Rebel with the chords: Minding the gap with Gowri Jayakumar
Plainspoken and forthright, Gowri Jayakumar introduces herself by saying, “I'm not that famous yet,” over the phone from Mumbai. “But for the little fame I've managed to stack up in my little drawer, and in my screensavers — you probably know I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 15, that I was a journalist for seven years, after which I studied at Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (Chennai).” That happens to be her profile, which she presents before any gig, she explains.
It isn’t the guitar, however, that Gowri has made her name with, as she’s now a full-time disc jockey. Fresh off a gig at Bonobo, Mumbai, for the launch of the EP, Dream Delite, by Madboy (Imaad Shah), Gowri says she’s as yet experimenting with sounds, especially after the success of her single, Kaadal Mannan, which will feature in her upcoming EP, to be released under the stage name, Pulpy Shilpy.
“There was a moment when I realised if I was going to be a successful journalist, I couldn’t be successful at anything else. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a musician, for the whole romance of it,’” says Gowri, who released her debut album, Sad Little Shoebox, in 2012, and also plays under the monickers Kozmi Cow, Mama Kitty and Run Pussy Run. To be able to say I’m a musician was much more valuable to me than knowing what being a musician meant!” she quips.
As her story goes, she quit her job and “fought with everyone to become a musician”. She admits she’s as yet coming to terms with the reality of things. “If you want to be a musician, you need to have places to play at, and sometimes it’s cloudy — in a city like Mumbai, you have 4-5 venues, and most of them don’t even promote original music. I find music that is not original to be quite lame, unless of course, you’re trying to make an EDM party happen.”
In whatever language
Leaving aside the anxieties, Gowri is intent on telling her own story. “I don’t understand why in our times, audiences give so less regard to attempts at documenting our own stories. We’re living in very exciting times, and there are changes slapping us in our faces every day. Yet we feel comfortable singing somebody else’s successful songs, rather than telling our own stories, using whatever language,” she says.
“Our function as artistes is to document the times, the way we are experiencing it. That has taken a back seat,” she elaborates. “Now that I’ve fulfilled my childhood dream of calling myself a musician, I’d love to see the scene creating a culture that endorses sensitive sensibilities amongst our youth, rather than fuel aggression and a prudish mentality. Or on the other hand, we’re endorsing an extremely consumerist culture.”
The success of a DJ often tends to be determined by undesirable parameters. “It’s like, I just want people to drink and party more — that’s how my success ends up being validated,” declares Gowri. She’s quick to add, “I don’t mean to sound like a prude, I’m the biggest promoter of decadence.”
There’s a caveat to that too, however, as she continues, “But I just don’t like that everything has a money angle to it. You say it’s all about freedom, and critique the system, and you realise this includes conglomerates selling cigarettes or grub or something or the other.” For now, the music is very much a personal quest. “I’m searching for the truth in all of this,” she admits. “What is the rebellion all about when the rebellion itself is contributing to such a huge market. Now I’m very confused.”
Minding the gap
The rebel in her is deeply ingrained, says Gowri, now a few months short of turning 32. Born in Trivandrum, she spent four years in Chennai, and about 10 years for the rest of her schooling in Delhi, before moving to Pune. “I grew up with the idea that rebellion was cool — the rock ‘n’ roll thing resonated with me, and many others in my generation,” she says.
“I do feel I have a role to perform in the middle of all this.” And there’s no dearth of subject matter — “Black money is so hip,” for instance. But she’s careful to realise she can’t afford to say anything too loud. “I am scared. I get scared of rats and cockroaches. But even a scared person needs to speak their mind.”
The dream thus implies humouring her inner child, while being careful about it. “There’s a lot of childishness with which I decide on things, and sometimes I say things just because someone says I can’t — I do a lot of that,” she confesses.
“Urban slang grants us the privilege of innuendo,” she offers, by way of justifying some of her lyrics. “It sure makes me seem all strong and ‘feminist-y’, but I am actually scared,” she adds. “I will speak my mind, but if you put me in the middle of a bunch of drunk guys on a street in the middle of the night, I’ll probably not say a word, and slink away in the shadows. It’s just like that.”
The Pulpy Shilpy EP is expected in October. Visit gowrijayakumar.com and follow @kozmicow on Facebook.
— Jaideep Sen