'Sri Lankan Woody Guthrie' Sings About Struggle

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Musician Bhi Bhiman. (Courtesy Bhi Bhiman)
Musician Bhi Bhiman. (Courtesy Bhi Bhiman)

Sri Lankan-American singer Bhi Bhiman is having a pretty good year.

He released his second full-length CD, "Bhiman." It contains 11 new pieces sung in a voice the New York Times likens to a fine wine: "Full bodied and brawny, yet elegant." And Amazon named Bhiman one of its "Artists on the Rise" last month.

Bhiman has been called the "Sri Lankan Woody Guthrie" for his songs about the struggles of the real world and the people who inhabit it - from North Korean forced laborers to jilted lovers and Wall Street executives.

A 'Sri-Lankan/Norman Rockwell' Childhood

His parents came to the U.S. from Sri Lanka before the civil war broke out there in 1983 between the Tamil Tigers and the government. They made their home in Saint Louis, where Bhi tells Here and Now's Robin Young, he grew up as American as apple pie.

"[I] played a lot of baseball growing up. Ran around in creeks," he said. "At the same time, my parents also defined who I was and how I grew up in many ways... I had a Sri Lankan/Norman Rockwell experience I'd say."

How His Family Sees His Music

When asked what his parents think about his career, Bhiman said they've grown to accept it.

"They're proud now, but they were worried at first. It's not a normal South Asian career path. I'm sure they would have rather me go to medical school or law school," he said.

The Sri Lankan Civil War

Bhiman's family is Tamil, and he says Sri Lanka is "a beautiful island that has been ravaged by a very bloody war that now is looking up."

"The bad people make the headlines, there are a lot of everyday people who live peacefully together," he said.


  • Bhi Bhiman, singer-songwriter

This segment aired on April 5, 2012.


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