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 have a mission to shake things up.
“We’re always trying to uproot the current narrative, in Canada, where coloured women, we’re not that visible,” begins Priya.
“Then in hip-hop, there aren’t many 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.”
They started releasing music as Cartel Madras in the last year, but 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,” she says.
“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 emphasizes 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,” comments 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 perspective, these slick beats are punctuated with lightning-fast raps and smooth-as-silk vocals. Riffing off real life experiences, the duos lyrics veer towards the anecdotal, such as the summertime jam, “17th Ave.” With shoutouts to The Ship and Anchor and Ricardo’s Hideaway, 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 to 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 spot opening for Toronto pop-duo Too Attached in March, and a mixtape with a soon-to-be-announced release date, you can bet Cartel Madras won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
“Hip-hop has kinda felt like final frontier,” muses Priya. “Like, 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, and the Nite Owl on March 3 [Calgary] as part of Femme Wave Presents: Too Attached.Cartel Madras, hip hop, Indo-Canadian, Local 510