Yogeswaran Veerasingam, known popularly as Yogi B, an already established hip hop artist in Malaysia, introduced his life and music journey to Tamilians spread across the world in an unforgettable way in 2006.
With total swag, he revealed the gist of his journey in the rap portion from the song ‘Madai Thiranthu Yogi B and Natchatra’: “When I was just little.. my senti couple next to a Kali temple ..I was a inga gundu paiya... enga amma appa chellam.. Pattanam maari ponom ennai malai vandha vellum... Pudhiya palaiya ulagugal maara ..Angilamum Tamilum kalacharangal modha, Kandu pudichenada indha hip hop” (When I was just little.. my senti couple next to a Kali temple.. I was a chubby kid, darling to my parents.. We migrated to a different city.. A shift in the worlds we lived in.. A conflict between the western and Tamil culture led to [Tamil] Hip Hop).
The 2006 ‘Madai Thiranthu’ song from the Vallavan album, for which Yogi B was the executive producer too, resonated with the diaspora as well as the Tamil community in India. The song, a lovely fusion of the classic Ilaiyaraaja number with the unassuming rap music, made Yogi B and his unit Natchatra (comprising Dr Burn and Emcee Jesz), a sensation. It earned Yogi B the crown of being the first Tamil hip hop artist.
Yogi B is a Malaysian citizen of Tamil ethnicity. Speaking to TNM, he says that he does not know when his family migrated to Malaysia, and which part of Tamil Nadu they originally belong to. His family has been living in Malaysia for more than two generations now.
The song got him wide recognition from the diaspora in London, Australia, Sri Lanka and the Scandinavian countries. In south India, this song became synonymous with the now non-existent SS Music channel which used to play it several times a day. The Vallavan album sold more than 25,000 units.
Rekindling memories of the hugely popular song, 14 years later, Yogi B ‘officially’ shared the song on YouTube earlier this month. The song, which was available on the platform until now, was an illegally downloaded version, Yogi B tells TNM.
“A fan, out of love, had shared it on YouTube. I did not understand YouTube back then or grasp its potential, so we did not release it on that platform. I made a mistake, I think,” Yogi B says.
However, without any deep regrets about it, he adds, “I did not see it [the illegally shared song] as something ethically wrong. They were not monetising it. People were just listening to the song and making their own versions of it and celebrating it.”
Describing the popularity of 'Madai Thiranthu', he says, “That song was ‘viral’ before viral was even used as a word to describe a video’s popularity. It is my seminal work and a milestone in my career.”
The 46-year-old, considered the godfather of Tamil hip hop, says that the reason he wanted to release the song officially in high resolution was because he wanted to trigger nostalgia among music lovers.
He attributes his success as a Tamil hip hop artist to his late mother, who helped in translating the Tamil rap portions without the poetry going amiss and clarifying all his doubts, since Yogi B did his education in an English medium school.
“Now I am able to write the Tamil words in English and sing it, and there are others who can help me. But my mother helped me a lot. For me, Tamil means my mother...her Tamil was so pure. She used to play the Kanda Sasti Kavasam song every day, and if I listen to it anywhere, it immediately reminds me of her and I start crying,” he says, the emotion evident in his voice.
Yogi B, who is an independent artist and music producer, made his debut in the Tamil film industry with Dhanush’s Polladhavan, which released in 2007. He performed the song 'Engeyum Eppodhum' with singing legend SP Balasubrahmanyam under the music direction of GV Prakash.
“Initially, I was hesitant and I said that I wasn’t dead sure… but this person associated with the film said sarcastically, ‘Idhu thaan perusu.’ (This is the big opportunity you are looking for)," he recalls.
Talking about the subsequent success of the song, he says, “The song became a huge hit and I was embraced by the people of Tamil Nadu. I was blessed to work with many musical geniuses like AR Rahman, and be part of the Kollywood industry.”
Following Polladhavan, Yogi B worked with music composers Vidyasagar, AR Rahman, Sean Roldan, Santhosh Narayan, D Imman and Anirudh. The most recent song he has sung was in Rajinikanth’s Darbar, which released in January this year.
The tragedy of his mother’s demise compounded with two career endangering surgeries for goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland), put the brakes on Yogi B’s rise in the music world for a period between 2013 - 2017.
“The surgery near my throat had to be done twice. I saw my life flash before me during the surgery. They said that I could lose my voice. I couldn’t take it. The surgery was extremely risky but had to be done. My mother too passed away at that time. The business too was down. So it was a horrible phase,” Yogi B recalls.
But, as if announcing his own comeback to the music world, he sang the electrifying ‘Surviva’ song in Ajith’s Vivegam in 2017.
Overcoming the grief, Yogi B promises another enjoyable music album in Manthrahood. “The single track from Manthrahood will be released within three months," he says.
According to Yogi B, the album will have nine songs. Yogi B and Natchathra had planned to shoot the song in Tamil Nadu. However, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the shoot has been shifted to Malaysia.
Though Yogi B has never revealed this, his grandfather, Kumaraswamy, was a significant Dravidian leader in Malaysia.
“We have a photo of Periyar and my grandfather together, which I never digitised. In my upcoming songs I will show it maybe,” he says with all humility.
Talking about his music, he says that he has made a conscious decision to not make songs which belittle women and use vulgar language.
“Hip hop should be like a lotus amidst a concrete jungle. It should offer solace to the poor and provide relief to their pain. The soul of my music is racial harmony and equality," he says.
A band from Tamil Nadu which he admires for being aligned to his path is ‘The Casteless Collective’, an anti-caste music group started by filmmaker Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Cultural Centre.
The Casteless Collective
“Their music is revolutionary. Music should talk about society. It should bring a change. What good is an art which can’t do that?” Yogi B asks.
Besides Manthrahood, Yogi B is waiting for his Kannada debut in Salaga.
“Charan (music director) brother is one of the geniuses I have worked with. I am very happy to be associated with him," he signs off.