Raja Kumari: The Singer ‘Made in India’
Like many young girls, Svetha Yellapragada Rao’s life wasn’t in the strata she thought she was in. She wanted to do many things like any normal teen in the 2000’s, but it was difficult for a South Indian girl growing up in America.
Hip-hop queen Raja Kumari’s life story is as interesting as the singer. Trained in Indian classical dance, Bollywood was her window to learning about Indian culture in America. It’s no wonder that she did a cameo in the hit music drama Gully Boy. With numerous songs to her credit, albums, collaboration with various artists, movies, she recently released her latest song Made In India.
Verus Ferreira got chatting with the Grammy-nominated Indian-American singer-songwriter and rapper for her take on Made In India and on her musical journey from America to India.
You started off making hip-hop music infused with a classical Carnatic touch. Tell us more about this.
My entire childhood was spent studying classical Indian dance, so I was immersed in Carnatic music. I got to travel with an eight-piece Carnatic band; the veena player, flute, violin and a Carnatic singer. So, I think it forms the foundation of how I perceive rhythm, sound, and even art itself. So, yes, my music has a Carnatic touch.
While in America your music represented the Indian-American people. Who influenced you in doing this and what was your goal?
What influenced me to do this was the lack of representation. I think now you’re seeing so many Indian-American artists come to the forefront and I think they all came at the same time as me. The idea of beauty was blonde hair, blue eyes and everything. I think that the idea of beauty has shifted a lot. I always credit Kim Kardashian for making curvy brown, dark skin, dark hair, dark features for redefining beauty to accept that, because I think in part of that experience, I was able to see myself in things now, and more people that look like me are being cast. I wanted to see an Indian pop star who didn’t reject her culture and rather celebrated it.
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Verus Ferreira is a freelance music journalist for over three decades, contributing articles to various newspapers and magazines. He is the author of The Great Music Quiz Book and The Great Rock Music Quiz Book. Besides being a music aficionado, he is also a photo-journalist. He contributes to Musicunplugged.in.