By Morgan Cairns
CALGARY – Formed in 2017, sisters Priya and Bhagya Ramesh make up Calgary’s newest hip-hop group, Cartel Madras. Taking turns writing, singing, and rapping, this Indo-Canadian duo are making it their mission to shake things up.
“We’re always trying to uproot the current narrative. In Canada, coloured women, we’re not that visible. And then in hip-hop, there aren’t any women. So we’re trying to uproot that narrative. And then in India, we’re from South India, that’s not really present either in the Indian narrative. It’s always North India. So it always feels like we’ve been disrupting whatever space we’re in,” comments Priya.
While they only started releasing music as Cartel Madras the past year, Priya notes that the familial rap-project has always been bubbling beneath the surface. “Growing up we were always performers. We were dancers, we were singers. The heart and soul of [Cartel Madras] was born way before us, with women in our family, generations ago, who were feminists in the 20th century, asking all these questions”
Carrying their feminists roots into their music, Cartel Madras places an emphasis on the female perspective in their songs. “Anyone can listen to our music, but when you’re a girl and you hear our music, you know. You know exactly what we’re talking about,” says Priya .“It is incredibly male-dominated, and we do really try in our lyrics to point that out. We do write very explicitly from the perspective of a woman.”
“Using hip-hop as a tool to give those people a voice and agency, is something we’ve always seen as a good idea. A really cool way to allow people to exist, to feel better, and to help make change,” adds Bhagya.
Party rap with a perspective, these slick beats are punctuated with lightning-fast raps and smooth-as-silk vocals. Riffing off real life experiences, the duo’s lyrics veer towards the anecdotal, including summertime jam, 17th Ave. With shout-outs to The Ship and Anchor, And Ricardo’s rum bar, this retelling of a rowdy night out turned one-night stand. “We want people who aren’t in Calgary to listen to us and talk about Calgary and be like, “Shit, I want to go to there,” says Bhagya. “We want to make Calgary sexy.”
And if you can say one thing about Cartel Madras, is that it’s damn sexy. “If you listen hip-hop by men, I think the grand narrative of hip-hop is being badass, getting chicks, and winning,” notes Priya. “As women, we can also say all those things. We can objectify men, and we should. We constantly should, and that’s something we’re really trying to do in our music.”
With a slew of shows planned for February and March (including BeatRoute’s very own issue release party on February 9th) and a mixtape with a unannounced March release date, you can bet Cartel Madras won’t be slowing down anytime soon. “Hip-hop has kinda felt like final frontier,” muses Priya. “If we can make it in hip-hop as coloured, ethnic, women from Calgary, that would be incredible.”
Cartel Madras will play the BeatRoute issue release party at Local 510 on Thursday, Feb. 8.Cartel Madras, hip hop, Indo-Canadian, Local 510