Exclusive: Raja Kumari On Her New Album ‘The Bridge’, Challenges Of Breaking In The Rap Industry, Her Dual Identity & More | People News
New Delhi: Indian American rapper Raja Kumari is a star in her own right. The Grammy-nominated singer has given multiple hit singles, cutting across different cultures and identities while being true to her roots in India. From collaborating with a singer like John Legend to performing creating something like ‘City Slums’ with Divine, Raja Kumari has carved her own niche in the music industry.
During an exclusive conversation with Zee English Digital, Raja shared insights about her life and struggles as an Indian American in the US and how her dual identity shaped her music career. Raja also talked about how her latest album ‘The Bridge’ is an ode to goddess Saraswati and why she considers art as something spiritual and divine.
1. How important is your identity as an Asian American/ Indian American in your work and how has it shaped you as an artist?
Raja Kumari – I think identity and culture has been the foundation of my art. From the very beginning of the projects, I talked about the dual identity of both the cultures and being in-between. With this album, I have actually gone beyond that to integrate the two parts of my identity and I feel ‘The Bridge’ is about integration and evolution.
2. You have been born and brought up in the US with roots in India. So initially when you started training in Indian dance forms and music, how difficult was that, considering that not many people in America would understand that?
Raja Kumari – I feel I was very sheltered in the way I grew up. We had this microcosm inside my house that was very Indian, we had Indian food, listened to Indian music and my guru actually lived in my home since I was 7 years of age. I would dance for about 4-5 hours a day. So even though I lived differently, it gave me a really strong connection with classical dance. However, it was difficult to make sense of that when I would go to school as children would see the ‘mehendi’ or the ‘alta’ on my hands and people would think my hands would be diseased. So, I had this whole other life, like touring India and then I would come back and people would ask me what tribe because they couldn’t even locate India on a map. So that was a bit difficult but it helped me use music to break that.
3. Rap is basically a male-dominated space and you have breached that carved your own niche. What were your struggles when you started out?
Raja Kumari – India itself is a male-dominated space so imagine Indian rap. I had this aggressive American spirit, that I could do anything type of attitude and I had to literally cut-through the industry. I had to prove myself over and over again yet there will be still people who would attribute my success to just one collaboration even though I had released multiple music videos and albums. In India, when I was beginning in 2016, I had to be more aggressive than the boys so that I could be heard. But now that I have fought my battles, I feel that I can lean into my feminine side and allow things to come to me. So, I had to use that hyper intense side but now I feel more balanced.
4. Your songs are full of feminist energy and is based on social issues, so how do you channelize that anger and voice through your music?
Raja Kumari – I feel like I just put a voice to things I am not afraid to say. I love to make songs that inspire self-confidence in people to walk in their power, not doubt themselves. This music is written from my higher self to myself because it reminds me of my power and makes me believe that I make it out okay. So if people can relate to the issues and struggles they faced during the pandemic, this can be the soundtrack of their lives.
Check out her album here
5. Tell us something more about your album ‘The Bridge’ and its connection with goddess Saraswati?
Raja Kumari – As a classical dancer, everything you do is an offering to the God. We take it right out of the temple and put it on stage. It’s called ‘Manas Puja’ that is you are doing a puja but you have nothing in your hand, just like the spirit. Unlike my other albums which are made for numbers or success, this album was made for the sake of art and I was not chasing something. We were trapped inside our house during the pandemic and anything I could do to express myself was to put my thoughts together and make music. So, I imagined myself offering it at the altar of goddess Saraswati as a pure offering of my art, that’s how I think art should be divine and spiritual.
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