K-pop has brought Hangul to the mainstream – but none so much to equate to anything that could be considered proportionate to the global majority

It was Japhna who first suggested incorporating Tamil into Priya Ragu’s songs, and as she said in a recent interview with The Guardian, “It’s the language that I speak. Why not put that into the songs that I create? We’re discovering more about ourselves every time we make music. 

“I’ve reconnected with that culture on a deeper level. It just felt right”.

Priya Ragu – ‘Lockdown’

Naturally leading this week’s proceedings is the aforementioned ‘Lockdown’. Released in conjunction with the mixtape damnshestamil, the track encapsulates Priya Ragu’s “Raguwavy” sound at its finest with its undulating rhythms and addictive pop melodies. Its swooping, restless energy captures both sides of the singer as she struggles to contain her want for companionship; flitting between authoritative and soft. In Priya’s words, “It’s about dealing with being alone in this situation and wanting to feel the energy of another person’s presence, not for love but for friendship, guidance and getting down.”

Little Simz – ‘Point and Kill’ feat. Obongjayar

After what feels like an age since she first began teasing Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, London rapper Little Simz has finally dropped her exquisite fourth album. Teaming up with Obongjayar for the new single ‘Point and Kill’, the track is anchored by a sinewy bassline, pattering percussion abating to majestic interjections of brass. Despite the lowkey feel, the track is a poignant statement of knowing your self-worth and going to get what you want from life.

Little Mix – ‘Love (Sweet Love)’

Never ones to take a break, even while embarking on motherhood for the first time, Little Mix are back with another stellar single. Arguably the queens of pop when it comes to smashing the charts with hit after hit, the new single ‘Love (Sweet Love)’ is as punchy a new track as we’ve come to expect. Channelling that late ‘90s/early ‘00s R&B energy in the beats and production, the track dials it up to eleven with its anthemic chorus. If “girl power” had a 2.0, it’s arguably now. 

KIRBY – ‘Coconut Oil’

KIRBY is back with a bonafide bop on a platter in new single ‘Coconut Oil’. Her third outing of the year following in the wake of recent releases ‘Break Her Heart For Me’ and ‘Boyz II Men’, ‘Coconut Oil’ is a self-professed “national anthem” for Black girl magic with its muscular grooves and hook-laden melodies. An unapologetic hype track propelled by an electrifying shot of funk, KIRBY has said that “Every lyric is an extension of ‘YASSSS SISS’ energy. These aren’t just lyrics to me, these are affirmations! Celebrating what it means to be Black and a woman.” Time to oil up.

Tokischa x ROSALÍA – ‘Linda’

A sensation in her own right, ROSALÍA has joined forces with Dominican artist Tokischa for a double-whammy of attitude on new single ‘Linda’, channelling some dembow vibes. An apt ode to strong women, the pair play with bouncy rhythms and urgent beats to create a sound that is utterly irresistible when it comes to being tempted from your seat and onto your feet. With ROSALÍA’s flow seamlessly mixing with Tokischa’s own, this is a match made in club heaven.