Arivu, the groundbreaking Indian rapper, singer, and social activist whose image appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone India magazine, is playing a highly anticipated free concert at the Quarry Amphitheater at UCSC at 8 p.m. on Saturday, October 7. Doors open that evening at 7 p.m. The concert is being presented by the Center For South Asian Studies (CSAS) at UC Santa Cruz. Advance registration is required for concert attendees.
Arivu, born Arivarasu Kalainesan, rose to international fame with his hit Tamil song “Enjoy Enjaami,” a collaboration with the singer Dhee that has amassed half a billion views on YouTube. The Wire, an online magazine, described the single as “one step closer to annihilating caste” in India.
In its cover story on Arivu, which ran in the August 2021 issue, Rolling Stone described him as “the voice of socio-political hip hop, smashing records and defying social norms.” The magazine also called him “the Tamil artist (who) has scorched a path out, raising his voice against systemic injustices.” Through his rebellious singles such as ‘Anti-Indian,’ ‘Kalla Mouni,’ and ‘Sanda Seivom,’ Arivu is known as a prodigal talent with the guts to speak truth to power.
At the UCSC concert, Arivu will lead members of his Ambassa band, an experiment in bringing together the western elements of hip-hop, beat boxing and rock with the native sounds of Folk, Gaana, and Oppari. “Ambassa’s mission is to showcase the need for justice in an increasingly divided India, through the transformative as well as rousing powers of music,” said UCSC Professor of Feminist Studies Anjali Arondekar, founding director for the Center For South Asian Studies.
Arivu is a member of the Dalit caste, traditionally considered “untouchable” under India’s rigid caste system, which was officially outlawed after the country’s independence from Great Britain, yet remains omnipresent. Scholars who research caste-oppression contend that caste-based discrimination remains common within the South Asian diasporic populations in the United States and elsewhere.
Arondekar said Arivu’s strong anti-caste discrimination message is especially important in light of the fact that the California State Legislature passed a landmark bill this month, SB 403, banning discrimination based on caste. If it is signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, California will be the first state in the U.S. to ban caste-based discrimination.
Since its launch in 2019, the CSAS has curated conversations and collaborations focusing on histories of justice, economic precarity and authoritarianism marked by caste, religion, gender, region, and labor segmentation.
At the heart of the CSAS’s efforts remains the enduring question of the marginalized life-worlds within which minoritized collectivities survive, resist, refuse and sometimes surrender. The CSAS’s faculty and broader scholarly networks are uniquely poised to engage with the difficult questions of caste, gender, and religion.
“Our faculty are at the forefront of new scholarship on caste injustice, secularism, and feminist struggles, and regularly participate in broader public facing projects on such issues,” Arondekar noted. “We also have established connections with the extensive network of NGOs and public initiatives focused on justice in South Asia in the Bay Area.”
For Arondekar, the Arivu concert is a way for the CSAS to highlight its commitment to justice in a high-profile way, with a special appeal to UCSC’s undergraduate population, which includes a large number of students of South Asian descent.
The CSAS wanted to do something out of the box. Not just a talk and a lecture but an event that brought a special energy and excitement to campus — UCSC Professor, Anjali Arondekar
“The CSAS wanted to do something out of the box,” she said, “not just a talk and a lecture but an event that brought a special energy and excitement to campus. My hope is that this concert will draw in folks from across campus and our broader Santa Cruz community who care about issues of justice. We want everyone to join us as we educate, agitate, and organize through the rousing music of Arivu and the Ambassa Band.”
In light of the CSAS’s mission, Arivu’s performance could not be more timely.
The Arivu concert is made possible by the generosity of donors Kamil and Talat Hasan, who have provided foundational support for the CSAS, and the Anuradha Luther Maitra and Thomas Kailath Program Endowment for the CSAS, which is also contributing to the concert. Kamil Hasan and Anuradha Luther Maitra are UC Santa Cruz Foundation Trustees.