For the past few days, a song has been ringing in all our ears, going viral on different platforms, and even got featured on an Amul poster.Yes, I am referring to the song Enjoy Enjaami performed by Dhee and Arivu under the label of A R Rahman’s Maajja, garnering over 45 million views (and counting) on YouTube.
Transcending state and language boundaries, the song has reached far and wide. Chances are, that before watching the song on YouTube, you saw it on someone’s story, reel, or meme. The song has dominated various social media spaces over the last two weeks.
While the song is peppy and has a catchy tune that would leave you singing ‘cuckoo… cuckoo’, a question that I can’t help but pose is this – is Enjoy Enjaami truly getting the appreciation it deserves? Or to put it differently, is the song getting the appropriation it certainly shouldn’t be receiving?
What is cultural appropriation?
Cultural appropriation is the use of aspects of other cultures in ways it is not intended to be used, without understanding the true meaning and history of those aspects.
What comes under cultural appropriation?
Well, in the interest of this article, using a song for your content just for its cool beats, or just because it is trending, without giving breathing space for its intended meaning is cultural appropriation. To make matters worse, the people profiting from appropriation might even be consciously or unconsciously implicit in working against the interests of the people they ‘stole’ from.
Then what is cultural appreciation?
Again, in the interest of this article, using the same song in your content to popularise its true intention, and not reserving the limelight for your cool moves or jokes or your ‘anything else’ for that matter, is cultural appreciation.
And while we are on the subject, we might as well mention commodification in cultural appropriation, where content that is not yours to appropriate is changed into a commodity. In the present social media savvy world, we have to note the fact that content is, undoubtedly, a commodity. It gets you to reach, particularly if you jump on what’s ‘trending’, which is just another cool name for commodification.
Yes, the reels and the memes help popularise songs, but in the process, the true intention of the production is lost and it gets reduced to a mere trend. Something similar happened with Sreenath Bhasi and Sekhar Menon’s music video KozhiPunk. The lyrics in the video was from popular Malayalam poet K Satchidanandan’s Kozhipanku, which portrayed caste discrimination and fascism through the sensibility of ownership characteristic of the ‘upper’ caste members in the caste system.
Owing to the peppy beats of the song, the video gained popularity and soon it started getting dance covers, music covers and memes based on it on various platforms. The limelight was taken away from the true intention of the production, which was to raise voice against caste-based discrimination, the silence of dissent, and oppressive governance, which are serious and relevant issues, thanks to the incidents happening in and around the country. But all of this went undiscussed, as the focus got shifted to what’s ‘trending’.
In an interview he gave to The News Minute, Arivu, the writer of Enjoy Enjaami, said that the content of the song is based on his conversations with his grandmother Valliamma, who finds a direct mention in the song. When we look at the lyrics, we understand that the song itself is in the form of a conversation between Valliamma and her grandson, who faces a lack of sense of belonging. Arivu’s grandmother was taken as a bonded labourer to Sri Lanka and was all of a sudden displaced back to Tamil Nadu. She found herself landless and had to do odd jobs to support her family. Her caste is what facilitated this back-to-back uprooting, as the caste system helped the ‘upper’ caste members view the ‘lower’ caste members as a means of production and not as human beings.
Arivu has drawn influences from Oppari, the lamentation song sung during funerals, generally by the members of the Harijan caste. In this tone, he sings:
“Nan Anju Maram Valarthen
Azhagana Thottam Vachchen
Thottam Sezhithalum En Thonda Nanaiyalaye”
Which translates to:
“I planted five trees.
Nurtured a beautiful garden.
My garden is flourishing, yet my throat remains dry”
The lyrics portray the sense of belonging that has been snatched away from the oppressed in the caste system. The land they toil in is not theirs in any sense. This lack of a sense of belonging that is inherited over generations haunts the grandson in the song. The song is a call to him and all the others like him, to come together and claim this land, not as theirs, but ‘ours’, showcasing the stark difference in sensibilities between a system that fights for equality, and a system that imposes inequality, of which the latter does it through ‘ownership’. A sense of shared belonging of the earth and all its bounty is passed on through the song in contrast to the aforementioned ‘ownership’. This ‘sense’ works against the politics of the caste system, where nothing is shared, but owned – people and land.
Dalit representation in media has always been dictated by the upper caste, often limiting them into comic or subsidiary roles. It is only recently that the onus of their representation has started to fall into their own hands. In such a scenario, a song like Enjoy Enjaami gaining the popularity it has gotten is huge and can lead to a lot of positive change – but only if we actually start listening to it.
The meaning carried by the song is immense, so is its significance. Arivu has laid down his intentions with his art bare: “My ultimate aim is to bring people together and fight against inequality”. The full goal of this production will only be met if we start recognising Enjoy Enjaami in the way it needs to be recognised – as a tool of resistance. Sure, use it on your reels. Give it the popularity it rightly deserves. But in the process, don’t take the limelight away from what fuelled the music.
To a section of the society, caste might look like a thing of the past, but this is because they view society through their goggles of privilege. As Arivu himself says in a video created for VICE India, “If you say that I’m coming from a village they’ll ask you in which street you live. It’s asking which caste you belong to. That’s not equality.”
Caste has haunted and continues to haunt. It is against this caste system that Enjoy Enjaami speaks. In all sense, don’t suffocate the song. Let the music breathe and speak all that it needs to so that we can come together and fight against inequality like Arivu has intended for us too.