Words by Amber X. Chen
photographs by Shubham Lodha
styling by Reva Bhatt
Through her hypnotic, soulful music, the Indian-American singer is imagining a Desi-futurist world that celebrates queerness, builds community, and empowers radical self-love.
I was first introduced to the dreamy sounds of Raveena Aurora at the beginning of the pandemic. The soft vocals on her song “Headaches” about the ambivalence one feels when falling into an unexpected romance had me under a spell.
I was spending a lot of time alone in quarantine, walking to the park where I’d lay on the grass and play her gentle, hypnotic music on loop. For me and many others, the discography of Raveena Aurora—who goes by the mononymous Raveena—remains for these moments of calming solitude: meditative late nights and slow mornings.
When I met Raveena earlier this year at Yuko Kitchen—a Japanese restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles adorned with colorful murals and overrun by plants—the South Asian pop star looked like a space-fairy donning chic green-grape earrings, pink heart-shaped sunglasses, and a mesh turtleneck streaked with pink and purple. Raveena, soft-spoken and charismatic, radiated that same calming, grounding energy ever so present in her music.
It was no surprise to me, then, that Raveena has long been on a spiritual journey, one that has shaped every part of her music career alongside her identity as a queer South Asian woman, which drives her commitment to building community based in love and compassion; values that stand in sharp contrast to the elitist and exploitative entertainment industry she is a part of. Yet existing in all of these contradictions is exactly what Raveena does best. It’s what has allowed her—through music—to carve out a regenerative space for herself and her fans in the midst of it all.
It’s been a little over a year since Raveena’s sophomore studio album, Asha’s Awakening, was released, and she’s celebrating the era’s last stretch and the spiritual journey it has taken her on. “I think [the album] really opened me up to discipline, and being okay with large amounts of abundance, and allowing magic to happen,” she told me.
Raveena moved to Los Angeles from New York the week the U.S. went into lockdown in early 2020. She had just gone through a break up with her long-term partner who had also been her long-time producer. “Everywhere I went, it was like walking in a museum of memories. I felt like I couldn’t form new ones. I was heartbroken and I needed to run away,” she said. In Los Angeles, Raveena found the space to start over with a new producer, a new label, and a new vision to fully blend South Asian and Western music.
What came out of this was Asha’s Awakening, a concept album narrated by the character of Asha, a space princess from Punjab, born out of Raveena’s idea of what an Indian pop star in the early 2000’s might have sounded like. To tell the story of Asha, Raveena incorporates Indian instruments like the swarmandal, the Bansuri flute, the kanjira, the tabla, and an electric sitar. The album also embraces Bollywood influences, paying homage to the history of all the ways South Asian music has intersected with the West, singing in both English and Hindi.
“We come from such colonized cultures that when we do move out of love we’re being resistant in a way.”
On Asha’s Awakening, Raveena reflects on modern society, personal growth, and love. The album opens with the upbeat, electronic track, Rush, where she sings of reuniting with a lover, urging her to “come home” to the singer. Magic, the third track, is another exploration of love, specifically the power it holds to unite people in withstanding a “fucked up world.” On the spoken-word track, The Internet Is Like Eating Plastic, the singer ruminates on the perils of the digital age: how modern technology induces anxiety and severs human connection. The tenth track, Asha’s Kiss, is a dreamy collaboration with the legendary singer Asha Puthli—one of Raveena’s major musical inspirations—and explores the spiritual transcendence induced by love using equally transcendent melodies. The album ends with the singer’s soft-spoken, guided meditation, Let Your Breath Become a Flower, in which she encourages listeners to slow down, breathe deep, and imagine the “fragrance of night flowers” against a backdrop of birdsong and ethereal instrumentation.
Raveena’s identity as a queer South Asian woman has been a focal point of her music and her image as an artist. And although Raveena is quick to acknowledge that she is but one South Asian voice that cannot represent the entirety of South Asian experiences, she is intentional in bringing together and nurturing the community that has been born out of those who find solace in her lyrical stories. “I’ve been thinking a lot about how, more than anything, I just want to be in community, and really nourish my fan base, which can resonate with me as a full human being that’s nuanced and makes mistakes, and has this wide range of influences and desires,” Raveena said.
This sentiment is reflected in her music, too. In Asha’s Awakening, Asha is transported to the planet of Sanataan, an alien world composed of spiritually advanced beings. On Sanataan, Asha is enlightened and becomes immortal, yet she still longs for Earth despite all of its chaos and “endless oscillations between love and war, creation and destruction, abundance and naught.” The reincarnate of her lover is also on Earth, and when Asha finally returns, she is faced with Earth’s “fundamental unknowing,” its promises and heartbreaks. It’s difficult, but it is also here that Asha realizes that the Earth’s wonder—and the beauty of being human—lies in this “fundamental unknowing.”
I’m sure this characterization of Earth sounds very familiar to all of us. The “fundamental unknowing” of what’s to happen next that often spirals into pure pessimism: Earth is war-stricken. Earth is poverty-stricken. Earth is headed towards global climate catastrophe. We paradoxically must live and work within systems that actively oppose and diminish our very existence. We build community, while algorithms push us further apart. We create art and music, while profit-driven systems exhaust us.
“The act of choosing art and music every day has been the most consistent and biggest act of self-love throughout my life.”
Raveena is conscious of the fact that we must—at least for now—exist within these exploitative systems in order to survive. But she is also cognizant of the work being done to create a new vision for humanity beyond them. The role that she, as an artist, plays in this re-imagining is clear. “The one thing you can do with music is inspire,” she said. “If that’s your hope for the world, and that’s your vision, and you communicate that clearly with people, then you can set off a lot of fire in other people to care about that as well.”
Specifically, she hopes to inspire a connection to nature through deep self-love. Earth is, after all, love-stricken above all else. It’s why we are still able to stand together through art and music. And it’s why Asha found so much beauty in accepting humanity’s “fundamental unknowing.” She didn’t intend it as a call to sit back and accept exploitative systems as they are, but rather, to hold love close as a means of unlocking the tools necessary to proliferate love even further.
For Raveena, love and music are synonymous. She sees both as an extension of the spirit. Music, she says, is “the sound of magic,” a portal beyond our universe that anyone can access, even in the darkest of times. Just as anyone can access love. “I think the act of choosing art and music every day has been the most consistent and biggest act of self-love throughout my life,” she said. “Because even when I didn’t know how to meditate, when I didn’t know how to be still, when I didn’t know how to access spiritual realms, when I didn’t have nature around me, I did know music. That love towards music throughout my whole life has changed my life.”
Raveena sees community, too, as synonymous with love; as a deep care and empathy for those around us; as the will to nurture and grow. “I think it’s amazing when people find a way to preserve that feeling in a culture that really doesn’t encourage it at all,” she says. “We come from such colonized cultures that when we do move out of love we’re being resistant in a way.”
Nurturing a connection to nature—both in herself and in those who listen to her music—is essential to her philosophy of self-love. In Los Angeles, Raveena spends more time in nature than ever before. There is one particular trail just one block away from her house she frequents weekly. “It just feels like it’s this moment where everything stops and you just feel so a part of the Earth,” she says of her hikes. “That’s a mantra I play a lot when I’m walking. I’m connected with all my surroundings. I’m made of the same materials and atoms [as] these flowers, these trees, and having that kind of awareness really opens me up and helps me be this portal for healing.” In other words: the act of connecting to our surroundings in nature is a prerequisite to exploring how we can create spaces—in contingency with love and community—that can then envision a better world.
“[There’s] a mantra I play a lot when I’m walking. I’m connected with all my surroundings. I’m made of the same materials and atoms of these flowers, these trees.”
As a celebrity, Raveena is singular. She is a pop star that has found commercial success whilst staying true to her cultural roots and her community, all the while outwardly pushing against profit-driven systems in ways that are meaningful and long-lasting. Her music has facilitated the sharing of resources, something she takes very seriously—not in the form of self-serving charities or ordaining herself as the face of so-and-so movement as many celebrities have done, but through mutual aid.
The singer is the founder of the Aurora Loving Kindness Project, a mutual aid grant program that gives out up to $10,000 each cycle. The Project’s first grant cycle was specifically for Black, brown, and queer musicians; the second cycle was for survivors of domestic violence. For the third cycle, Raveena plans to open up funding for artists interested in sustainable futures.
In her personal life, rebelling against exploitative systems is a form of self-love, one that is essential to the maintenance of her spirit. “I didn’t have being robbed and assaulted on my 2022 bingo card but that’s what happened,” she said of challenges she’s faced this past year. “It makes you realize you’re way tougher than you thought. It was hard in many moments, but it wasn’t the end of the world. I wasn’t trying to not be here anymore. I didn’t lose my energy towards what I loved.”
The last few years post-heartbreak may have been tough, but they have also been rewarding—it’s why Raveena is optimistic about what 2023 will bring. Though she’s actively making music, she is also working to disconnect from the pressures artists so often face to continuously produce and release content. “Who knows?” she said when asked about the release date of her next album. “Maybe it’ll come out sooner. Maybe it’ll come out in 10 years… I don’t know. I’m just existing.”
Raveena can’t concern herself with unrealistic pressures that don’t serve her. For the time being, her focus is on practicing gratitude; on appreciating the opportunity to choose music every day, to be surrounded by community, and to be brimming with love. “I can’t believe I get to do this all the time. I can’t believe I get to be a student of what I love in this life for a living,” she said. “That’s what I want this year: to be so grateful for this opportunity and not waste it.”
Photography by Shubham Lodha Styling by Reva Bhatt Production by Manoj Kaira Makeup by Amrita Mehta Hair by Silky Mehra Photo assistance by Yashna Kaul Styling assistance by Srestha Bhattacharya