Musicians Divine, Raja Kumari talk about Mumbai and music over delicious food
Musicians Divine and Raja Kumari talk about embracing Mumbai and weigh in on the country's evolving hip-hop scene
Dressed in a self-designed jacket that features Krishna and Meerabai, Svetha Rao aka Raja Kumari is early at Cin Cin for lunch and a chat with rapper Vivian Fernandes aka Divine. Rao, an Indian rapper from LA who moved base to the city two years ago, tells us that she is now used to people turning up late. She orders an avocado crostini, insalata di rucola, garaganelli pasta and malt orange fresh mojito to will time.
"I love this salad, I am going to take a second helping and tell myself, 'It's salad, it's okay,'" she jokes when Fernandes walks in, dressed in denim shorts and a grey tee. The duo, who have collaborated on projects, quickly get into the zone and bond over their love for the city and hip-hop. Excerpts:
Dhara: How did you get into hip-hop, especially rap?
Vivian: For fun! It was cool to know the verses by heart and show off in front of your friends. But I fell in love with hip-hop and never looked back.
Svetha: I was surrounded by it and I had all these female artistes around me. It was very natural for me to take it up; it just kind of happened. My training in Indian classical dance also helped me understand the rhythm. Two years ago, when I came to India, I realised that there is so much more to understand and take in. That's why I moved here, because I thought it would be hypocritical to sing about the life here and not be a part of it.
Vivian: When I heard the taal in her song, I was mind-blown. A lot of guys in America claim to do Indian music but I don't like their work.
Svetha: I am lucky that I spent so much time in India in my youth. I used to come here every summer. But their access to Indian culture is limited. They only know their Bollywood, or what comes through that. They are only expressing what they know.
Vivian: They say they know and represent India, but they don't. They all live in mansions in LA or London and talk about Punjab, and rolling in the Pind. Bro, you are not. Most of my country is not like that. The girls don't like the stuff that you are doing. That's what I am against. Gully music is eternal.
Dhara: Why so?
Vivian: It's because you are talking about real things and problems in everyday life.
Dhara: Where are the women in the hip-hop scene of our country?
Vivian: It's the whole scene, not just hip-hop. I feel that even the boys didn't really express themselves when I started. You couldn't choose this as a career. It was very alien to the scene. Plus, we were doing it in the local language - people found it funny to make gully hip-hop. Now they know that there are brands coming in, there are shows, labels are approaching us, and there's money. There was nothing at first, so how could women come out?
When you are 18 years old, your mom wants you to do something with your life, whether you are a man or a woman. It's harder for women because we come from Indian families. And hip-hop is the last thing an Indian mom wants to see her daughter do. They think hip-hop is drugs, showing your body, it's what you see on TV. It will take a couple of years before they understand the ethos of hip-hop.
Svetha: It just takes exposure. I spent my formative years in LA and there were a lot of strong women musicians. I grew up listening to Lauryn Hill. I got to go to studios and see badass girls. It's about seeing yourself in them and knowing that that is a possibility. Even for me, when I saw M. I. A. at Coachella, I realised that it could be me, too. Now I have girls come up to me and tell me that they showed my music video to their parents and they let them take music classes.
Vivian: I haven't seen a face that women can relate to (in India). It's easier when you have someone to look up to and get inspired by.
Diavola pizza comes in.
Svetha: Oh my god! That's what you ordered? It's huge! I've got to eat dessert too.
Vivian: It is quite good.
Svetha: I loved the crostini. Anything with avocado is good.
Dhara: Where do you feel hip-hop in India is headed to now?
Svetha: Mainstream, but not selling out.
Vivian: I feel the quality will be better in the next two to three years, including my music. But people need to educate themselves and understand what they need to do to make better music. You can't sit in a gully and expect one Zoya Akhtar to come by and make a film on you.
Fave street food...
Divine: Misal and bhurji pav, pani puri, sev puri, anything crunchy.
Svetha: Pani puri, every fricking day. Also, pav bhaji and sweet potato, and jalebi is heaven on earth.
Currently listening to...
Svetha: Going back to the classics - Missy Elliot, Tupac and early Eminem.
Divine: Grime. I'm listening to a lot of stuff from London. Stormzy is very inspiring.
Song that best represents the city of Mumbai...
Svetha: Yeh Mera Bombay [by Divine].
Divine: Aafat by Naezy.
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