From endorsing the power of the feminine energy through music to using songs as a tool for change, rapper Raja Kumari has done it all. In an exclusive interview with The Morning Standard, we speak to Raja Kumari—she was recently in Gurugram with singer John Legend for the last leg of the Walker’s & Co. tour that celebrates their collaboration on the anthem Keep Walking—about all things music and more.
Excerpts from an interview...
You’ve always mentioned ‘culture first’. How do you strike a balance when it comes to staying true to your cultural identity and embracing Western influences in music? I think by definition, my identity is a dual identity. Even though I relate so deeply with my Indian culture, I still was raised in America. So, some of my perspectives, the ways that I approach things, and even some of my sounds are very Western. I think just by staying true to myself and making sure that I always showcase the things that I find most beautiful from the Indian culture in my art, helps me keep pushing forward and creating something new.
You thoroughly endorse the power of the feminine energy. With Bindis & Bangles, you put together an all-female crew. Even your label Godmother Records is one of the many ways you advocate for women to be seen and heard in this space. What has pushed you to fight this fight for women, who are oft-ignored in a male-dominated music industry? Also, how important are platforms like Walkers & Co.? We live in this era of show and prove, and even if you have the potential, the idea, and the ambition, it really takes a platform to invest and believe in your vision. I think the tenets of Walkers & Co. being collaboration, co-creation, and community. I feel like that matches with how I make my art… I am a very collaborative artist. In Bindis & Bangles, it was very clear that I collaborated with Sam Madhu on the visuals of the piece. When you look at my work, I am always known to credit everyone because it is not something that can be easily done by yourself. I feel like with what we were able to accomplish on the Walkers & Co. tour, I would not have been able to do it without my team, that is female-led.
Talk to us about your collaboration with John Legend for Keep on Walking—you have co-created and co-written the song with him. How was the experience like working with him? My collaboration with John Legend is going to be a high point in my career. When I was approached for this, I was so excited… I happened to be in Los Angeles and was able to make it happen very quickly. And, I walked in to meet John… within four hours, we had met each other, connected, written this song, and recorded it. For me, if it can be done that easily, there’s something really special about it. I think the most special thing was internal validation for myself. I had been out of America for a few years, primarily working in the Indian region. And, I am a global artist, so, I think it is easy to forget sometimes how much impact you can have and what your training has prepared you for. And being in that room with a 12-time Grammy award winner, and being a Grammy nominee myself, and wondering ‘does that still matter?’... Just being able to contribute to the record and have a good time… it confirmed my confidence in myself and my writing again, and encouraged me to push further. It is probably my most ambitious offering, and it was exhilarating.
What’s your take on using music as a tool for social change? I think it is the most powerful tool; no matter what language you speak or where you come from, people can relate to music. If you can find a way to say what you want to say about something through your lyrics, visuals, and what you do on stage, that is the most powerful way to inspire minds and change perspectives.
What inspires you to keep walking? My fans.. and my number one fan is me. The music that I make means something to me, and to find out that it means something to so many people is humbling. So, anytime I feel like quitting, I realise there are so many people that love this music that I am making and are a part of this journey with me.