HomeAmericasInterviewGodmother Records Created To Make A Safe Space For Women: Raja Kumari

Godmother Records Created To Make A Safe Space For Women: Raja Kumari

Godmother-Records-Created-To-Make-A-Safe-Space-For-Women-Raja-Kumari. India West

Godmother Records Created To Make A Safe Space For Women: Raja Kumari

Photo : Indian American rapper/singer/songwriter Raja Kumari is set to perform at ‘BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!’ festival – the longest-running, free performing arts festival in New York City – on July 22. (Amit Gupta photo)


LOS ANGELES, CA – Blending Indian classical music with American-style hip-hop beats is a feat that few have attempted, and far fewer have succeeded in taking it mainstream like Raja Kumari. Known for her authenticity, fearless self-expression, and infusing her dual cultural identity in her music, over the years, the Indian American songwriter, singer, and rapper has built a distinct identity in the U.S., and in India.

Raja Kumari India West
Raja Kumari, who has launched her independent label called Godmother Records, told India-West: “In my experience pushing myself through so many record deals…I saw the gamut of issues women face. Luckily, my American audacity helped me bypass so much of it.” (Nick Belohlavy photo

Earlier this year, the Grammy-nominated rapper from Claremont, CA, not only performed at Coachella, but also collaborated with John Legend to create a powerful anthem, “Keep Walking,” as part of the Walkers & Co. Tour and performed live with him in India.

Although Raja Kumari, aka Svetha Rao, grew up studying Indian classical dance and music, she was also drawn to hip-hop early on.

Her collaboration with artists like Fifth Harmony, Gwen Stefani and Iggy Azalea brought her widespread recognition when she won a BMI Pop Award for co-writing Fall Out Boy’s hit, “Centuries.”

In 2021, she performed her single, “N.R.I.,” at an Asian American inaugural ball for President Biden that also saw participation from pop superstars like Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez. Her track, “Goddess,” in collaboration with Krewella and NERVO, featured in the recently released superhero series, “Ms. Marvel.”

Among her many accolades was a nomination for the ‘Best Indian Act’ at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2022 for her single, “Made in India,” which featured Bollywood star Madhuri Dixit-Nene.

For a brief period, she moved to India where she joined forces with Indian talents such as rapper Divine to create impactful music.

Raja Kumari is celebrating yet another career milestone: she has launched her own independent label, Godmother Records.

And she is now set to perform at ‘BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!’ festival at the Lena Horne Bandshell in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, July 22. The 45th edition of the longest-running, free performing arts festival in New York City will run through Aug. 24.

India-West spoke to Raja Kumari where she delved into the inspiration behind her new album, her hopes for Godmother Records and South Asian representation and her journey thus far.

A: How excited are you to perform at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! festival? What can fans expect?

A: Honestly, I’m so excited to bring my live show to America. Some of my biggest shows have been in India, and my connection with my American fanbase has been online. So, to be able to put my show on stage at such an amazing festival that’s going to be celebrating South Asian music is amazing. Ali Sethi, for example, is one of my favorite artists. I was able to perform with him at Coachella. I’m just excited to bring my stage show to Brooklyn with my band, and I’ll be performing songs from my new album, “The Bridge,” as well as some other fan-favorite records that I’ve done throughout my career.

Q: Could you talk to me a little bit about the origins of “The Bridge,” and what it means to you?

A: Well, “The Bridge” is primarily a pandemic album. I started working on it in August 2020 in my home with my COVID pod, which was four people. It was my engineer Nacho and his roommate Karan, who would end up being my producers, as well as my childhood best friend Birdie, and we wrote all my original music together. This was a return to my roots in a lot of ways. This album was made without the audience in mind, not thinking, ‘Oh, this will turn into this many views.’ It was really made for the therapy of it, for the art of it, and for the purpose to just express. “The Bridge” is one version of myself to who I am now, and it follows the journey of my healing and self-love. During the pandemic, I think all of us stayed still for the first time. The journey of self-love brought me to the place where I released my first love songs on this album. The album culminates with a song called “Fearless,” which in all its entirety is a pop song that in my songwriting days I would have viewed as a golden opportunity and would have tried to give to the most popular singer of the time. With this album, I decided that I would keep the song and I would sing it because it meant a lot to me. So, this album is THE BRIDGE from ancient to the future. It’s an attempt to bring the ideas that are so dear to me from our ancient culture and that are still present today, and from the West back to the East. For those people that are curious about the East, I hope that they can listen to this album and understand some ideas and perspectives and hear some different sounds. Music is the bridge between us and God, so this album has a lot of spirituality in it, and I think a lot of people are afraid to talk about God. With this album, I decided to be fearless.

Q: With your name and your music, you make it very clear as to who and what you are. What do you consider the turning point in your career and how do you view the journey that you’ve made so far?

A: I feel like my career is a series of milestones that had I not accomplished, I wouldn’t have been where I am today. The first really big milestone was moving to India, taking that risk, and believing in my music and the platform that was available to me at the time that I got signed in the U.S. When I got signed in the U.S., there weren’t many South Asian stories being told. There wasn’t a lot of space for my music to be synced the way that it is today. I think another turning point for me would be leaving the major label scene after seven years and making my own label, being in control of my own music, owning my masters, and controlling my publishing. This is a very liberated space and a very powerful space that really sets the tone for my music and the future because now I can really take risks on songs that I believe in. There’s nobody between me and the music. I think the biggest milestone in my career now is creating Godmother Records.

Q: What kind of music would you be producing under Godmother Records and what would the artist roster look like?

A:  Godmother Records was created to make a safe space for women in music because in my experience pushing myself through so many record deals and ultimately going independent, I saw the gamut of issues that women face. Luckily, my American audacity helped me bypass so much of it. But I don’t think that everyone is made for war. I hope the things that I’ve learned can help me make a safe space where artists can be who they are. I think one of the things that happens in the major label system is comparison, and comparison is the thief of joy. And I feel like artists that are signed on my roster can focus on being a better version of themselves and musicality will be a big focus. A lot of labels are focused on TikTok numbers and making whatever is trending, but I want to create a legacy, and I want to sign artists that are committed to their artistry and their music. It’s a spiritual kind of expression. I want to have artists from all types of genres. As a songwriter, I love to make pop music and rock music, and I’ve been a songwriter on so many incredible songs in America and in India, so I want to make sure that Godmother Records covers all the bases. You won’t just see mini-me’s, there’s going to be a lot of different types of artists.

Q: Are you still based in India?

A: I am between India and Los Angeles, which is how I’ve lived for the last few years. I love to make a joke that in 30 hours, I can go door to door from one house to the other, so India has become a home for me in many ways.

Q: You made a stunning debut at Cannes this year. How important is your identity to you and how has it shaped you as an artist?

A: Cannes Film Festival is such an iconic red carpet. As someone who truly loves fashion almost equally to my music, wearing a custom Manish Malhotra on that red carpet was one of my childhood dreams coming true. The craziest thing about that dress was I never tried it on before I arrived in Cannes. It came straight from India. So, all the credit to Manish Malhotra and my styling team for making sure that it would fit me like a glove. A lot of times I’ve felt like couture was not for me because I wasn’t ‘sample size’ and it was such a glorious moment to try that dress on. It just fit perfectly, and it was so heavy. So being the person that could carry that dress, I was proud of myself. I had such an amazing time representing South Asian culture and being there for Indie Wild with Diipa Khosla and Dolly Singh as someone that inspires me. It was really beautiful that she invited me to be a part of that.

Q: In the last few years, the entertainment industry has made many notable strides and the representation of people of color, and women, but much remains to be done. What are your thoughts on the progress that has been made?

A: First off, I want to say thank you so much. I really appreciate your support. You know, from the time of releasing my first single to today, there are so many more South Asian stories being told, and that creates a platform for more South Asian music to be a part of that. Luckily, I have been here for so many incredible moments in representation, whether it’s been with “Never Have I Ever” or “Wedding Season” or “Miss Marvel,” I have been able to be a part of that. I see so much opportunity coming in the future, and I’m hoping this time period inspires more South Asian creatives to take risk and tell our stories.

For more info on the festival, visit www.bricartsmedia.org/2023-bric-celebrate-brooklyn

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