Hip-hop a roaring scene for diversity: L FRESH The Lion
Racism, violence, Islamophobia and the power of language: these are just some of the edgy themes tackled by Sikh Australian hip-hop Artist, L FRESH The Lion, in his latest track ‘Get Mine’. As part of November’s International Hip Hop Month, The Point Magazine caught up with the artist currently being lauded as a bold voice in the new wave of socially aware Australian hip-hop.
L FRESH the Lion is trying to make sense of what it means to experiencediscrimination in his own country.
“I feel like so much of my music is trying to make sense that I’m a collective of these different cultures. I was born and raised in Australia, in a country with a strong history of colonisation, mixed with my Punjabi history. Two different cultures with often two different value systems. And then hip- hop comes out of nowhere and helps me fit in the middle.”
Sukhdeep Singh hails from Liverpool in Sydney’s south-west, but for the past eight years he has been working in Melbourne's Asylum Seeker Resource Centre helping young people who have fled war and persecution. The name FRESH is an acronym for Forever Rising Exceeding Hardships, and the Lion is a translation of the Sanskrit word for his surname, Singh.
L FRESH has published a feature length essay on his website to coincide with the release of ‘Get Mine’ (featuring Parvyn Kaur Singh), a track which openly tackles his own experiences of racism.
“I made this song about my lifelong experiences with racism in Australia. The lyrics in the song speak my story loudly and clearly. My words ponder over what the title “Australian” means and who gets to determine its definition. My “Australianness” has been and still is questioned regularly.”
L FRESH also writes about hate crimes against Sikhs and the sense of victimisation that many minority cultural groups still feel in Australia.
“We’ve witnessed violent hate crimes against Sikhs, who are being mistaken for Muslims, in countries like the United States, most recently in Chicago, the UK, and also in Australia. We’ve also seen a restaurant owned by a Muslim targeted and damaged in Newtown, Sydney and protests against the building of a mosque in Bendigo, Victoria, alongside the constant noise being made by extreme right Islamophobic groups. Sure, there are individuals behind these extreme actions who need to be held responsible. However, I’m not blind to the language that trickles down from the top. The language that generally condemns violence and discrimination, but betwixt when it comes to denouncing racism and hatred towards ethnic and religious minorities.”
“In this country, hip hop is starting to speak once again for the disenfranchised. It’s no coincidence it resonates strongly with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and diverse ethnicities to speak about their struggles and oppression,”
– L FRESH The Lion
He references a 2014 incident in which confused vandals sprayed anti-Islamic slurs on a Sikh temple in Perth, Western Australia.
“The Sikh community is different to the Muslim community, but I don’t necessarily agree with the approach that we focus on how we are not Muslim and should be exempt from these acts. It is still Islamophobia. We should all be exempt.”
L FRESH has been called the ‘rising talent’ for ‘giving a voice to the immigrant and refugee communities’. “With artists such as this, the next wave of Australian hip-hop is in very capable, and extremely exciting, hands,” wrote one reviewer in The Sydney Morning Herald.
This new wave includes a group of politically minded rap artists who are beginning to reflect more on social justice and diverse cultural experiences. Hip-hop first exploded out of New York in the 1970s off the back of the US civil rights movement. It was a movement led by African-American young people seeking to break down racial barriers and influence social change through words and music. But in Australia, hip-hop had very different beginnings.
King Excel, founder of the Australian chapter of international hip-hop awareness group Zulu Nation, says hip-hop in Australia was initially embraced by a predominantly white audience. He said in the early 1990s there was little interest in building an Australian identity or voice in hip-hop, but the scene has been growing and diversifying.
“As a Zulu we are always trying to promote knowledge and I’m a firm believer in new voices that bring intellectualism and insight to empower communities,” he said.
“In Australia we borrowed this culture without having to experience this movement. It became something different and attached itself to the white, middle class," L FRESH said.
“In this country, hip hop is starting to speak once again for the disenfranchised. It’s no coincidence it resonates strongly with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and diverse ethnicities to speak about their struggles and oppression.”
Earlier this year, Sydney hip-hop troupe Horrorshow collaborated with local artists, including Northern Territory Indigenous rapper Jimblah, in a lyrical response to the “booing” of AFL player Adam Goodes.
Indigenous artists like Brothablack, Unda Dwella and Torres Strait Islander Mau Power consciously use hip-hop as an instrument of social change. Adam Briggs, who comes from the Yorta Yorta people, raps: “It’s time for a message... Now I've infiltrated as far as I have I'm saying, 'All you younger rappers you can be here, too ... rap music and success isn't just for white fellas...There's a bunch of black kids out there and people haven't heard their stories yet."
Vyvienne Abla, the founder of Vyva Entertainment, held a series of panel sessions in Bankstown earlier this month addressing this rise of socially conscious hip-hop in Australia and how this can be used to counter violence and promote harmony. She said hip-hop still attracts criticism from moral and political conservatives who see it as encouraging civil disobedience, gangs and street violence.
“This view ignores its history of non-violent activism and its ability to build inter-communal bridges on domestic and transnational levels,” she said.
Featuring a range of indigenous and local hip-hop artists, the panels examined the contributions of ‘conscious rap’ or ‘political hip-hop’ in Australia and how they promote social justice, positive change and inter-cultural dialogue.
L FRESH said the messages in his music come froma place of unity and love.
“Sure there is frustration and anger, but I come from a place where I am trying to bring people together to address these... I think there is a huge, untapped source of the multicultural experience in Australia that needs to be and is waiting to be told.”
A ‘new wave’ of Australian hip hop includes a group of politically minded and socially just artists who are beginning to reflect more on cultural diverse experiences.
Images: Michelle Grace Hunder Photogrpahy