Raveena spotlights her dynamic heritage of Indian ancestry and an American upbringing to curate a new-age sound of music. Her mission is to tell her truth while championing the influence of the South Asian diaspora to the Western world.
Amongst all the galaxies and the unknown beyond our physical state, Raveena Aurora is embracing a fruitful and authentic journey, one that she describes as bigger than all of those. There are very few artists that are faced with the challenge of journeying through the road least explored, paving representation to her Indian heritage in a Western culture that is also heavily influenced by South Asian traditions. She is gracefully portraying her roots by drawing in both her love for Bollywood sounds and traditional R&B, Jazz, and soul music. Born and raised between Queens, New York, and Connecticut, as a first-generation descendant of Reiki healers and genocide survivors, she turned to music at an early age which provided as a form of healing to herself, and now to hundreds-of-thousands of listeners around the world.
As she joins me in the late morning via Zoom, I was surprised to find that her spoken voice was almost identical to her singing, soft and poised yet firm in her beliefs.
The rollercoaster of being a creative in a space such as music can be frantic but every morning for Raveena starts the same; meditation and affirmations. A practice she says is the greatest grounding force in her life.
Being a part of a big family with traditional Sikh practices, one of Raveena’s earliest memories was when she was around two years old. Living in a small apartment in Queens, there was a tiny television in the corner with only two English films, The Lion King and Cool Runnings, which Raveena’s Grandmother would play all day. There wasn’t room for toys or other items to watch but it was those small moments that have kept her grounded. Music was always very prevailing in her childhood, her parents were shower singers, with music echoing throughout the household. Attending church services that engraved her love for the art and its ability to take you through every emotion, graciously.
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Although it wasn’t until a school trip to the Apollo Theatre, New York when a 10-year-old Raveena discovered her calling. In a place where legendary musicians started their career, from Billy Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder, Raveena was absorbing all of the historical greats and learning the place it has had in music. She was shy and introverted as a kid so when she took the stage and performed in front of her peers on the trip, she knew there and then at that moment, that this is what she is meant to do.
Her teacher also picked up on this turning point for Raveena and began teaching her starry-eyed student about musical greats like Billy Holiday, which commenced her voyage into Jazz music. “I would lock myself in the bathroom and sing for around 5 hours a day, trying to imitate these jazz artists, their tone, presence, and expression. I love how much pain was expressed at the same time as being joyful and uplifting.” One of the first jazz songs Raveena fell in love with and now feels like home to the 27-year-old musician is Ella Fitzgerald’s Cry Me A River, which completely changed the way she viewed music and offered her a realisation of utilising all the different avenues of music around her.
This came with its own pillars, her heritage meant that culturally it was out of the ordinary for Raveena to be a performer, causing a wave of hesitation amongst her family. The only solution was that she had to disdain all reluctance, so she put in the work.
Officially emerging into music in 2017, she was releasing a magnitude of self-funded projects, including the EP, Shanti. Another turning point for her was it gained the approval of her family, the South Asian Diaspora, Western listeners, and the music industry retrospectively. Raveena’s family has always been an important driving force in her journey, she says “I was raised to be happy with very little and to focus on being kind and grateful. They still emphasise that a lot which is what I need in this industry sometimes.”
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After breaking into the scene and having the attention of a global audience, Raveena delved deeper into the meaning of authenticity and how she can project and internalise self-love. So, in 2017 she shared that she was bisexual, an experience she described as terrifying as a south Asian woman but also exciting to explore her new space within the LGTBQ+ community. “There were a lot of challenges coming out as a South Asian woman. But at the same time, it was beautiful to see how it challenged a lot of my family members’ views and the possibilities of how we can live. Coming out was important to me to feel how I can go about love and my personal fulfilment.”
Fast-forward to 2022, and she has released her first album under a major music label titled Asha’s Awakening. The direction of this project feels more outward-looking to her past releases, focusing and creating the story of a space princess from ancient Punjab, adventuring through centuries of loss, love, and destiny. The album does pay attention and bring to the forefront Raveena’s South Asian heritage, harmonising and singing in soft, silky Hindu, exploring the high-pitched sounds of a guitar and using the traditional sounds of the tabla to curate a shimmering, colourful new-age way of music.
Although to fans and music critics the album explores a more deep-seated South Asian-inspired sound to what they are usually used to, she describes the album as being in the same universe as her 2019 LP, Lucid but living on a different planet. This analogy is perfect for the songstress who interweaves the roots of her music to magical realism and an ethereal sense of being in spirituality and love. “I grew a lot from this album in terms of being more comfortable as an artist, bolder in the way I take risks and I am so unapologetically myself.”
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She continues, “it is about personal growth and how can I challenge myself as an artist, I think this album was me doing all of that as a musician, producer, performer, and visual artist.” All great, pivotal projects are usually years in the making, this album is no exception to that, curated over the course of 4 years, the first track, Rush, was written back in 2017. With the expectation that the album after Lucid would tackle the cultural work needed to be done to bring South Asian representation to the masses.
Integrating where she was raised and traditional Hindi music has always been a conscious decision for Raveena, constructing a slightly more challenging journey. Of course, it would have been easier to explore the route of only making traditional R&B, Pop, and Soul music to Western audiences, but recognising the influences of the South Asian diasporas to the Western world is vital to who she is. From food, clothing, music, and now new-age Western spirituality directly drawing from practices in the South Asian community, she wants to portray how much there is for her to be proud of.
“There is so much cross-cultural exchange, but we are not very in tune with it because there has been such little South Asian representation in music. We have been subconsciously taught as South Asian people to make ourselves a simile and separate our culture or pass off as racially ambiguous,” explains the singer.
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Even as she integrates both cultures, she recognises the challenges and pillars that have brought together two very different audiences from all corners of the world. The immediate reaction from listeners when she toyed with her Indian heritage was that of shock and being “too cultural”, something that Raveena was keen to nip in the bud at an early stage. She wanted to make the album so infectious and deep-rooted in Bollywood and Hollywood, that all those walls would naturally be knocked down, curating real music for the diaspora and her western roots.
As we now come into our ‘new normal’ post- Covid, Raveena is getting ready to get back to where she feels most at home, live performing. With her USA 2022 tour fast approaching, she professes that there is no other feeling in the world like being on stage, the energy, theatrics, and the art of it provides a euphoria for Raveena, which is channelled through the energetic change of tone in her voice as we draw a close to our conversation. My last question to Raveena, ‘what is your legacy?’, she seems somewhat taken aback by the intensity of the question but eager and assured to answer, “I am realising more and more that being and having the heritage that I have is going to create a very different musical path than anyone I know.
“So, I can’t compare myself to anyone else’s journey, but my whole theme of life is that I have gone to the beat of my own drum. What I want for people when they look back at my work Is that I created these worlds that are so unique to me and my own experiences, and a very singular thing that existed in time.”
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