Hip-hop is a personal movement for Irfana Hameed, a 25-year-old yoga teacher and content writer who grew up in Kodaikanal, and now lives in Bangalore. The promising young performer and musician, has around 6000 followers on Instagram and 1000 subscribers on YouTube. But Irfana is looking beyond a social media following: ‘Numbers don’t really mean anything if people aren’t listening to and enjoying your music. I don’t want to become mainstream, I want the mainstream to become me.’
Ko-Lab, short for Kodaikanal Laboratory, is her latest release. This new hip-hop/rap extended play record is a collaboration between Irfana and her childhood friend, Taslina Nazar. Also featuring producers Kala Sha and Doc Awes as well as soul-singer Rani, Ko-Lab is a passion-packed, four-song record that was released on May 21st and was created during their time in Kodai this year. ‘All in all, there’s a song for everyone on Ko-Lab — and it’s sure to either get you revved up for a revolution, get on your knees for redemption, or get trashed with your friends and run from the institution,’ says Irfana.
In just a week, she reports 10,000 streams on Spotify alone. ‘This is great for small, upcoming artists like us. We really do feel like if people had access to [this music], they’d definitely like it! We now have to figure out the commercial aspect of things if we want to be truly successful.’
Video promo of Program (feat. Kalla Sha), from Ko-Lab by Irfana and Taslina
Each of the songs is unique but fits together perfectly in this four piece EP. ‘Gospel’ (feat. RANI & Doc Awes) is an exploration of spirituality inspired by gospel music, while ‘MOB’ (feat. Kalla Sha) and ‘Program’ (feat. Kalla Sha) feature esoteric but meaningful lyrics. ‘Zig Zag’ takes on a more personal tone, showcasing the artist’s most memorable experiences. Challenging political and spiritual norms, every song resonates with someone. Irfana’s lyrics and Taslina’s beats make for a formidable EP packed with heavy introspection, political defiance, and personal discovery.
‘I [began by] turning my poetry into hip-hop raps in high school, putting it on instrumentals, and marrying those two passions,’ says the young performer. While she studied at Kodaikanal International School (KIS) and then Acadia University in Canada, Irfana started to explore the artistry of hip-hop, inspired in part by her bachelor’s in political science and government. Political science exposed her to discourse around community and political power, which inspired much of her lyrics. In the song MOB (feat. Kalla Sha), she sings: ‘Reigns of government, concentrate. In the hands of people, ideate.’
Irfana performed at ‘Para’, a digital hip-hop festival organised by Kochi Music Foundation (KMF), last December. She also collaborated with Parimal Shais and other artists on an episode of a music video series called Curry Chatti Beats, which features a multitude of artists and beats from old Indian movies, such as ‘Naan Malarodu Thaniyaga’.
Growing up in Kodai greatly influenced Irfana. Her mother and grandfather frequently engaged in social work, and the surrounding influence of activism left its mark, as did activities in the community. Irfana explains that the sometimes suffocating isolation of a small town allowed her to spend time developing her own musical and poetic style, in addition to the international influence of KIS as well as its encouragement of creativity.
Today, current developments inevitably inspire her. ‘The state of affairs in India is heavily based on identity; there’s a lot of discrimination and oppression,’ she says. ‘I relate to that, based on my own personal identity.’ Drawing on the political systems she feels are most powerful, she says she draws strength from the idea that they ‘can actually change the way things are run’.
Ko-Lab is available to listen to on all major streaming platforms, including Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music.