What if I told you two queer Indo-Canadian sisters from Calgary were going to take over the hip-hop scene in 2020? You’d probably stare at me in disbelief. Until you heard Cartel Madras. After that, you’d be forced to agree.  

Sisters Eboshi and Contra make up Cartel Madras, and like any good rap crew, they each bring a unique style. Eboshi is El-P to Contra’s Killer Mike, or Snoop to Contra’s Dre. But there’s no comparing Cartel Madras to anyone.

Cartel Madras brings something completely new to music. They have a name for it, “Goonda rap.” In India, the term goonda means hired thug. Goondas are Indian gangsters, essentially. And Cartel Madras sounds like Indian gangster rap, which is captivating.

Age of the Goonda, Cartel Madras’ latest album, came out late in 2019. Seattleites are in luck, the sisters, who are on famed Seattle label Sub Pop, will be at Barboza this Thursday. The Sesh had the chance to pick Cartel Madras’ brains about their story, Calgary, and of course, cannabis. They responded by email, some answers were together, and some separate. 

I read that you guys cite a Princess Nokia concert as your inspiration for getting into music. Can you tell me a little bit about how that experience led to Cartel Madras?

Photos by Ralph and Floyd Gonzales

We’ve been involved in music since we were kids but seeing Princess Nokia live in 2017 definitely signaled to us that rap by POC/women/queer people was becoming more accessible and tangible for us as artists. It was a moment in 2017 where we looked at each other and were like ‘Okay, let’s stop sitting on all our music, let’s put it out there’.

Seeing your ‘lane’ open up in front of you is a powerful thing, and being in Calgary and seeing an underground hip-hop show by someone who was saying a lot of the things we were also saying in our secret, basement recorded voice notes set the stage for us to throw our hat into the ring. But music overall – we’ve always been writing and performing to some extent, we’ve always been the music blog kids making mix tapes for their friends and forcing everyone to pass us the aux chord at the party.

What’s the hip-hop scene like in Calgary?

Rapidly growing and changing. 2017 was still very old head and boom-bap; trap kids weren’t really sure where they could play or listen to more contemporary hip-hop. There wasn’t really any questioning or challenging of the scene. In 2018 when we RICKROLL’D our way into the scene we kind of had to turn all of our shows into what we were desperately searching for: a wild, sweaty, grimy, trap party.

The hip-hop scene in Calgary has been growing and showcasing its potential with more confidence every year. During our time performing in our hometown, we found that there were so many artists just waiting for the right type of environment or the right signal to start making the music they really wanted to. In the spring of 2019, we were part of another artist’s hip-hop residency at the National Music Centre and it saw so many talented and modern rappers and producers from the city come through. Calgary is home to so much creativity and skill; it needs more community spaces in which artists can collaborate and challenge each other. 

Do you consume cannabis? If so, does it play a role in your creative process or performances?

Contra: Yes we BLAZE IT. Marijuana actually does not assist with our creative output, but it’s something that we use mostly post-show or when we’re in a good mood. Weed’s something that actually ends up being a cherry on top of an already good day. 

Eboshi: I used to blaze a lot more, took a huge long break from it. These days I can barely even talk when I’m extremely lit, I just laugh and laugh. I can’t even imagine writing like that let alone performing. It would be very entertaining to watch I’m sure. It’s definitely a nice way to totally mellow out on a day I have nothing planned.

In Chennai, or the Indian community in Canada, is cannabis part of the culture? If so, what role does it play and who consumes? What about when it comes to goondas, is smoking weed part of being a goonda?

Neckbeard fact: Ganja is a Sanskrit word. Indians have been using cannabis for centuries, and where we are from, in the South, you can find weed all over Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Indian community in Canada is almost always, entirely, high. At least, the youth are; we like our weed. We won’t wear shirts with the leaf on it, because that’s dumb and will force our parents to wage a philosophical war on us, but best believe the Indo-Canadians are lit and high.

 Goondas can do whatever they please.

What music do you like to listen to when you’re stoned?

Eboshi: Last time I had shatter chocolate I planned on listening to Animal Magic by Bonobo and vibe out and then cook to Peter Sandberg or something. What ended up happening was that I watched an hour of Souped Up Recipes on YouTube and then had to lay very still on my bed because I got T o o F a d e d.

Contra: I definitely made an entire cannabis mixtape when I was 14 and smoked weed for the first time. It was equal parts incredible, and cringe. Someday it will be released from the vault. Das Racist goes really well with a joint, I think listening to music from our past when we’re stoned is usually a good idea. MIA, Erykah Badu, and Ahmad Jamal are other stoner go-to’s for us.