PREMIERE: Alo Wala Transcends Globalism In Her “Paralyzed” Video
Embracing borderless identity in a “let’s build a wall” world
A nomad at heart, Chicago-born Punjabi Indian rapper Shivani Ahlowalia, better known as ALO WALA, embraces her borderless identity in an increasing “let’s build a wall” world. “My sense of identity is a little jacked-up but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says. Badass and bold, her new song—with a vibrant video directed by Jamil GS—hits hard as it transcends intersectionality and unleashes real talk on the realpolitik of today’s world.
Today MASS APPEAL premieres her new single, “Paralyzed,” a powerful, club-centric protest anthem boasting Afrocentric riddims and bass so deep it makes your insides hurt. Her new music comes right on time as ALO WALA calls upon the global music community, to come together and vibrate higher with a hybrid sound for a hybrid world—despite what the current political order has in mind.
Alo Wala means “the light vendor” in a mix of Bengali and Hindi—an apropos idea given Ahlowalia’s history. Growing up in a Punjabi household in Chicago, the ideas of intersectionality and hybrid cultures naturally found their way into her music. America was “a place between worlds”; a place that in actuality, made her identify with so many places and musical cultures—her sound is a mashup of dancehall, reggae, dance music, hip hop, and classical Indian instrumentation.
Ahlowalia also spent time in Guinea Bissau, West Africa, where she co-founded an NGO raising social confidence amongst local youth and building the country’s first recording studio. Working with local rappers, she became a sort of West African hip hop magnet—and that’s how she came to embrace her existence as a global nomad. Music as resistance would become a common theme for Ahlowalia as she found her voice as an activist. She’s been compared to M.I.A. at her peak, but that is an oversimplification.
“We are all given the opportunity to live a beautiful existence but are often ‘Paralyzed’ from the greater injustice that we as humans create and impose on our ourselves,” explains Ahlowalia. “This paralysis keeps us from the optimal life that is paradise. getting to nature.”
‘Paralyzed’ is co-produced by global club scene heavyweights Clap-Clap And Branko (of Buraka Som Sistema fame) is the follow-up to her critically acclaimed EPs Vibrate to Win and Cityboy (Enchufada).
Director and visual artist Jamil GS shot the video for ‘Paralyzed’ in and around Mumbai to capture Alo Wala’s roots, layering the visuals with awe-inspiring tradition of Mallakhamb gymnasts from The Mallakhamb India School. Peep the video up top.
Below, ALO WALA speaks exclusively to MASS APPEAL about her new project….
Why is now the right time for a protest anthem like “Paralyzed”?
Paralyzed is intentional audio-visual experience on that mission to bring the world together and fearlessly push in the face of the vitriol and hate being championed by a few across the world.
It always starts with the music. I had the honor of working with some of my favorite producers, Branko & Clap Clap. The three of us came up with with a powerful, kind of frantic song that is musically hypnotic and lyrically pretty damn literal. The tune is laced with Afro-centric riddims, mesmerizing flute harmonies and bass deep enough to keep the tune in line with some of my previous works. Lyrically, Paralyzed considers the injustice that we as a people create and impose on ourselves, keeping us from that optimal living that is paradise. The song further insists that by getting to nature, our authentic-selves defined by love, we can create that paradise again.
I’m also constantly taken aback by the strength of my alliance with photographer and art director Jamil GS, who directed the video for our tune “Cityboy”  and now Paralyzed, shot in and around Mumbai this past winter. For Paralyzed Jamil manages to capture the recurring clash of cultures in India between the old and the new—between modern art and ancient tradition. The video features the gully-based FA.M.O.U.S Crew—one of the country’s most active dance crews. Their moves are juxtaposed with scenes from mind-boggling, heart-jolting acrobatics of the fearless youth of The Mallakhamb India School. These youth push through adversity on the daily to keep the ancient sport alive; their focus, determination and genuine love for the sport is that path to “paradise.”
You’ve spoken about this idea of “dual existence” growing up in a certain culture while at the same time having this idea of what America means. Can you expand on that and what it means for your music?
I live many lives side by side. My blood is Indian. My passport is American. I have a temporary residence in Denmark. I started an NGO in West Africa and travel more than most of the people I know. My sense of identity is a little jacked-up but I wouldn’t have it any other way. My generation was the first to get access to the world in this way and trust me, I milked that reality and never looked back.
I identify with so many places and cultures, and while that’s a blessing, the lifestyle has created a dispersed reality of sorts and since we can’t actually be omnipresent, it involves a lot of compromise. Trying be present everywhere keeps me from being where I am. I don’t really want to live that way, always somewhere else.
What are your thoughts on the ideas of hybrid cultures in music?
While America tightens its borders, the reality is that we live in an hyper-globalized world and honestly, there can be so much beauty in that. The more we become one, the more we search to know our own roots, respect our neighbors, travel, live and love, the more obvious intersectionality in music is.
At the same time, there’s a fine-line between compassion and appropriation. Awareness is everything. If you take the time to understand yourself and the world around you, you will most likely integrate sounds and culture into your music with integrity, even when you don’t realize you are doing it. It’s also good to pay dues where dues are due.
Does this awareness also come with a sense of responsibility when making music?
We need music to protect and keep the world in balance. Today in time I don’t think any artist out there can afford not to make protest music. There’s no formula for it, but when you give your expression intention, the possibilities are endless. I think music is and always will be one of the most vital and diverse tools in existence.
You have a very powerful (and beautiful!) visual vocabulary. How did you self image evolve over time and how do you go about creating visuals for your projects?
Much respect. I’ve been blessed with strong visual collaborators from the beginning of this project. Jamil GS, who is my visual director, makes sure that ALO WALA’s sonic intention is carried out and streamlined through everything that gets put out into the universe.
I’ve always been inspired by galactic phenomenons and the future. So when I sat down to make music with Copia Doble Systema back in the day, the beginnings of ALO WALA, we made sure to keep these elements alive in every song we made, this fascination actually defined the ALO WALA sound. VJ Mad Es from Copia—was often in our studio sessions creating visuals for the project while we were making the tunes, so the imagery for our live show was a very profound interpretation of this sonic universe we created. From there, when it came time to create the live show, costumes, music video—it was obvious this obsession with the future should absolutely come through. And so it did.
“Paralyzed” marks a shift from this surrealistic universe back to nature. Everything from music to the colors of the video to my own hair style are less contrived and and more true to Earth. While the music at times mirrors the hypnotic repetition of ancient Gnawa music, the video relies on cyclical movements from dance and acrobatics rather than the heavy VFX and animation that we previously relied on. Nature always provides in the end.