Raveena is a queer, South Asian artist who deals with themes of spirituality and sexuality. She’s someone, she says, who “never existed in mainstream pop music before.” Does she worry that this might alienate potential fans? Not at all. “Obviously it’s a bit more challenging for listeners, but I also think they want to be challenged and want to experience art that lives outside of consumable sound bites,” she says. After two EPs and a debut album in 2019 clear, She felt confident enough to pursue music that is polished, yes, but not impenetrable. “One of my closest friends said this really beautiful thing,” she recalls. “‘You made an album that is so nuanced and complex and has so many different facets and layers and you’ve worked on it for so many years. You have to give people that much time to understand and digest it.’”
Raveena Aurora was born in Queens, New York, to a family who fled their native North India after her maternal uncle was killed in the 1984 Sikh pogrom. “We had a really big Indian family and I grew up with a lot of Sikh culture,” she tells me over a video call from her home in Los Angeles. “I grew up in a very religious home, surrounded by a lot of spiritual people with deep-rooted practices.” Her grandfather used Reiki – a form of energy healing – on her when she had stomach pains. From an early age, Raveena was taught to tune into the language of the otherworldly and supernatural: “My family members all agree that God lives in nature and in space, and I believe that too.”
her second album, Asha’s awakening, combines these spiritual themes with an exploration of their diasporic identity. “I love putting everyone in uncomfortable positions,” she says calmly. “Whether it’s challenging people in the West to welcome South Asians in a new light, or people back home to see women as free, liberated, sexual and queer beings.”
These concepts collide in album opener Rush, which opens the portal to a “colorful, strange, friendly” universe that has been five years in the making. Inspired by science fiction movies, including Flash Gordon and The arrival – along with old Bollywood movies such as pakeezah, and the 1966 drama “campy and fun.” Mrs. X – Raveena imagines a space princess from ancient Punjab who transcends time to learn about love, loss, healing and destruction. “I’ve noticed with a lot of older Hollywood sci-fi productions that the alien characters’ costumes were reminiscent of oriental clothing,” she says, “which led me to realize that they were kind of looking at us as aliens.”
Fresh off the Coachella stage and also booked for this Friday, Raveena is now part of a small group of Indian-origin artists who will perform a solo set at the free-spirited, two-week-long extravaganza in California. she Asha’s awakening Collaborator, Grammy-winning rapper Vince Staples also makes an appearance: Their song “Secrets” is “an homage to that early 2000s sound,” fronted by Timbaland, Missy Elliot, MIA and Jai Paul.
It’s a sound that permeates the album, seething alongside influences from celebrated Indian musicians such as RD Burman and Asha Bhosle, and pioneering jazz artists Alice Coltrane and Asha Puthli. Raveena’s falsetto sounds clear as ever, but she also swoons in a swoon on “Kismet,” along with soft, confident verses sung in Hindi and experimenting with Indian instruments like the harp black mandal. Heavier bass lines thump to the beat of their protagonist’s wild heart, building up midway through the album when the energy turns reflective. Once she realizes “Time Flies”, the heroine of Asha’s awakening emerges healed from the “heartache of outgrowing people” and “the trauma of abuse.” Then her voice is a prayer, a low whisper – telling of nights of heavenly heights – the sound of peace.
The character of Asha was originally conceived for a comic book that Raveena created with the help of a professional illustrator. Her journey to self-love is aligned with the tones of desi-futurism: “Everyone in the diaspora trying to connect different points of heritage, influence and culture is essentially practicing desi-futurism in some way,” she explains a genre increasingly associated with South Asian artists abroad. “Obviously there are so many different stories to tell within the diaspora, there are so many different experiences within each region. But I think with every experience comes a beautiful mosaic.”
During Asha’s awakening begins with the rhythmic stirrings of “Rush” and the sultry hip-hop airs of “Secret,” ending with a 15-minute guided meditation, “Let Your Breath Become a Flower.” Raveena structured the album exactly like this, with the intention that it pays homage to her South Asian history that intersects with Western culture: “Starting with really happy, colorful, sensual, free songs and ending with introspective and spiritual ones.”
She seems unimpressed by the fact that she was named “one to watch” by various publications at the beginning of the year. “I just feel like getting caught in the cyclone of all this is really detrimental to your sanity as an artist,” she says. She prefers to remain detached from how her art is perceived by others: “I had no idea I was going to be so gay, and so outspoken about who I am, and it’s met with a lot of resistance.” But every time, when she nudges the bear, it’s not without asking herself, “What the hell is that going to make people feel?”
Asha’s Awakening is available now. Raveena is playing the Coachella Festival on April 22nd
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/raveena-interview-coachella-ashas-awakening-b2057358.html Raveena: “I had no idea I would be so gay and so loud about who I am”