“Enjoy Enjaami” has gone viral. The Tamil language song that pays homage to landless peasants and laments their dispossession has garnered over 80 million views on YouTube in under a month.
Loosely translated as “Enjoy Good Sir,” the song from the state of Tamil Nadu in the very south of the Indian sub-continent became an instant hit for singer Dhee and the rapper Arivu, thrusting both into the public eye and inspiring hundreds of covers and personal dance videos.
From the outset, “Enjoy Enjaami” implores us to look at the farmers tilling a land they have never owned. Generations of toil has not given lower caste farmers a secure right to land. The lyrics examine the question of ownership and alienation over and over: Peasant farmers shed blood, sweat, and tears. Their “plants flourish,” but their “throats still run dry.”
The song’s message resonates far beyond the state of Tamil Nadu where the video is set. Farmers’ grievances are convulsing Indian politics today. Caste oppression and the Indian government’s lackluster response to it stoke resentments that would give the song a ready audience even if it were not so catchy.
Few songs from this part of the world have enjoyed so much success so rapidly. “Enjoy Enjaami” debuted on Youtube on March 7; 10 days later it had been watched almost 25 million times. Close to end March, hits reached over 80 million. The feat is even more striking because the song is an independent release, rare in the Indian music industry where most songs are tied to the movies in which they appear.
Tamil music fans might have heard of “ Kolaveri“— a 2012 hit which was a Youtube success in its own right but one that’s already been eclipsed by the recent upstart.
“Enjoy Enjaami” is at once new and old, with 21st century production values and a melody that borrows heavily from traditional Tamil music. The ululation at the beginning gives way to the spoken word feel of the rapping and a dirge-like lamentation sequence, all against the steady beat of the parai drums. Old and new combine for an unforgettable depiction of alienation and dispossession.
The video alternates between lush countryside and semi-arid lands. Its portraits of ordinary working folks are a perfect foil of authenticity for the choreographed dancers. They add urgency, context, and a touch of poignancy.
The wordplay and unusual rhymes in the earthy lyrics irreverently undermine received wisdom and allude to caste-based oppression. Of course, the word-imagery is less compelling in translation. But what isn’t lost is the tune itself or the pain it conveys when the rapping slips into lament.