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Chennai Meets Calgary: Cartel Madras Put Trap on the Map

Watch the Canadian hip-hop trio’s latest video ‘Goonda Freestyle,’ off the second part of their ‘Goonda Project’ mixtape series

Anurag Tagat Nov 05, 2018

Cartel Madras - Contra and Eboshi (from left). Photo: Floyd Gonzalez

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Two sisters in Calgary, Canada used a Logitech computer mic, the natural reverb of their home bathroom (with a towel under the door) and created Cartel Madras. In the last year, Bhagya Ramesh aka Eboshi and Priya Ramesh aka Contra’s no-fucks-given, badass brand of trap and hip-hop has taken them all over Canada and now the world’s waiting.

In July this year, they released Project Goonda Part 1: Trapistan, which establishes the identity of Cartel Madras – completed by producer/DJ Egglad – as party-hard people who have roots in Canada as well as South India. Priya and Bhagya were born in Chennai, and regularly visit family in other cities as well, including Kozhikode, Palakkad and Bengaluru. But the sisters assure that there’s more to them than just diaspora hip-hop. Bhagya says, “You’re really treading a line between the cultural identity that you’re born into and the cultural identity you’ve just been forced to come to terms with by growing up there.”

On “Kuthu Pattu,” they pose the big question, “Who’s that girl you thought I was?” It could be posed to a person they were in a relationship with, to any North American listening in, or any male hip-hop artist, and maybe to all of them and more. Priya adds, “There was always this undertone – even before we started Cartel Madras – asking people, questioning people around us and provoking them to look at us in a way that maybe they were a bit uncomfortable with, but also something they’re not used to.” Over a video call from Calgary, it’s evident that not only are the sisters of Cartel Madras extremely in sync, they’re also ready to tear down a lot of walls in the male-dominated world of hip-hop. One of their earliest releases on their SoundCloud page, “17th Ave” (2017) is an LGBTQ+ story. Bhagya says, “It is literally a story ripped from the pages of our life. We’re women, we’re Indian women and we’re also queer. We can’t erase any of those facts and all of those facts have to be evident in what we’re really comfortable sharing.”

Fast forward to just a year later, Cartel Madras are taking one step forward to establishing their identity clearly on their new release “Goonda Freestyle,” which will feature on the next part of Project Goonda. The sisters throw in references to mango lassi, Tamil acting legend Rajinikanth and “fuckboy cliques” with singeing precision.

When they were visiting family in India recently, they got acquainted with a few musicians in Chennai and are currently working with Bengaluru-based producer Blindnight aka Suren Makkar for an upcoming track. They’ve seen the success of Raja Kumari and acknowledge that hip-hop is big in India right now. They have their sights set on recording part two of Project Goonda but also play as many shows as possible. Priya has a feeling their next trip to India will involve more than just visiting family and watching shows. “I have a feeling in 2019 it’s going to be a bit more of an international tour. It would feel really weird for Cartel Madras to not do a show in Madras. It writes itself,” she says.

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