Advertisement
Music by VICE

Heems: Why I'm Rapping in Paris Tonight

"In a terrible world, I think music is a tool no different from religion to get through difficult times."

by Himanshu Suri
Nov 17 2015, 4:00pm

Courtesy of the author

I travel a lot. Touring can get monotonous, but traveling doesn't. Earlier this year I released an album about 9/11, addiction, and relationships. I'm touring that album in Europe and performing in Paris tonight. I go to India later.

In 2001, I attended high school near the Twin Towers. After 9/11, our high school was used as a triage center for a month, and there was a campaign to get us free healthcare because of resulting asbestos. I'm also a brown man. I identify as Hindu, Sikh, Sufi. I wear long fabrics. A beard. Immediately, I felt like a victim of the events and of its racial repercussions. I saw how it affected Muslims, and have seen how it has affected my Muslim friends. I myself get "randomly" searched pretty often at airports.

In a terrible world, I think music is a tool no different from religion to get through difficult times.

The other night I sat at a bar at JFK airport and watched the Paris attacks play out on TV. I thought of watching 9/11 out of the window of my high-school classroom, and then having it play out on the TV, five seconds later. I thought of Bombay and the attack on multiple locations in my motherland. These were attacks on the cosmopolitan life I love and know.

I still feel confused. They attacked a music venue. I feel... anger? I didn't in 2001. I felt fed up—not at Islam, a religion I love and respect, but for those who claim ownership over the beauty of a tool/religion I and many love and respect.

Related on VICE: Life of Heems

After 9/11, my mother wouldn't let me step out of our house to volunteer and clean up with Red Cross. She was worried about the backlash against Middle Easterners and South Asians. Yesterday, I got an email in a familiar tone, urging me not to go to Paris. I get it. But I believe in the power of music. In a terrible world, I think music is a tool no different from religion to get through difficult times. Perhaps this time I took the attack more personally.

So tonight I rap in Paris because I believe in hopefulness and the light of peace. If I could do anything with my art, it would only be to say, "We're just like you." As for Paris, I know cities live and breathe and survive and move on, just like people. New York did it. Bombay did it. Paris is doing it. And if I can help the healing process in any tiny way with my songs, words, sounds, then I'm a lucky man.

Himanshu Suri is a rapper based in New York. Follow him on Twitter.