Every creative has a unique story to tell about their journey to become an artist. What was your experience like, arriving to where you are now?
From a young age, I sang in my church’s choir and performed in all of my school’s musical theatre productions. These were some of the most formative and expressive musical moments in my early childhood. I still adore musical theatre! The variety of musical styles I grew up around, from American folk to Hindi pop, and my upbringing influenced my eclectic musical taste. I grew up in a working class, interfaith, multiracial household which also attracted me to musical movements informed by DIY artistry and anti-oppressive politics, such as punk and underground raving. In middle school and high school, I developed a more personal musical palate. I found myself listening to lots of pop punk, hardcore, metal, EDM, indie rock, post punk, dance and electro pop, top 40s, and oldies, and I begin to write songs accompanying myself on keyboard. Music was such a strong passion of mine from the beginning, but it was always framed as a lovely hobby and not a rational life path. When I moved to the Bay Area at the age of 18, I met a whole community of artists experimenting with sound on their own terms. That was extremely inspiring and was the catalyst for my project – Kohinoorgasm. During my senior year at Berkeley, I wrote my first album Titalee, and I have been making lo-fi pop music under that moniker ever since.
Your family background, heritage and cultural history are clearly very important to you. How does that inform your work and influence the music you create?
I think all artists should evaluate how their work relates to their heritage and culture. Identity-relevant artwork shouldn’t be expected only and mainly of non-white artists. Non-Black artists especially, as a whole, should all be checking in with ourselves and asking, “How is my art practice relevant to my heritage? Is it appropriate to my culture? Is it authentic to the rituals and styles my ancestors or immediate family members have passed down to me? Is it authentic to my experience? How much of this would I have to justify to someone who didn’t know me or my culture? Does this work evolve my culture in an anti-oppressive and innovative way? Does it challenge or perpetuate anti-Blackness?” On the one hand, I do want to be a part of a diasporic pop and electronic movement that finds ways to merge my contemporary American musical affinities with some sounds and styles from my Indian heritage. On the other hand, I don’t think white artists ever get asked this question. It reminds me of how much my identity and Hindi vocals are a spectacle in the music industry. I wonder if white artists ever think about the reflections I posed above. I also know of many non-Black Indian artists who rap, sing R&B, wear Black clothing styles, and use AAVE as a part of their presence and practice as an artist. I know for sure they have not thought about those questions long enough, if at all. If anything, my identity and culture as an anarchist and anti-capitalist are the primary informants of my work. I aspire to write music that normalizes, and sometimes even glamorizes, messages of anarchy and anti-capitalism all through danceable rhythms, hypnotic melodies, and accessible lyricism. I aim to use my practice as a vehicle for knowledge sharing and community building, and I do my best to approach every creative and business decision from an anarchist and anti-capitalist lens. I am not perfect, but that’s the goal.
What are some professional moments that stand out to you as special and fill you with joy?
Developing my skills as a recording and mixing engineer is an ongoing practice that I am so proud to be pursuing. I try to subvert the cis-hetero-patriarchy in any way I can as I move through the music industry. Seizing the means of production to do so takes such a literal application in this field. As an underground artist, I have learned a wide range of music production and business processes. From composing and recording, to releasing and distributing, either on my own or from community, it’s been a pleasure to do so without relying on white men. When I started graduate school in music, I made a point of focusing intensely on my engineering skills, as those are often highly gate kept and can be mystifying to learn outside of academia. I hope to be a part of a wave of musicians and educators who liberate this knowledge from its academic and patriarchal confines and support underground and working class communities in having greater access to engineering knowledge and quality engineering services.
I’m really interested to learn more about the activism you’re involved with, concerning musicians’ rights. Could you break it down for us – what are some of the things you are fighting for?
I am a co-founder and organizer with the newly formed Union of Musicians and Allied Workers. We have many campaigns in the works right now. Our Justice at Spotify campaign which demands fairer payouts and business practices from Spotify, our recording contract survey which will help us build collective standards for fairer recording contracts, our immigration survey to build a database of trusted immigration lawyers, and our Exitos Varios compilation album which benefits United We Dream, a youth led organization supporting undocumented migrants. Additionally, we want to build a broad movement of music workers, including not just musicians but also DJs, sound techs, road crew, venue workers and more, and join in the broader struggles of our fellow workers across the globe. We stand for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, abolishing ICE, destroying borders, the freeing of incarcerated people, and reparations. Music workers are workers, and it is time we get organized and join the fight!
I think it’s easy as a consumer to feel that as long as you are paying for streaming services, buying albums and going to see live music – not doing any of those illegally – that is enough. What is one way you encourage music lovers to change their habits in a way that supports musicians even more/better?
This is such a great question, and I think there are many ways music lovers can show up in solidarity with music workers struggling for justice in the industry. Making music and merchandise purchases on Bandcamp or directly from the artist, engaging with musicians’ content online, signing up for artists’ subscriber pages, and joining fights for labor justice in their own fields are all great ways. However, I really don’t blame listeners for the choices they make when it comes to accessible music listening and discovery models. A big part of the union’s campaign is addressing Spotify. Spotify doesn’t have the worst payout rate, and it also isn’t the only streaming platform that needs to reckon with its treatment of artists. It is, however, the most widely used streaming platform in the world. Music workers, as the people who populate and diversify the platform, create all of the enormous wealth Spotify accumulates for its CEO, its investors, and the major labels, but we continue to be underpaid, misled, and otherwise exploited by the company. We have written demands that return power to the workers. If music listeners can show up for this movement in any way, we would greatly appreciate it! That doesn’t mean boycotting the app, but rather finding ways to give industry power back to workers. In fact, we have some in person actions coming up that build on our list of demands, and anyone can sign up to be a part of that, music workers and listeners alike!
Tell us about your spirituality. How does that express itself in your daily life?
I believe in the spiritual power of my ancestors, the Earth, the Universe, my loved ones, and my extended community. All of these forces continue to shape me and give me purpose. In turn, I do my best to honor them, return my gratitude, and stay connected to them. This happens in so many more ways than I could describe on paper. For instance, I pray to my ancestors when I need guidance, I try to observe and learn from the Earth’s ways and lead my life in its example and wisdom. I revere the wonder induced by the vastness and mystery of the Universe, I cherish my loved ones and shower them in love all the time. I try to stay connected and in a reciprocal relationship with my community.
When and where do you find moments of beauty ?
Not to sound cliché, but I see beauty everywhere all the time! Right now, I am looking at a beautiful dried water sprout from a citrus tree. My partner brought it home from their farming job and artfully placed it in our unusable fireplace. It looks like a big, strong, muted, green branch of a tree covered in sharp, long thorns. It has lots of little offshoot branches coming out of it that are also covered in thorns. I think it is beautiful that my partner saw this epic, gothic work of nature at their job and thought to bring it home as an organic sculpture. I think it’s beautiful that there’s so many ways organic materials can be recycled and composted. In this case, we are repurposing this sprout as a work of visual art.
We at submission beauty are drawn to the way you express yourself visually… Can you tell us more about your relationship with beauty?
My relationship to beauty has endured a difficult path from many things. Being sexualized from a young age, struggling with an eating disorder in high school, and having internalized Eurocentric beauty standards in my youth. However, I am grateful to be in such a different place now. I have healed so much in the past several years, and I am humbled to be on a lifelong journey of learning to love myself more and more authentically. The more true I am to myself, the more beautiful I feel.
How does sustainability play a role in your approach to beauty ?
Sustainability is such a vague term that begs the question, “What is being sustained?”. In the case of beauty, I value sustainability for the Earth, my wallet, and my self-image. As for the Earth, I try to use mostly organic products that ideally do no harm to Earth, or are even a part of a reciprocal relationship to the Earth. The products I use mostly consist of shea butter for my body, coconut oil for my hair, diluted apple cider vinegar for my scalp, Dr. Bronner’s body wash, and natural face wash. I buy pretty much entirely recycled/thrifted clothing, and I am learning to use a sewing machine so I can alter and reimagine the textiles I have at home as time goes on! Additionally, the Earth’s beauty can only be sustained if humans, especially colonizers and corporate leaders, get into a right relationship with the Earth. I try to learn about this type of relationship from the models set and knowledge shared by Indigenous communities around the world, Black farming communities, caste oppressed farmers in South Asia, and queer land projects. As for my wallet, I don’t have a huge budget for beauty products and clothes, so in order to sustain my finances, I don’t make a lot of big purchases. I grew up thrifting, but I also love the idea of treating ourselves, which I do when my shopping needs align with a seller I really want to support with my dollar. As for my self-image, I don’t always feel beautiful. It isn’t sustainable for me to strive for beauty all the time in a society that has such a fraught relationship to beauty and perpetuates unhealthy beauty standards. I love myself by feeling beautiful when I can and allowing myself to be mad at the beauty-industrial-complex when that comes up.
Could you tell us about some causes you are involved with, we’d love to share where people can join you
Any music worker can join the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers at this link, and anyone interested in supporting my work can follow me on social media or check out my music on Bandcamp or Spotify!