Pravini Baboeram is an artist and activist, creating art to contribute to social change. As an independent artist she has set up her own label Pravini Productions, that has produced 5 albums, 6 singles and 5 international tours. She is co-founder of action committee Holi is not a Houseparty, a campaign against cultural appropriation of the Hindu spring festival Holi, and initiator of the Anti-racism Voting Guide. In addition, she led the campaign Tetary Must Rise, a crowdfunding campaign for the replacement of the statue of colonizer Barnet Lyon by the Hindustani warrior of resistance Janey Tetary. Pravini also set up Indian History Month to celebrate stories and contributions of people from the Indian diaspora. In 2019 she will release her new album and documentary “The Uprising”, a film about the anti-racism movement in Europe. With this film Pravini makes an innovative contribution to the documentary genre, in which she fuses art and activism in a unique way.
On a personal note: Che Guevara on the wall
I remember Che Guevara on the wall of our study. Growing up I took it as decor in our house, a piece of art meant to beautify the room. Now I realize how much this decor has shaped me as a person and as an artist. It wasn’t put on the wall for the sake of art. It was a conscious decision to create a space of empowerment and pride. It was a reflection of my parent’s history as social activists and vision for the future, in which their children would carry a sense of dignity and social conciousness.
Even though I always felt a responsibility to contribute to social justice issues, I never linked it to my passion for the arts. On the contrary, I actually felt I had to separate the two in order to succeed. Speaking out against racism as a woman of color didn’t seem compatible with commercial success. Initially this didn’t really matter to me, because I didn’t feel the need to address these issues as an artist. I did volunteer work and in my free time I focused on developing myself as a singer/songwriter and performer. Despite many efforts, from talent competitions to open mic nights to expanding my music industry networks, I wasn’t able to get signed to a record label.
My entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and I decided to start my own label in 2006, Pravini Productions, and produce and release my own records. As an independent artist I since then have released 5 albums, with singles like ‘Cuz I’m A Lady, Armed & Sexy and Give Back. My international focus took me on music tours to the United States, Suriname and the United Kingdom. My community showed me love by acknowledging my journey as an artist with the HSFN Music Award (2006), the Shakti Award (2010), a nomination for Best New Artist for the Suripoku Awards in Suriname (2013) and a nomination for Best Female Artist for the Hindipop Music Awards (2014).
With the blessings of my community I felt ready to cross over to a mainstream audience. While social tensions increased in The Netherlands, due to protests against the blackface character Zwarte Piet, I was trying to balance staying true to my own moral values while maintaining a mainstream appeal. This became increasingly difficult, because the debate affected art platforms as well. Was I willing to perform in a space that was celebrating Zwarte Piet? These are questions that I struggled with.
The public debate on Zwarte Piet forced everyone, including me, to take a stand. I realized I no longer wanted to hide my points of view on these issues. I started engaging with decolonial platforms, spaces that acknowledge institutional racism and are looking for ways to combat this injustice. During one of these encounters I came across the song “Anacaona” by Cheo Feliciano, a song to commemorate the Taíno warrior of resistance Anacaona. It inspired me to celebrate a hidden heroine of the Hindustani community, Janey Tetary. Together with hiphop artist 3wish and classical singer Sangeeta Bhageloe we wrote the song “Tetary”. It was in that collaboration I felt the power of art and activism. The song was a tool for sparking a sense of pride and engaging in discussion on the impact and legacy of colonial history.
While working on the Tetary tribute, I followed international developments like the “Rhodes must fall” movement in South Africa and discussions on removing statues of colonial figures. It triggered debates in our own community on colonial statues in Suriname, like the statue of Barnet Lyon, who was responsible for executing Tetary during the uprising in 1884. Inspired by the “Rhodes must fall” movement I became involved in a movement that called for replacing the statue of Barnet Lyon with a statue of Tetary. With a “Barnet Lyon must fall, Tetary must rise” campaign I set up a crowdfunding plan to raise money for a statue. Thanks to great collaborations with organizations in The Netherlands and Suriname we were able to indeed take Barnet Lyon down and celebrate the rise of the Tetary statue on September 24th, 2017.
The Tetary campaign empowered me to set up other initiatives that are based on a decolonial framework and challenge institutional racism. Initiatives like Holi is not a Houseparty, to challenge cultural appropriation of the Hindu spring festival Holi, and the Anti-Racism Voting Guide, to get the viewpoints of political parties on specific anti-racism issues for municipal elections. I also wanted to express with solidarity with other movements who shared similar goals, so I joined the Kick Out Zwarte Piet protests and took on the BDS principles in support of Palestine.
All these experiences started to reflect in my art as well, because everything I encountered I processed through music. I realized I no longer wanted to separate my political views from my art and was willing to accept whatever consequences it might have in terms of commercial success. Art was no longer a goal in itself, but a means to an end. A way to contribute to social change and to empowering our people. And so I think back on that picture of Che Guevara on the wall. It reminds me of a strength that was always there, even if I didn’t realize it. It was always in the background guiding me. But now it’s clear and in focus, reminding me to be my unapologetic self. And so I move forward, creating art that I hope empowers and inspires people to share their truth as well.