CHENNAI — Twenty-six-year-old Arivu's small room, on the fourth-floor terrace of an apartment in suburban Chennai, is as lively as his music. It is in this room that Arivu shot his now iconic rap song "Sanda seivom", which effortlessly rips the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens apart.
Pictures of Ambedkar and Buddha are looking over him and an ektara (the instrument) standing tall. "It was a gift from the Tata Institute for Social Sciences when I recently visited them," Arivu says. "I intend to learn to play it and even use it in my rap." A single stringed instrument, the ektara might not sit well with his fast-paced rap, but Arivu is used to challenges — right from his childhood in Arakkonam.
"I lived in an urban cheri, so to say. It was also a Muslim neighborhood, and there was a beef slaughterhouse around. In today's India, perhaps a hugely controversial place. But life was a celebration there," he beams. His parents — Kalainesan and Thenmozhi — provided Arivu and his younger sister, now a medical doctor, an intellectual atmosphere. Arivu learned more from the music and books at home than at school. Soon enough, he wrote poems. "I wouldn't call them poems, but my attempts," he smiles.
Arivu's "anti-Indian" independent rap, surprisingly, never came in the way of his chances.
When he entered college (Arivu studied engineering at a college in Coimbatore and later did an MBA) he was ready with his first poetry collection. "Ever since entering college, I would practice singing at home in front of the mirror. I decided to put all my thoughts into it and sang in a thick voice. My friends said it sounded like rap — that was the first time I was hearing of it."
After college, Arivu tried his hands at various things including the civil services, and he spent most of his time "studying". But occasionally, when he got some money, he would go to Coimbatore to record a song that he had written. He had no idea, though, how to get them across on a public platform.
Arivu has been getting offers to write for music for movies, but he has been careful with his choices in the film industry. "Also, I would never quit independent music. That platform — with all its limitations — is dearer." Arivu's "anti-Indian" independent rap was a sensation, but such songs, surprisingly, never came in the way of his chances in mainstream cinema. "In fact, directors have asked me to write similar songs, but just tone it down a bit." Arivu has lost count but says he has written for some 20 films, including Surya's upcoming Soorarai Potru.
"Of course, I write love songs too, but I maintain my ethics. I insist on gender equality in such songs, I will never do body shaming or have phrases in praise of this or that skin color. I celebrate love, but will never allow it to become an excuse for sexism."
Arivu has no great plans for his future, but there is one thing he knows he should do, either as research project or as music document: work drawing parallels between oppari (the folk genre sung at funerals) and hip-hop. "People say I write well, but I know I cannot hold a candle to the grandmothers singing oppari in my village. See this:
Naan anju maram valarthen
Azhakaana thottam vachen
En thottam sezhichaalum
En thondai nanaiyalaiye.
(I planted five trees,
And nurtured a beautiful garden
My garden flourished,
Yet my throat is parched.)
"In these four lines, they talk about life. That is our folk art for you," Arivu says.
The cultural appropriation of hip-hop in Indian society is something that deeply bothers Arivu. "In Africa, hip-hop was a form of protest. People used it communicate their pain and oppression. When you import it to the Indian context, it should have naturally spoken in an anti-caste voice, because caste is the most important issue in our country today. But instead, hip-hop is used for teasing women, to glorify men. You copy their caps, hoodies and jeans, but leave the politics behind," he says. "How can that be right?"
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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