Sikhs and Social Justice

March 16, 2015

By  

Baagi (right) and Hoodini (left) performed at UC Santa Cruz last Thursday night.
From right to left: Professor Nirvikar Singh, Baagi and Hoodini

Last Thursday evening, UC Santa Cruz students, faculty and staff gathered for a night of music, poetry and collective discussion with Sikh hip-hop artists Baagi and Hoodini about the immigrant and minority experience in a post-September 11, multicultural America.

Hailing from Los Angeles and of Punjabi descent, Baagi and Hoodini use rap to share their experiences of racial inequalities and social disparities in today’s complex society.

Nirvikar Singh, a professor in the division’s Economics Department and holder of the Sarbjit Singh Aurora Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies, and organizer of the event, remarked, "America is a country in transition, reinventing itself as a more diverse and pluralistic society. Sikhs are part of that process, and Baagi and Hoodini are two young Sikh Americans who bring their unique creative expression to the many struggles for social justice, as well as the everyday joys and complexities of living in 21st century America."

Professor Singh first saw Hoodini and Baagi perform several years ago when the two performers were still undergraduate students at UC Irvine and UCLA. Ever since, Professor Singh has been eager to bring them to the UC Santa Cruz campus to show students how social labels can transcend cultural boundaries.

Baagi, who was born in Bombay and moved to Los Angeles in 2001 shared how he had to learn how to assimilate into American culture while also appreciating his Punjabi heritage.  After the September 11 attacks, the socio-political categorization only heightened his Sikh status, his turban and beard misperceived as associations with the Taliban and more recently, ISIS. He saw hip hop as a way to transcend those stereotypes. Baagi commented that his music is a “reflection of the person I am, not the label my audience has put on me.”

For Hoodini, being a Punjabi Sikh rapper is not as much about the religion as it about the music’s ability to communicate compassion and oneness. Despite different appearances, the  struggles are the same, Hoodini says. There are some experiences that are unable to be vocalized and Hip Hop is a way to share events and connect stories, he adds.

Discover Baagi and Hoodini's Music:

Baagi

“Babbey nu Kanna, Gaggay nu Bihari.” In spelling the word “Baagi,” the celebration of a rebellious Punjabi heritage is reborn. Baagi is one of the few artists to rap exclusively in Panjabi. Born and raised in Bombay until moving to Los Angeles in his early teens, Baagi brings a unique perspective both to Hip-Hop and to the evolution of Punjabi culture. A childhood passion for composing Punjabi poetry coupled with his love for Hip-Hop eventually turned an after-school hobby into a career of expression. This artist uses Farsi, Hindi and Panjabi vocabulary to add a new voice to the musical conglomerate. Baagi uses his platform to paint pictures of social issues, easygoing personal anecdotes, and day-to-day experiences, as seen through the lens of a young man influenced by the intersections of many worlds. Professor Navdeep Dhillon writes, “I am looking to forward to seeing what else he comes up with and remain optimistic that he will be the breath of fresh air for Punjabi music, both in Punjab and overseas…” Baagi has performed extensively throughout North America and has collaborated with renowned Punjabi artists such as Nishawn Bhullar and Tigerstyle. His debut album, titled Baagi Di Vaari, is available for free download at http://beabaagi.bandcamp.com. You can follow him on Twitter @BaagiMedia.

Hoodini

Hoodini, also known as Hoodeez the Hindoo, has been hailed as “one of the most lyrical and charismatic emcees of South Asian descent” by critics. The poet and Hip-Hop artist combines witty wordplay, lyrical agility, and keen storytelling to present a novel narrative to his audience with natural ease. Born and raised in Los Angeles to immigrant parents from Punjab, Hoodini shares the experiences of a young man trying to find his way in an increasingly complex society. He is both participator and observer, analytical of the world around him while reporting on it with humor and abandon. In listening to a Hoodini record, you may easily find yourself migrating from a commentary on issues of race relations to a jaunty reminiscence of a past love interest, often within the same verse. Hoodeez has released four studio albums to date and has shared the stage with notable Hip-Hop artists including Blu, Pacific Division, Skeme, and RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan. You can keep up with his latest works at http://HoodiniDidIt.com and on Twitter @HoodiniDidIt.