Sikh Rapper, Refusing to be Silenced, Shoots to the Top of Australia’s Hip Hop Scene 

On International Day of Tolerance, Scientology Religious Freedom Blog features Sukhdeep Singh Bhogal, an Australian Sikh rapper who uses his stardom to oppose racism, classism and injustice. In his new album, SOUTH WEST, he pays tribute to South West Sydney, a multicultural hub where his parents settled after migrating to Australia from the Indian state of Punjab.

(L-FRESH The LION YouTube channel)
L-FRESH The LION (YouTube)

Bhogal, better known by his rap name L-FRESH The Lion (“FRESH” stands for “Forever Rising Exceeding Sudden Hardships”), was raised in South West Sydney, one of the fastest-growing and culturally diverse regions in Australia.

SOUTH WEST charts his growth as a hip hop artist and a return to his cultural roots.

At an educational event at United Nations headquarters in New York City marking International Day For Tolerance two years ago today, Bhogal and four other YouTubers from India, Germany, Canada and Sudan performed and advocated for the elimination of cultural barriers.

The five musicians are part of YouTube Creators for Change, a global initiative devoted to focusing on inspirational creators who use the online platform to promote constructive conversations around “tough issues and make a positive impact on the world.”

In an audio interview posted on the United Nations news website in 2018, Bhogal described how he strove to overcome racial prejudice by parlaying his multicultural roots into rap lyrics based on his life’s experiences. 

“This idea that people are treated differently because of who they are, where they’re from, what they believe in, is really a dark spot on humanity. And I think breaking down the walls of intolerance is really important.”

“My survival lessons were infused with turmeric and cumin seed,” he said, referring to conversations with his parents about their native culture and issues such as immigration and assimilation. These helped him make sense of his marginalized identity as a minority kid in Australia. 

“This idea that people are treated differently because of who they are, where they’re from, what they believe in, is really a dark spot on humanity,” he said in his interview at the UN. “And I think breaking down the walls of intolerance is really important.”

In a July 2020 article on the entertainment website NME, Bhogal describes how his discovery of American hip hop transformed his life. It empowered him to deal with everything from the emotional trauma caused by casual taunts to the ever-present threat of hate crime. “I’m a child of hip hop, but an adopted child,” he said.

Bhogal released his debut album, titled One, in 2014. Two years later, he released Become, whose themes of racism and bigotry cemented his reputation as a key player in Australia’s burgeoning and diverse hip hop movement.

In 2019, Bhogal debuted in India as a guest star on the rap reality show MTV Hustle which was broadcast to more than 35 million viewers. “The reception was crazy—I never would have thought that I’d be received so openly and so passionately by people over there,” he told NME. The response of fans and the Indian rap industry made him “start to really think about” expanding his music to the subcontinent.

Pride in his ancestral culture was also Bhogal’s inspiration for SOUTH WEST. “I was really that person who was conditioned to feel like my own [culture] wasn’t cool,” he told NME. “I think it’s a byproduct of living in a society in Australia that has the remnants of assimilation, a colonial backdrop and a foundation that doesn’t value other cultures with the same level of respect and doesn’t appreciate them in the same way, and instead encourages you to abandon your culture in order to fit in—to be a model minority.”

The theme of communal belonging—focused on South West Sydney—courses through the album. “For such a long time, South Western Sydney was viewed as part of a problem,” says Bhogal, referring to exaggerated crime reports. “You weren’t ever told to be proud of the fact that you were from South Western Sydney. Instead, you were made fun of.”

In “Mother Tongue,” the title of one of the album’s smash hits, Bhogal bemoans his diminishing fluency in his ancestral language, Punjabi—the link to both his Sikh heritage and his Sikh faith. “It’s a shame for me—I feel ashamed that I can’t speak my language the way I want to,” he says. “... relearning [Punjabi] is really important to me.”

The track has resonated with members of Australia’s indigenous First Nations community as well as other minority groups, “leaving some in tears,” according to Bhogal.

“Indeed, overall, [Bhogal’s] hip hop offers a critique of a hegemonic Western worldview,” says NME. “He’s promoting dialogue about intergenerational trauma, internalized racism, decolonization, reclaiming and healing.”

“Everybody is owning where they’re from because you can’t silence us,” Bhogal says. “The boldness comes from decades of being written off. So now we’re gonna write our own stories. And you’re gonna hear it, whether you like it or not.”

In a YouTube video titled “Road to South West,” a brief documentary that offers a glimpse into his musical evolution, Bhogal says that everything he learned “as a kid, and now as a man in South West Sydney … is a big part of the image I portray on stage.” 

“It’s the constant defying of expectations, defying of perceptions and being strong in the face of that—that’s the character that you get from a place like South West Sydney…It’s that strength, it’d that resilience, it’s that power that no matter how people perceive me I’m still gonna be me, and I am that dude from South West Sydney.”


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