We got in touch with Malaysian rapper/songwriter, Balan Kashmir who has performed alongside many local and international acts. Balan is no stranger to the Hip Hop scene in Malaysia and has since made Malaysia proud in many many ways.
1. Can you share with us how you started?
Right after I came out of college, I did my internship with Kartel Records and my boss was Joe Flizzow. I pretty much learned whatever that I know today from him as well as Too Phat, The Tarik Crew, Altimet.
The first few records I put out was in Tamil and English and most of the records I did in Tamil – you can hear that the pronunciation was not very Indianised. But people were very supportive, they liked it because there was an empty slot for an Indian boy who could speak well and carry himself well and is accepted on both sides of the platform. I could go and hang out with all these guys who do English/Malay music until today and still be accepted and they don’t look at me as a Tamil Rapstar or English Rapstar – they look at me as a guy who is so passionate about Malaysian Hip Hop and that’s how I look at my friends as well. We have a common love for Malaysian Hip Hop.
2. People readily assume that if you are a rapper, you live life a certain way. Is this true for you?
A lot of people think that I’m like this…you know rappers have this aura about them that they need to be all tough and gangster, from the hood, being womanisers and a playa flipping bottles – but NONE of this is true when it comes to me. I don’t pop bottles and party like rappers pouring champagne on girls. I’m also not young. A lot of people think I’m fcking young but I’m not. Some people think I’m in college and I’m like, ‘I’ve got a beard which makes me look like a father of 3!’
Although on stage I’m really cocky. When you meet me, I’m just representing this brand called Balan Kashmir but when I’m on stage or doing my work – that’s Balan Kashmir. I’m just an entertainer who is trying to change the sound waves of what has always been – that Malaysian music cannot go any further and that it is stuck here where it has always been. But we’ve already broken the stereotype and we are heard all around the world – we need to surpass that Malaysian mentality and realise that that is not true.
3. When did you start Macha Magic? (Balan’s very own clothing line)
People used to call me that, a macha who could do wonders and that’s how it came about but the brand started in 2014. In 2013, somebody told me – ‘Your nickname is Macha Magic, you’re not going to go far in life’ and that really affected me a lot because I actually started questioning myself on whether I was on the right road and I just convinced myself that I was, and I needed to believe in myself. So it 2014, it got serious and it is where it is today. I look at the word macha like the N word – you can use it the right way and you can use it the wrong way. You can say it in disrespect, in love, derogatorily – the word itself has such a power.
The day Anirudh wore my t-shirt and the picture was published across many websites, I had friends calling me and congratulating me. There are so many brands, look at Nike and Reebok – if they could do it, why can’t we? It’s the same vision. I have friends locally who have done so much of local stuff and it is so accepting in the industry – and I myself support all these local brands whether it’s apparels or home made stuff – I support them. So when I started my brand, nobody cared if it was an Indian street wear, people bought it and wore it. To me, as the Creative head and owner of the brand, nothing was more satisfying than seeing somebody who is out of your race and gets the vision, seeing them wear it proudly and go out taking pictures with it saying ‘I am a Macha’ and this coming from my Malay and Chinese friends – it is so satisfying.
If you would like to check out his clothing line and perhaps make a purchase, you may do so here.
4. What about Balan Kashmir? Is there a significance behind the name?
I had a lot of Rap names. I changed names more than P Diddy did. But Balan is my dad’s name and I always kept that. Everyone calls me Balan.
Kashmir came from a movie I watched when I was very young, Roja. The movie was about Kashmir and how some terrorists kidnaps a writer. The movie depicts how his wife, who is not very educated, struggled to get her husband back.
In 2006, I re-watched the movie with my mom and it all came back to me, hence Balan Kashmir. And my mom called me an idiot but I went with it anyway 😛
5. Share with us, your experience working with well known local and international acts, how has it been for you?
I think working with Anirudh Ravichander (he is an Indian film composer and singer who composed ‘Why This Kolaveri Di’ which went viral) was the most pressure I ever felt in my whole life. When I got to Chennai, I went to his studio and there was a nice gazebo area but we wasted no time and we went straight into the studio and he showed me the beat and he told me to channel the hurt and sadness I was feeling after having lost my dad, he wanted those raw emotions to be depicted in the song. My only question was, ‘In Tamil?!’ and he said no, it had to be completed in English. He wanted to convince Indians all around the world that there is an Indian boy who could spit and sound better than Americans and I wrote my part.
But I remember, firstly, when he left me in the studio alone, I was under a lot of pressure as Malaysia was riding on me, and I need to make my country proud. THAT was very scary. Secondly, this was my big break – this was the moment my parents and my friends have prayed for and I cannot fck this up.
In Malaysia, Joe Flizzow gave me a shot at a very young age and they even gave me a government project in 2008, he didn’t need to but he told me he saw something in me and that I had potential to be the leader of a new school for the Indian boys and he put me in it.
6. What does music mean to you?
One of my ex-girlfriends asked me if I would put music in front of everybody and I told her there’s a saying in Hinduism, “Matha Pitha Guru Deivam” which translates into Mom, Dad, Teacher, and then God – I put music before everything.
God knows how you find your own strength, everybody has different ways to deal with dark phases of their lives, and the music was mine. I can’t betray her; she has been very loyal to me. Whenever, wherever I needed her, she has been there – it is a very sacred relationship. It’s very hard to explain.
7. Moving forward, what are the long term plans for Balan Kashmir and Macha Magic?
Macha Magic will be going into a physical shop by next year. We are opening an urban lifestyle store with a coffee bar. Many parents want their kids to be a part of these things however, they are sceptical of the kind of influence they will be getting. I’m easy with people and let’s say a kid comes into my store and if he has never seen a coffee bar or he has never seen vinyl, posters and CDs which changed my life, opening my store will allow me to meet these kids and actually give them another lifestyle option instead of doing other things to waste time and get in trouble. I also plan to have soup kitchen on a weekly basis to feed the needy – it’s been my lifetime dream to be able to provide. That’s the long-term plan for Macha Magic.
As for Balan Kashmir, the album and the campaigns are lined up. It’s one take at a time to take over the world, and that’s what Joe told me.
8. What would you say to kids to aspire to be like you one day?
Finish your studies. Do it for your parents and make them happy. This career choice is not a walk in the park that’s for sure. It involves years of hard work. Perhaps kids these days will have it easier with social media around. If I had Facebook and Instagram when I started, it would have been easier but I only got it halfway through my career. Kids these days have more avenues and channels to get their stuff out but they need to understand that there needs to be hard work put in.
Also, never ever put up a diva fit to anybody in the industry, because as soon as people see you put up a diva front, most of the people who have put in years of hard work to get where they are, will not give you even a minute of their time. You will become irrelevant.
9. Music schools and music degrees are currently popular; would you advise aspiring artists to walk down that path or to just come out and start interning at a company?
I think I was lucky as right after I dropped out of college, Joe gave me a job and he was starting a dynasty called Kartel Records. I’m so glad to have been able to learn so much from him. I don’t know if anyone can be that lucky to get a mentor like that.
My advice is if music is your take and your family is okay with it, then go for it. Go to Berklee and get it done. The respect that you will get once you finish is crazy because graduates from Berklee are not a joke, many people don’t even make it halfway through the course.
10. Finally, this is for all your female fans who are probably wondering: What’s your dream girl like?
Somebody who can just be my best friend and does not mind when a girl runs up to me asking me for a picture and does not go back home and give me a hard time for it – and please please be nice to my mom. She needs to be understanding. She needs to be my partner, my best friend, and most importantly, be nice. Just don’t be a pain in the butt 😛 And if I’m playing poker with the boys you can come and sit on my lap.
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Facebook: Balan Kashmir