When Darwin Dev unexpectedly showed up at his family’s doorstep in Dubai two years back, they thought he was visiting them on holiday. But instead, he’d resigned from his job as an aerospace engineer in London and decided to pursue another passion – fusion hip-hop.
The now 33–year-old, who is from Kerala in India and grew up in the UAE, had been balancing a full-time job in London with being an FA-qualified football coach, managing a youth football team during the weekends. Which inevitably meant his music was sidelined and confined to his laptop for many years. As a 90s kid growing up in Dubai, pop culture had been a big part of his life, slowly giving way to rap music. “I actually started writing pop songs until I figured I wasn’t that good of a singer! Around this time I got into rap, mainly thanks to Jay-Z,” he says. “The storytelling in rap songs fascinated me and it inspired me to write stories of my own. I found writing to be an escape and it grew on me to the point where I could put words together on a beat much easier than during a conversation with another person.”
In London many years later, hitting a career plateau in his engineering job had an unexpected upside. “It was then that I revisited the idea of fusion rap tracks,” he says. This was a line of music he’d pursued since he’d first heard Jay-Z’s collaboration with Punjabi MC, Beware of the Boys. He talked the idea through with his good friend Elz Bowe, “who is an immensely talented music producer and a multi-instrumentalist”. And then there was no looking back. “His creative input to produce my first English/Hindi fusion track Aa Mere Paas was immense, and well-received with the release of its music video. I resigned from my job and we’ve been collaborating ever since!”
English rap, Indian instruments
Darwin has been merging his love for hip-hop and Indian music together from then on. Think English rap over tabla accompanied by classical Indian dance. Or songs incorporating Indian instruments such as sitar, flute and tabla mixed with hip-hop beats. He has released fusion tracks in Hindi, Punjabi and Malayalam, and is working on a Tamil track next. “My English/Hindi fusion track The Indian Struggle was written based on my experiences of living in India and tackled various political and social issues. It was selected into the ‘Best Independent Artist Album of the Year’ in 2017.”
To further the challenge and keep it exciting, he branched out to blending non-Indian languages in. He started with Arabic – Darwin says he owes a huge part of his fusion identity to the UAE and being brought up in its multicultural environment. “Being acquainted with people from different backgrounds and their music tastes helped shape the artist I am today.” The tribute to that is his English/Arabic fusion track Torn “available on all digital platforms – music video currently in the works”.
His goal with his music is two-fold. The first is portraying a story – “mostly mine, but in a way that is creative, relatable and entertaining. I try to stay true to the rap culture of drawing from your own experiences.” The second is changing perceptions. “In India, rapping is still often seen as vulgar, offensive or derogatory. I want to contribute with my music and connect with people on a personal level through stories that are true and relatable rather than represent exaggerated themes of money, cars or violence, which is often depicted in the mainstream rap culture in India.”
After their initial shock, his family has been fully on board with his artistic ambitions. “My mum is a businesswoman, dad a sailing instructor, my sister a professional classical dancer (and a dentist). They have all helped in my musical journey, be it acting in the videos, styling the actors or giving valuable feedback.”
As a thank-you, he released an English/Malayalam track, Dear Maa, recently. “I wrote this song as a dedication to my mum for Mother’s Day and it comprises the many childhood memories of growing up in the UAE. My mum even acted in the music video! The song was aired on BBC Asian Network.”
Darwin, who now manages a business, running bottled drinking water company Al Wasl Water with his mother, says being a full-time musician is not the goal. “The goal is to keep producing music content that is unique, creative, relevant and timeless.”
To know more about Darwin, visit DarwinRapArtist on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, or visit darwinrapartist.com.
– Sangeetha Sagar