How a Toronto music label brings South Asian culture and language to the world stage



South Asian artists using their own language and the sounds they grew up with are breaking into the entertainment industry with a new Toronto-based music label.

The label, called Maajja, was launched earlier this year. It helps artists to record songs in Tamil and other regional languages ​​with the aim of breaking the stigma of music from different cultures in the mainstream recording industry. They help artists access traditional radio stations and online streaming platforms, while helping them build their musical careers.

Naveeni Philip, also known as Navz-47, says the music she makes with the label helps other young Tamils ​​feel connected to their culture and language.

“I hear a lot of people say, ‘Oh, I want to learn Tamil because I want to understand your songs better.’ I think that’s the best compliment I’ve received so far, “Philip, 31, told CBC Toronto.

“I think it’s really important that the younger generation are proud of their native language because I wanted it to sound cool.”

Philip, who is from Whitby, Ontario. but was born in Sri Lanka, says what sets Maajja apart is how he allows artists to be raw and authentic without barriers, something that many young South Asian artists want to do to express themselves, and something they may not find space for the mainstream music industry.

Amirthegan Wijayanathan, left, also known as Ami, and Naveeni Philip, right, also known as Navz-47, are both performers on the new music label, Maajja. (Laura Pedersen / CBC)

Amirthegan Wijayanathan, also known as Ami, makes music in English, but with stylistic differences. He says he connects to his roots through a blend of what he gained from learning other genres and his own Indian classical training, also known as sangeetham or Carnatic music.

“I felt for a long time that it was not possible to be completely and truly myself,” said Wijayanathan, 26.

“That’s why I strayed into genres that I would normally listen to on the radio. [at Maajja], it’s just a whole different world for me.

“I know from my training at sangeetham and the way I say it and my cadences, I wear a lot of things that I have practiced at sangeetham, I just don’t know if people would recognize it.”

The Markham-based artist says his musical journey under Maajja is also about learning to embrace his culture.

“When I was in high school, in my headphones I listened to a lot of Carnatic music, a lot of Tamil music,” he said.

“But my friends and just the crowd that I was a part of, I didn’t feel like this was as welcome as it should have been. I always felt a bit lost in some places.”

South Asian Music Can Reach ‘Global Stage’, Says CEO

For Noel Kirthiraj, CEO and co-founder of Maajja, the music label’s goal is at the origin of what South Asians are known for – and encourages others to find those roots.

“Even though the musical arts in general are an integral part of our culture, I never felt that neither I nor the people around me were ever encouraged by families to pursue the arts.”

He says that by giving independent South Asian musicians and artists a chance and showing people that it is possible to have a career in music if they get the right support, he hopes to see more South Asian artists. make music and achieve the same success as Latin music. had.

“For us, it’s about creating opportunities so that we have more and more South Asian, Tamil artists who could be on the world stage.”

He says there was a time when people might feel embarrassed to listen to regional music or music in their native language, especially if they were from immigrant families.

“But I think we’ve been here long enough as a community – you have friends, your kids are growing up in a very integrated way, where you now show them your music,” he told CBC Toronto.

“I think the exposure in the mainstream media, what it does is normalizes it. And for children who may be born here, who may not have a direct connection to the language. or even the culture, now that will make them curious And certainly, they will feel comfortable going to explore it more openly, ”Kithiraj added.

Naveeni Philip says that in high school, other Tamils ​​were often embarrassed to see her embrace her culture. Now her music career is a reflection of how times are changing, she says. (Laura Pedersen / CBC)

Wijayanathan says he hopes the younger generations will see the influence that a musical initiative like this could have on them.

“I hope it makes them feel like they have roots here,” he said. “We kind of create those roots for them.”

Philip, who arrived in Canada when she was 12, says she hopes her music and what Maajja is doing will help young Tamils ​​feel good about themselves.

“I struggled so much because I felt like I didn’t belong there, I didn’t belong here,” Philip said.

“In Tamil, we say Anthiram, you’re always in the middle, you don’t know where to go. I felt it when I was much younger and when I first came to Canada and I don’t want the younger generation to feel that. You can build a house wherever you go. “

“I think in terms of music, in terms of art, it has to come from a place of authenticity,” says Wijayanthan. “I use the word explore a lot because I’m still very early in my career and I’m still very curious about what routes I’m taking.” (Laura Pedersen / CBC)

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