Raja Kumari opens up about her album, The Bridge, her fashion choices, and more
As Raja Kumari, releases her first full-length independent album, The Bridge, under her label Godmother Records, it calls for nothing short of a royal interview.
Be it her eclectic fashion choices, or her songs, international sensation Raja Kumari always leaves us in awe. Our eyes have been on this American rapper, singer and songwriter since she rocked the stage with Ali Sethi singing Pasoori at Coachella this April. And it goes without saying, social media went bonkers with videos of their power-packed act.
As Svetha Yallapragada Rao, who goes by the moniker Indian Princess or Raja Kumari, releases her first full-length independent album, The Bridge, under her label Godmother Records, it calls for nothing short of a royal interview.
“This album is my humble offering to Goddess Saraswati. It is a labour of love, passion and something that I genuinely believe in and have been working for a long time now,” tells the spunky artiste. The recently released music video of Born to Win, a song from the album, had us drooling over the bits and pieces of India she recreated from her childhood days, and glimpses of her parents and family. Lyrics like “This was destiny/What else did you expect from me/I’ll do it effortlessly” will surely resonate with all who are aspiring to pursue their dreams. We talk to Raja Kumari about her album, her singing journey, her fashion choices and more.
Tell us about The Bridge.
This album is a fully thought-out one, and I hope people listen to it the way the songs have been listed, to enjoy the full experience. The Bridge not only takes you from the West back to the East, but also goes back to the ancient past like Babylon, Lovesick, La India, and a lot of love songs to the Almighty. I have sung songs on love for the very first time, so I feel that it is a very different project.
The album has nine tracks, which are kind of broken into three acts — the first part is a little about the fear instilled during the pandemic, raps and discussions, and it is the Raja Kumari that everybody knows; the middle part is the love songs, talking about self-love; and it ends with the elevated pop records about things at large. Honestly, I would love to give the songs in the last section to Beyonce, but I sang them myself. If you see the journey from Babylon to Fearless, you will understand how much further can we take our music scene!
What went into creating this album?
I started working on this project during the pandemic, so I call this album my ‘pandemic baby.’ If you look at the credits, you can see there are only a few people working on each song. Only in one or two songs you will find more people. This album was made only to be listened to in its studio version because I wasn’t sure if we would get a stage again, to perform. So, I think it’s a very honest, vulnerable and introspective project. It’s a grown-up project, I would say.
Would you say the album is influenced by Indian classical music and culture?
Always. That’s the foundation of my art. I am lucky to have been trained in classical dance forms — Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi — since childhood, which became the base for my understanding of the Indian culture. I danced five hours a day and toured India with my guru when I was 10. But I was never vocally trained in Carnatic music, so I think, through my creations I always try to recreate the sounds that I know. So, it’s always been a fusion. You can’t separate Indian culture from my music, since that’s the context and foundation for the same. I love whatever I create, because it is the greatest version of myself.
What made you shift from being a dancer to a musician?
I don’t think there has been a shift as such. There are no walls between the art forms. I always used to mimic musical instruments, and was fascinated by the ghatam, veena, and flute. The flute is my favourite instrument, and you get to listen to it a lot in my album. For me, Lovesick is written like a padam (a Bharatanatyam piece). It feels like a modern version of a gopika longing for Krishna, and he plays the flute to tease her. A classical dance body can create an entire Kurukshetra. The song is a representation of a dance number that I would have loved to create on stage, and you can feel that with the choice of instruments. Till the age of 16, classical dance was everything, but in high school, music became an act of rebellion for me. It was like the beginning of two identities, and the album was an integration of all those things.
How was your experience with Ali Sethi at Coachella?
It was amazing, especially on such a large stage as Coachella! Just to be invited was a great thing, and to sing Pasoori on stage was the cherry on the cake. The song has united so many people, and we celebrated this song for being able to cross boundaries in so many ways. To be on that stage holding hands with Ali and singing in Urdu was a beautiful moment for both of us.
What’s your style of music?
I can’t define it, but I think of it as just global music. You can’t separate Indian culture from my music, since that’s the context and foundation for the same. I think my listeners would be able to categorise it better. But, I love whatever I create, because it is the greatest version of myself.
What kind of listener are you?
I am the worst kind. I listen to music in a very analytical way. But some tracks do transcend my analytical mind and force me to listen on a loop. I often listen to my friends’ playlist — they make amazing playlists of Afro-pop, Punjabi songs by AP Dhillon and such. I just listen to everything that catches my attention. And most importantly, I listen to full albums, not individual tracks. What I listen to every day are mantras, Shiva Tandavas and so on.
Do you feel there is a dearth of women rappers across India?
In India, there should be more opportunities. I try to advocate for the same as much as possible and create opportunities because it doesn’t feel right that I am the only woman rapper around. I think India needs to catch up with what is happening outside. There can’t be only one person representing a field; there needs to be space for many more. When I visited India back in 2016-17, there weren’t many, but I am just proud to see more female artistes performing, collaborating, at festivals. I want to do an all-female festival some time.
You’ve always created a buzz with your edgy fashion statements. Tell us about your fashion.
Right now, I am really into wide-legged trousers paired with French-tucked shirts. I am into a lot of tailored-fit stuff. I have got rid of a lot of things in my closet and have invested in couture pieces. I wear a lot of Dhruv Kapoor. On any normal day, I would throw on a t-shirt, pair it with a nice oversized jacket, wear a pair of hoops, put on some make-up, and I am good to go. My style is chic and subtle at the moment. I have fun dressing up, and I think the red carpet and music videos are great opportunities to go crazy on fashion and styling.
Your upcoming projects?
I don’t believe in abandoning a project one week after I release it.This album took me a long time, and a lot of people have put their best foot forward, and I feel it deserves to be released properly. People have to listen to the audio, and then I am going to drop the visuals that I have already started, and thereafter I will perform it on tours in a theatrical way.
Twitter: @Dharitri Ganguly