The American-born Indian uses her Indian roots to create music.
Svetha Rao adopted the name Raja Kumari when her hands fell on the Fugees’ album ‘The Score’, opening up the world of hip-hop to her. She started off her music career as a freestyle MC at the age of 14 and has since expanded her profile to include the titles songwriter, rapper and recording artist to her credit.
Even though she was born and brought up in California, she never let her Indian roots disappear. Instead, she chose to let it define her, creating a fusion of a personality. She learnt three forms of classical dance forms and toured through India while giving performances. She is even involved in a lot of philanthropy work, right from her childhood. Through her performances, she has raised money to build a hospital in Bangalore and a meditation hall in South India for the Vegesna Foundation, a school for physically disabled children.
She only started creating music after she turned 15 and began writing songs after graduating from college. After kickstarting her music career by collaborating with other artists, she co-wrote, featured in, and performed background vocals in several hit tracks such as ‘Centuries’ by ‘Fall Out Boys’, ‘Brave Enough’ by ‘Lindsey Stirling’, ‘Set Me Free’ for Baz Luhrmann’s original Netflix series ‘The Get Down’, and ‘Iggy Azalea’s Grammy-nominated album The New Classic’. She even contributed to songs in albums by ‘Gwen Stefani’, and ‘Dirty South’.
However, when she saw Iggy Azalea’s ‘Bounce’, she felt a sudden change. “I saw her wearing the golden kireedam [a crown-like headpiece]. You know I wear a kireedam when I play Lalita or Saraswati or Lakshmi. But you’re Iggy Azalea, you don’t get to wear a kireedam without understanding what that is. It just woke me up, because I swear a lot of the details of that video I had written in my journal for years. I had wanted to do it. And then just seeing someone put on my culture like a costume, it was like “my culture is your gimmick” and I’m just not playing that way anymore. But you know with Selena and Beyoncé, I can’t blame them because we haven’t provided someone to teach. We haven’t given anyone an option of an Indian person up there in the American mainstream to expose the Western people to [the culture]. I know they’re infatuated and they’re interested, and I can’t blame them because it is beautiful. Indian culture is human culture it’s human history for all of us to share but you can’t pick up little pieces and not understand,” she said in an interview with Paper Mag.
Her idea of making fusion music doesn’t mean to add a flute or tabla into the track, just because, or even just using Bollywood samples. Instead, what she wants is to bring together the rhythms of classical music to hip-hop motifs; something that has been beautifully put across in her debut single, Mute.
What she hopes, is to be an inspiration to those Indian kids who desperately wish to be American. In a recent video uploaded on Uproxx, you hear her talk about how she has to constantly fight for every bit of culture that she adds into her music. While assimilating herself to the American lifestyle, she never gave up her inherent ‘Indianness’ and that is something she feels is important in order to bridge the two cultures. But most importantly, Kumari wants to be a face for Indian kids like herself who were searching for someone who looked like them in popular culture. “I want to be the artist that I needed as a child,” she shares.
Check out her website to find out more about her. In the meantime, check out her new single:
Show her some love people! She’s on her way to greatness 🙂