by Thomas Bedward October 11, 2021
Last month, we featured a bold new talent on our pages, shining a spotlight on the unique and wonderfully vibrant style of Karan Viegas. A New York-based artist with a penchant for exploring new worlds of jazz fusion and neo-soul, Karan’s last single was an eye-opening experience, and now, he’s back with a triumphant tale of a Serengeti leopard, joining forces with rappers Smokey the Ghost & Arshaq Malik to create ‘Circus Freestyle’.
Imagined by Karan and brought to life in a full-length animated video by talented Argentinian artist German Jorge, 'Circus Freestyle' is a socio-conscious theatrical hip-hop track with afro-jazz roots, shedding light on the nuanced issue of man-wildlife conflict. It features Indian rappers Arshaq Malik & Smokey the Ghost, as well as Zulu chants from the legendary Bongi Duma (Ensemble Lead of the Lion King on Broadway cast in New York).
The piece tells the story of a noble leopard (played by Smokey the Ghost) who's captured by a poacher (played Arshaq Malik) from the Serengeti and sold to a circus where he's stripped of all dignity, until one night, he escapes to find his way back home. The piece is also informed by research in consultation with biologists and conservationists.
Speaking about the new single, Karan explained, “I came up with the concept and storyline last year, and then composed all the music, before approaching Smokey the Ghost and Arshaq Malik to tell the story through their rap. I did intensive research and consulted with biologist friends so that I could understand the experiences of leopards and poachers, and help the rappers build empathy.”
“What I discovered was that there’s good and bad on both sides - on the one hand, leopards and other wildlife are displaced from their natural habitats and trafficked into the $10 Billion illicit trade industry. On the other hand, many poachers turned to the profession due to the financial uncertainty that comes with farming or even serving as a park ranger. More so, they do what they do at a high risk of arrest, imprisonment and fines. The conflict between man and wildlife is clearly nuanced, and only introspection and empathy will set us towards harmony.” Indeed, the rappers masterfully weave in this nuance into the lyrics while Bongi Duma expresses agony and triumph with his Zulu chants as the “Spirit of the Serengeti”.
He continued, “Interestingly, a fascination for the animal kingdom runs through all the collaborators. Smokey the Ghost is a molecular biologist who grew up reading Ruskin Bond and the Jungle Book. Arshaq Malik put out an EP on birds with his band Trash Talkk last year. Bongi Duma, most notably, is the ensemble leader of the cast of the Lion King on Broadway in New York. “I was unbelievably fortunate to sing alongside him at an event a couple of years ago and we had always wanted to work on something together.”
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