The Land of Hip-Hop: HipHopistan brings another side of South Asian music to the University of Chicago

courtesy of Samip Mallick of the S. Asian Studies dept at UofC

Putting a spotlight on the new sensation sweeping through the South Asian nations, HipHopistan–“the land of hip-hop”–shows how South Asian youth are actively incorporating hip-hop into their homelands’ national cultures. The event will feature Yogi B & Natchatra and Chee Malabar, who combine the traditional classical music of their heritage with the newer beats and rhythms usually associated with American pop culture. The group will also participate in a pre-concert conference–proving, as coordinator Samip Mallick says, that hip-hop is being globalized and societies are adopting new customs that challenge age-old conceptions.

“HipHopistan is exciting in that it shows the ways that contemporary South Asian and diasporic youth culture is in conversation with other art forms around the world, in this case hip-hop,” said Mallick. “It explores the ways that South Asian culture is extremely dynamic and changing.”

In December of 2007 Mallick contacted Northwestern University’s Asian Studies Professor Nitasha Sharma about organizing an event highlighting the rapidly changing sounds of the South Asian music industry. Having done her dissertation on South Asian-Americans in hip-hop and worked extensively with artists such as Karmacy, Chee Malabar, MC Kabir and Abstract/Vision–the latter three to perform at the HipHopistan event–Sharma was instantly hooked on the idea. With the help of Mallick and University of Chicago fellow Kaley Mason, the two have organized a three-day event full of discussions, live performances and meet-the-artists opportunities, open to all ages.

“Typically, concerts on campus about South Asian culture are of classical music or classical dance or other more traditional art forms,” said Mallick. HipHopistan, on the other hand, emphasizes a new phase of South Asian sound. According to Mallick, the artists all refer to their South Asian backgrounds in different ways: Chee Malabar, in his lyrics, talks about his own experiences as an immigrant; Yogi B & Natchatra, the group from Malaysia, incorporate Tamil film songs and poetry. This new approach to understanding music of the South Asian region has garnered much interest: available space at the performances is quickly filling up.

“HipHopistan is a pretty rare and significant event because it gives recognition to other kinds of South Asian music besides the classical Indian or the Bollywood-film-type music usually associated with South Asian countries,” said conference moderator Mason. “It provides an important profile on how hip-hop is expanding its domain beyond its American-centric roots and shattering stereotypes usually reserved for South Asian nations.”

Beyond the academic interest it has amassed, HipHopistan has also attracted the attention of various organizations around Chicago, including the Chicago Opera Theatre and the Association for Asian American Studies. It is the opening event for the PanAsia festival at the University of Chicago, and part of the Chicago Opera Theatre’s “India Blooms in Chicago” festival which explores different forms and traditions of telling stories.

“Because of the enthusiasm generated for HipHopistan, a number of organizations at the University of Chicago and around the city have included it in their own series of events,” said Mallick. “The ‘India Blooms’ festival was interested in the ways that hip-hop and spoken-word art forms are used to tell stories.”

Doubtlessly, part of this event’s wide-ranging appeal can be attributed to the profound literacy of its founders in the cultures of the South Asian societies. Both founders have spent significant amounts of time either in South Asia or with people of South Asian descent. Mason, the moderator of the Friday night conference, lived and studied in Kerala, a state of India rife with budding musical pop culture. The fresh subject matter and hand-picked artists ensure that HipHopistan will entertain, educate and excite a wide array of audiences from South Asia and beyond.

HipHopistan, University of Chicago Laboratory School Cafeteria, 5835 S. Kimbark Ave. April 18. Friday, 6-11pm. Ticket prices vary.