Praveen Yadav | May 30, 2021 | 0
k o k u m – Singer-songwriter, producer, and creative junkie based in Mumbai
Singer-songwriter, producer and creative junkie k o k u m takes her name from a fruit that grows along the western coastline of her native India. Like her, it has a unique, personal flavor and elevates everything around it.
Based in Mumbai, k o k u m creates original tracks that blend dream pop and hip-hop/R&B elements together into transcendent musical moments that defy description and must be experienced. Her latest song, “Yellow Brick Road,” is a quietly defiant piece of conscious, relevant Art-Hop that speaks to the modern social condition in an emotional and riveting way. She’s been featured in Rolling Stone, A Humming Heart, Wild City, and Indulge Express and can be found in Spotify Editorial playlists like Chill Station and Electronic in India.
Here is k o k u m in a conversation with GOGO Magazine.
1) When did your journey as a musician begin?
The joy of music has always been a part of my life, from film and ad recordings as a child, piano lessons and choirs. But music as a creative medium of expression only came later. I went to boarding school, adolescence and academics took over; I went on to obtain my B.S degree in Cognitive Neuroscience. After years of doing academic research, joining a startup in San Francisco and walking the beaten path so to speak I had a major move. Back in India, with my mum diagnosed with cancer. In helping her recuperate, finding myself and my place, I began feeling compelled to create. It was therapeutic, it was my respite and I only recently have been courageous enough to say – let’s give it a real shot. (Just FYI my mum is alright now, I can say with some major gratitude).
2) What is the story behind the name?
k o k u m is a fruit found along the western coastline of India, an ingredient used extensively in my home food. It’s a very unique flavor that elevates everything it’s added to. I have vivid memories of stealing kokum from the kitchen, secretly adding extra to my mother’s generations-old recipes, because I love it so much! Safe to say kokum wasn’t a feature in my life in America.
Moving back to my home in India, reconnecting with my family, the culture; k o k u m came to be an expression of connection to my home. As creators, and I believe for all people really, success can and should take many different forms, each aspire to their own imaginations of success. k o k u m reminds me where and why this all began.
3) Which was your first song?
The very first song I wrote and sang, was a feature on Joshua Singh’s EP, Understudy. An Pop Electronica song called Day 6. However, my first solo project – performance and production by k o k u m was Floating – an experimental meditative piece inspired by my practice of a Buddhist meditation known as Vipassana.
4) Which has been your most memorable live performance?
I hosted an intimate live show a few days before the nation-wide lockdown due to this coronavirus. I showcased my original songs, unreleased tracks, and alternative covers of existing songs. All strung together with gorgeous live visuals from an artist duo known as Kokoro (Dishant Pradhan & Arunatpal Chanda).
5) How do you manage investment for your music productions?
These days as artists we literally pay for our own product to be consumed. Streaming income is negligible and like any other creative space, the list of new technologies and equipment is endless and expensive. I do make music as my own personal therapy so I’ve come up with a very basic set-up and am immensely grateful for those that appreciate what I put out. I’m developing a series of alternative sources of income around k o k u m and the things I’m interested in, to diversify what I can offer my community. I share my photography, poems and other writing on my website www.dearkokum.live. I am working on launching a unique recipe book featuring a whole lot of kokum of course 😉
6) Who has been your inspiration?
Many people for different things. Musically, folks like Stevie Wonder, and Chance, have been exceptional in their performance and songwriting. My family is exceptional in their sense of values, their grit. My sister lives and works in Germany and is absolutely killing it! She has always been an inspiration. For a piece like Yellow Brick Road – the political situation ignited something. The Black Lives Matter movement is a major inspiration to look toward in the fight for Global Social Justice.
7) What is the creative process like behind your work?
It really depends. Sometimes a silly sound during production will trigger a mood and I’ll freestyle with it and see what happens. Sometimes, in the quiet moments, music and lyrics will just flow. And often I pen down words, thoughts or concepts that strike me for me to go back to and reflect on. Let me share a random one with you. Amateur from Latin “Amare” is to love what it is you do. Having a taste or flair for something and not pursuing it professionally, but simply for the love of it. What a beautiful intention and practice! Go be an amateur at something 🙂
8) Tell us about your latest track. What was the inspiration behind it?
Earlier this year, we witnessed the global demonstrations against police brutality and racism following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who suffocated to death while being arrested. We are no strangers to abuse of authority here in India. Newspapers constantly and indiscriminately cover hate crimes against Dalits and religious minorities. It feels difficult to hope and easy to succumb, especially with my urban privilege. But the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement inspired a voice in me.
Indians suffer a post-colonial hangover marked by colorism- it is no secret that we still struggle with embracing and fighting for our “multi-colored” identities. Our aspirations still lie down a ‘yellow brick road’, with no wizard solving our problems at the end of it or absolving us of the sins we commit along the way. My work titled “Yellow Brick Road” is about the inspirational fight for justice that BLM enables, taking ownership of one’s identity (Queer, religious minorities, caste identities, dark-skinned). The song tries to tackle complex socio-political issues with a wide intersectional lens: my privileged vantage point of these atrocities in India and America, as well as my personal experiences of the colorism prevalent here in India.
9) Which is your most preferred genre?
I can’t answer that because it literally changes on any given day. Even my own stuff ranges from Folk, Singer-Songwriter vibes, to R&B to Electronica; to Art-Hop/Conscious Rap like Yellow Brick Road.
10) How was life in quarantine?
Blessed in that we did not experience a lack of food or security or even the threat of it. But, I think it was a unique challenge: being cooped up definitely takes its toll on you, and the news and propaganda around doesn’t make it easier. That said, it was an opportunity to reimagine socializing, and reflect on it’s worth in our lives. With all the time in the world, in quarantine, you really strip away all the distractions and start to come to terms with yourself, for better or for worse.
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