In spring 2023, Mount Madonna School (MMS) humanities teacher Greg Shirley sat down with alumnus Aki’o Nanamura (‘17) author of “Tiers Fall” (known informally as the “Ravana Rap”) to discuss its origins and how it came to be a staple of the the school’s production of “Ramayana!”
Q: What years were you at MMS?
A: 2014 to 2017, freshman year through senior year. It was great. Even when I was just shadowing there, before I joined the school, everyone was immediately super-friendly. Some of the people I met then I’m still close friends with to this day.
Q: What characters did you play in “Ramayana!”?
A: Freshman year, I was one of the sages, and I was part of the Monkey army. Sophomore year, I was the White Monkey. Junior year, I was Meghnad, and in my senior year I was Ravana.
Q: Describe your experience being part of this show:
A: Very familial; there aren’t many people outside MMS you can talk to about “Ramayana!” I have such fond memories of being and working at the Mexican Heritage Theater. I felt like I was part of a found family.
Q: How do you see the character of Ravana?
A: He’s a tragic villain, but not necessarily a sympathetic villain. He does what he thinks is best for his people even though he is completely blind to what those people actually want. I imagine thousands of years of ruling as king and leader of a great army grew some delusions in those ten heads of his. By the time he faced an opposing force that could actually match him, he couldn’t rationalize that in his head … heads!
Q: What was easier to find in your performance, and what was more challenging?
A: I wanted to bring nuance to the character – as much as a high school senior could bring! – because I felt that some moments in the play portray him as loud and belligerent. I tried to explore what humanity he had left and tried to uncover the reasoning for the decisions that he made.
Q: What was your background in rap?
A: A lot of it came from different media, including the internet. I wasn’t raised on the more classic hip hop like Biggie, Tupac, Wu-Tang Clan. A lot of my exposure to rap was through rap battles, and I developed an appreciation of lyric through specific artists, and, of course, from “Hamilton.” I used to record rap battles between some of my favorite fictional characters. I started writing raps for characters I was playing during my junior year, when I wrote one for Meghnad as my Character Project.
Q: How did the “Tiers Fall” make it from Character Project into the performance?
A: During my senior class trip to India, I had a lot of time to think about the character and what I wanted to do for the project. On the train and plane rides I would write lyrics and try to incorporate different rhyme schemes. I finished writing the actual lyrics when I returned home; then I recorded, edited and submitted it. A week or two later, Anand Darsie, the musical director, came to me and asked if I wanted to do it in the play. I was stoked and shocked; it still shocks me to this day!
Q: Do any lines stand out for you?
A: In terms of a satisfying rhyme scheme, I like: “There is no power that is greater than a towering dictator/And my brother would have ruled, but he’s a coward and a traitor!” I really liked making references to the original “Ravana Song.” For example, in the original, Ravana says, “Surely, you jest/This world is mine,” and in the rap he says, “What kind of fool do you think I am/What joke do you play on me?”
Q: You created a standout moment in the performance, and no one can play that role now without mastering the rap. It may be the most emotionally intense moment of the play. Any thoughts on that legacy?
A: I’m happy to have provided something for the performance. I wanted to give a little more insight into what he was thinking, but I never expected the rap to take the place of the original song. Not many scenes really dive into his psychology, and I’d like to say that it was my intention to explore his psychology all along, but the truth is that I was really just trying to complete my Character Project! I’m very excited to come back and see it performed again!
Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,
Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports all of its students, preschool through grade 12, in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals. MMS believes a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The college-preparatory, CAIS- and WASC-accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.