Photo Credit: Sasha Samsonova
Write Up By Kelly Holm
Within the last five years, Raja Kumari has penned tunes for A-listers such as Iggy Azalea, Fifth Harmony, Gwen Stefani and Fall Out Boy, just to name a few. You may have even heard tracks she has recorded for a number of Bollywood and Tamil-language films. Yet, despite her work behind the scenes in the music industry, Kumari hopes to leave her own mark as a solo artist.
Journeying from writing music for others to writing music for herself, Raja tells us, “I needed to find my own voice first. I love writing for other people and helping my words become a passageway for what they’re feeling. She continues, “This gave me the confidence that I could [share] my own thoughts, beliefs and values with the world.”
When it comes to expressing herself musically, Kumari’s Indian culture is paramount, from training in Shastriya Nritya (classical dance) all the way to lighthearted references of curry in songs like “Mute.” “Mute” was the first song she ever performed live. “I didn’t know what to expect. I walked out to the festival crowd and saw smiling faces and people singing the words to my song back,” says Kumari. “That has never happened before and for it to happen in India was mind blowing.”
Being an up and coming musician is one challenge, but “being a South Asian woman in a white, male dominated industry,” is another challenge according to Raja. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded with people who uplift me and encourage me to keep forging a path for myself and other marginalized communities.”
From the lecture halls of UCR where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Religious Studies to the much larger auditorium of the Staples Center where she was nominated for a Grammy, you could say that Raja is multifaceted. She has a successful songwriting career under her belt and now she’s venturing off onto her own journey as a solo artist. Her latest project, Bloodline, is her second EP and was released through Epic Records earlier this year.
“‘Bloodline’ was a major period of growth for me. These were the songs that I needed to hear, and messages I needed to believe in during this time of my life to get me through,” she said. “It’s reflected in the tone and lyrics of the music- these are battle anthems.”
We see this type of reflection in Kumari’s track “Robin Hood,” the third track on Bloodline with lyrics like, “We had to spring from the ground / In the heart of a tiger, pride is fuel for the fire,” Kumari prophesies. “We have to leave the bullets to the liars / Mankind have to eat to survive, yeah.”
One of Kumari’s favorites off the EP is “Karma” because of its straightforward lyrical message: “Treat people well and people will treat you well. Otherwise, best of luck my friend. Karma comes in your sleep.” comments Kumari. She then goes onto say that “Shook” is a song off the EP that “the fans always turn up the loudest to.”
You may be wondering how Kumari’s religious degree corresponds to her becoming a songwriter and musician, but as many humanities undergrads will tell you, just because your major doesn’t directly relate to your career, doesn’t mean there is no application. While part of her spiritual practice is to pray before every show, her motivations for entering the music biz are rooted in a higher purpose as well.
“I was involved in a lot of charity work, but realized I wasn’t inspiring change at the level I wanted,” she said. “I went to an *NSYNC show and noticed the changes they were able to make with their platform… I realized I needed to be a pop star to achieve my goals of giving back.”
One act of service she hopes to accomplish with her music is to break down harmful stereotypes.
“My goal as a musician is to decolonize the mind and break down the stigma of Indian people around the world,” Kumari said. “For most people, their main generalization of India is Apu from the Simpsons, and we as Indian people have so much to offer culturally across [the] globe.” She hopes that other up-and-coming musicians will seek to combat cultural stigmas as well.
“Be that person who pushes the boundaries and defies the odds,” she says.
Other future aspirations of hers include collaborating with Beyonce and performing at the Grammys.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say I’ve truly made it,” she said. “We constantly push our own goal posts forward to evolve and create.”
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