Meet Arivu and Dhee, the duo behind the viral protest song Enjoy Enjaami
He’s a rapper from Tamil Nadu. She’s a Sri Lankan-Australian playback singer. Their song, with its unstoppable beat and luscious video, is just over a week old and already has nearly 41 million views on YouTube.
Enjoy Enjaami isn’t a song of resentment, says musician Arivu. It is a song of compassion. It is drawn from stories told by a grandmother to her grandson, reminding him to enjoy the bounties of nature and pay homage to their ancestors.
“It’s why ‘Enjoy’ is in the title. It means to be festive and celebrate one’s roots,” Arivu says. “Enjaami is an endearment, a word my grandmother would fondly use to address me. It’s from ‘en saami, literally, ‘my lord’. It’s also a term landless labourers would use to refer to their masters.”
Arivu — a 27-year-old singer, rapper and lyricist who is also part of the Chennai-based resistance band The Casteless Collective — is referring to the viral sensation Enjoy Enjaami, a song released last week and already viewed nearly 41 million times on YouTube (as of March 20).
Its unstoppable beat is a fusion of oppari — a type of folk song, part-eulogy, part-lament, traditionally performed at funerals in Tamil Nadu — and elements of Afro-Caribbean music and it’s sung in Tamil (available with English subtitles). The singers are Arivu and Dhee (Dheekshitha Venkadeshan), 22, a Sri Lankan-Australian playback singer.
The lyrics, by Arivu, are inspired by the story of his grandmother Valliammal, a former tea plantation worker. Like so many other landless labourers from Tamil Nadu, she migrated to Ceylon in the 1900s to work on tea and rubber plantations, was rendered unemployed overnight, had to move back and seek low-paid work here, and has moved about in this way for much of her life, never able to claim any of the land she spent her life enriching.
The music is by composer Santhosh Narayanan, Dhee’s stepfather, and the song is the first release under AR Rahman’s Maajja banner, an initiative launched in January to promote independent musicians.
RHYTHM & BLUES
Many things have contributed to the song’s immense popularity. The video is authentic and beautiful — luscious browns and golds frame Dhee and Arivu as they sing amid the fields and forests of Arivu’s village of Kaganam in Tamil Nadu, with local residents working and weaving baskets around them. “They were landless labourers for many generations. It was important that they be a part of it when we told their story,” Arivu says.
The video, directed by Amith Krishnan, is full of rich symbolism as the main characters move from forests to fields and back. It ends with Valliammal, flanked by her people, seated as if on a throne.
It’s political and current — the issues of land rights and landless labour spark protests across the country and around the world every year. “It’s not about genetic pride,” says Arivu, “but the sweat and blood of the ancestors of the world. The context is universal. And it’s presented in a song that also combines different streams — rap, folk and pop.”
This is Dhee’s first video, though she has previously sung hits such as Rowdy Baby from Maari 2 (2018), alongside actor Dhanush.
“It was important that we all represented and believed in the song and everything it stands for. We’ve had so many amazing discussions every step of the way,” Dhee says. “I’m honoured that this song can tell a part of Valliamma’s story. We wanted it to celebrate nature, our roots, ancestors and all life forms, not just humans. Arivu has written it with his whole heart. We’ve travelled with this song and lived with this song and everything that it represents.”