The Queen of coming up! Indian-American singer Raja Kumari on singing R&B with Indian twist
R&B singer Raja Kumari talks of manifesting her musical dreams
Raja Kumari. Pic/Madeleine Kobold
It's a different kind of pain when you write songs for other people. So, it's like you sing a song, and put your heart into it, and then the producers ask you, 'oh! That was great. Who is going to sing that?' And in your head you think, me! Who else?" says singer Raja Kumari, who is down from Los Angeles to promote her first album, The Come Up, which was released by Sony and Epic Records last month.'
"The songs in this album are all the songs I couldn't bear to give to some other artist." The songwriter, who has written songs for pop artists such as Iggy Azalea (Change Your Life), Gwen Stefani (Naughty, Loveable) and The Fall Out Boy (Centuries), is creating quite a buzz with her sound and her new song, Mute, which could be called R&B with a heavy dose of Indian instruments and technique. "I think like that. I call it Bollywood!" says the 30-year-old, when we meet her at a cafe in Santa Cruz.
Born and brought up in Claremont, California, Kumari grew up with a doctor father who shifted to the States in the seventies. Her Hyderabadi parents kept her connect with India alive, making sure she took Kuchipudi and Bharatnatyam classes. So even though the musician hasn't ever lived in India, her Indian influences are
Be it her look, which is replete with the maang tikka and Indian jewellery, or her sound. "Sometimes when I visit India, I feel I know more about Indian traditions, than the Indian youth. Maybe it's an emigrant thing — we hold on much more strongly to our customs." She remembers travelling to the Himalayas with her grandmother, and being asked a poignant question, "She asked me why I didn't write about God. That stayed with me, so now, my love songs, really, are for God!"
But it was listening to Lauryn Hill, as a part of the Fugees, and their first album The Score, that made Kumari realise that it was that kind of sound she was going to make her own. "If you listen to Hill's songs, she just doesn't talk to women. It's not all about 'girls run the world', which is good of course, but she appeals to everyone. My songs talk to the women as well as the men," she says.
But, it has not been an easy journey, getting The Come Up to release. LA is a place packed with singer/songwriters, everyone who is looking for a chance to either sing themselves, or get a famous name to buy their song. "Yeah, it's tough, but the key is to keep writing. Never stop. Just get into a room and write, and one day, it will click." She also believes in the power of manifesting good things into her life. "So here I was writing all these songs for other people, all the while imagining this scenario where my album was out, imagining me coming to India for a tour. I saw it before it happened, and I wrote about it before it happened, that's why the album is called The Come Up."
Right now, as she tours India, she has just wrapped up a song with Indian rap artist Divine, the video for which will hit our screens in the new year. "I don't think India would have seen that kind of a video for a long time coming," she says. She did get a sweet surprise at NH7 recently when people sang along, "There were people in the front who were singing 'haters on hate, I had to put 'em on Mute'. That was a great moment for me."
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