South Asian CNN: a message from Chee Malabar / Himalayan Project
Chee Malabar is part of the group Himlayan Project out of California. He was born in India and moved to San Francisco as a teenager, tuning into the hip hop sounds that were around him. These days, Chee is working on his next album ‘The Burning Tire Artisan’ and is a part of that, unfortunately, rare breed of MCs who use their art to get a message across.
His music sure reached me..I hope it does the same for you. Keep up with his thoughts at the Himalayan Project blog.
Who’s involved in Himalayan Project? What’s your mission as artists?
Himalayan Project consists of Rainman and myself, and by extension, our producers, Zeeb and Scott. We’ve made 3 full length albums together. Zeeb and I have also recorded 2 albums under ‘Oblique Brown’–where he handled all the production and I was the sole emcee.
I don’t know if we have a specific mission, but I guess it has always been about making truthful music and being honest to our experiences as young men in America.
Your lyrics are meaningful and poetic – do you feel it’s important to get things off your chest when you’re speaking to an audience?
Sure. I view music as a tool for self expression and the hope is that in my music perhaps someone can find their own lives reflected in some small way. I never want to talk down to my audience and say “hey, here look and listen to me”. It’s about finding those common threads that make us all human and the hope is that I can make someone relate or perhaps offer a different prism to view their lives through, even for a brief moment.
How do you feel about musicians such as Public Enemy, The Last Poets or Gill Scott-Heron who pushed a message with their music at the time? Is that still relevant to you in 2010?
I love Public Enemy and The Last Poets. Their music, along with artists like Ice Cube, The Coup, and Paris made me listen really close and examine they way I thought about the world. As far as its relevance, I think it all comes down to where the listener is at in their own lives. And of course, if the music is good, it’s relevant. The message alone can’t trump the sonic aspects of said record. But yes, I do have a soft spot for artists who offer alternative messages in their art.
In what way is hip hop important to you as an alternative type of media?
Hip Hop is what piqued my interest in the wider world. When I fell into it, I began to view the world through my fave rappers eyes. I see the power it has over the teens and young adults I work with. At its best, it is a great jumping off point for diving into the larger world and examining society, and perhaps now more than ever, the global world.
What about ‘spoken word poetry’: are there any poetry slams or similar events that you’re involved in?
I’m involved with a non profit called ‘Street Poets, Inc.‘ I hold writing workshops at youth correctional facilities and we do put on monthly spoken word events.
You have also given lectures at university on race and identity, is that your day job? What did you recently speak about in class? Have you learnt a lot yourself from the teaching experience?
I don’t necessarily give lectures. I’ve been blessed in that our music has made their way into some college curriculum and lesson plans and the often we get invited by professors and universities to perform and speak. My most recent enagements were at Bard College and UCLA and we spent a good deal of time discussing identity formation through hip hop and the various complexities of race relations. I’ve learned an immense amount about myself, for sure.
I have learned a great deal from the people I’ve met, about their varied experiences, and in turn, it inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing.
What can you tell us about your own family heritage and South Asian background / growing up in San Francisco? Was there a lot of music around, how did you get interested in MCing and writing?
I immigrated to the States when I was almost 12 to San Francisco. Almost everyone in my neighborhood and school listened to hip hop music and so it was natural that I’d listen as well. I got interested in emceeing because it was a cheap alternative to purchasing a guitar or any music instrument. Listening to emcees like Ice Cube, Paris, Hiero, and Digable Planets was key for me. I wanted to tell my own story and they made me feel that I was okay to do so.
Would you describe yourself as a political person, hence the a.k.a. ‘The Burning Tire Artisan’?
I’m not sure that I’m a ‘political’ person. I’m interested in learning about society. I’m interested in learning about people at the margins of society. Being an immigrant and having had my own struggles and then being exposed to tools to talk about it, has made me lean towards examining it in my music and life.
What are some of your favourite records?
Most recently I’ve been listening to ‘Fair & Kind’–A Little Past Twilight and Ardamus’ ‘When Everything Goes Wrong’. Both are good friends of mine, but I think they’ve made really great records.
I’m also diggin’ Jay Electronica’s music.
As far as my all time faves: ‘No Need for Alarm’: Del, “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted’: Ice Cube, “Illmatic”: Nas, “Soul on Ice”: Ras Kass, “Blueprint”: Jay-Z
What’s Chee Malabar up to next?
I’m finishing up a record with Ali Abidi entitled ‘The Burning Tire Artisan’…and I’m also doing a record with Scott Koozner who had his hand in all the HP stuff..and hopefully this year another Oblique Brown album.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Thanks for supporting us. Check for the Oblique Brown and Himalayan Project albums if you haven’t peeped them yet. They’re available on iTunes. Also, be on the lookout for Chee Malabar’s ‘Burning Tire Artisan’ LP. Thanks for your time.