Listen to Enjoy Enjaami if you haven’t already. As Siddharth said (the actor, not Buddha, and maybe even he would if he could) – it is the song of the year. And I think it can become the song of this era when the Indian youth will rediscover how cool protest and dissent really can be.
But Enjoy Enjaami is more than just the latest earworm for your Instagram reels and party nights. If you listen closely, like these children below are, you can hear the echoes of thousands of years of Indian storytelling in its lyrics. The structure of Enjoy Enjaami is set in the traditional Oppari style of music from Tamil Nadu. The lyrics are a result of Arivu’s exposure to songs sung during Tamil Nadu’s literacy movement, the Arivoli movement, and his grandmother Valliyamma’s lullabies for him.
What is the song about?
To the non-Tamils wondering what the song really is about, here is a glimpse from the songwriter himself. The name Enjoy Enjaami means a lot of different things, says Arivu in an interview with Brut.
For instance, the word Enjoy literally means “celebrate” but the song pronounces Enjoy as “Yen Jaai”. This sounds like “Yen Thaai” which means “my mother” in Tamil. As for Enjaami, Tamil grandmas lovingly call their grandkids Enjaami. But it also means “Oh Lord, My Lord” and was used by the landless labourers to address the feudal landlords. “My lord, my lord, give me my salary, my lord give me a leave, give me a break, give me a bag of rice,” explains Arivu.
Is the song political? “I didn’t want to be a political artist. I wanted to be a real artist. But being real is political in India today,” says the 27-year-old. Arivu has written protest songs for over 20 Tamil films, including celebrated filmmaker Pa Ranjith’s Kaala. In fact, The Casteless Collective is co-founded by filmmaker Pa Ranjith. The band’s aim is to spread equality through its songs. Some of its most popular songs are basically Arivu’s brainchild, including “Beef” and “Jai Bhim Anthem”.
“I am not here to console anyone. I am here to disturb everyone,” says Arivu about Enjoy Enjaami, and probably his career as an anti-caste artist.
Oppari – The original Indian hip-hop that inspired Enjoy Enjaami
Why doesn’t it sound political? Enjoy Enjaami is a celebration. Arivu believes protest can be celebrated and enjoyed, which is basically the spirit of hip-hop music. “One day when I was in his [Pa Ranjith’s] office, anna played Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’ to me and pointed out how his music was a relief to his people. That is when I realised art should also be celebratory. It was a defining moment in my life.”
Is Enjoy Enjaami a hip-hop song? Yes and no. Arivu said that the traditional funeral music Oppari was the real Indian hip-hop as it is the voice of grassroots protest. Oppari songs were predominantly sung at funerals to celebrate the life of the person who had just died. It was an expression of raw pain laced with hope for the future. Mostly sung by women, Oppari songs were also one of the very few ways in which women spoke of their pains and struggles.
Since death was an inauspicious topic for Indian elites back then as it is now, Oppari musicians were not even recognized as real musicians. They have always been shunned and not allowed near any ‘real’ instruments like the sitar or tabla.
“People say I write well, but I know I cannot hold a candle to the grandmothers singing Oppari in my village. See this:
Naan anju maram valarthen (I planted five trees)
Azhakaana thottam vachen (And nurtured a beautiful garden)
En thottam sezhichaalum (My garden flourishing)
En thondai nanaiyalaiye (Yet my throat is parched)
In these four lines, they talk about life. That is our folk art for you,” he told The Wire in January 2020. Over a year later, these words found their way into the international single Enjoy Enjaami. “Every Oppari singer of Tamil Nadu has the potential to be and deserve the kind of attention that Nina Simone got,” he told Brut India after Enjoy Enjaami’s success.
Where is the celebration in such dark themes? “For my parents, love was the tool – not anger. I realise the generational shift when I go in a car to a street where my grandfather couldn’t have walked in slippers. And that makes me acutely aware of my own responsibility,” he told The Wire of his source of inspiration.
The song is also a celebration so that it can reach many more people, says Arivu. “We will never be able to annihilate caste if only the oppressed people speak about it. Everyone should talk about it. That’s why I wrote Vango Vango Onagi – come, come together. But understand me and come together,” Arivu says.
So after you are done tripping on Enjoy Enjaami, go ahead and read the translations of the song, and Enjoy Enjaami!