From studying in Kodaikanal to moving to America in order to acquire a degree in Cognitive Neuroscience, singer-songwriter k o k u m has done it all triumphantly. Now back to her hometown in Mumbai, k o k u m came about during the singer’s quest to pursue happiness and success on her own terms. Karishma D’Lima, aka k o k u m, penned the moniker over her love for the fruit kokum, found along the western coastline of India, the Konkan and it’s connection to home.
“When I came back,” k o k u m said, “I realized in many ways I was escaping things. When you leave and go to another country, it’s easy to forget all your problems. Then having to move back, face it, grow from it – I just found that massively helpful for my own growth. That’s what k o k u m is. This is what I need to do right now. And I have woken up to a new way of what life can look like for me.”
Back in February, k o k u m released her debut single ‘Floating’ after entirely giving up singing for about ten years. Since then she has made great strides in the arena of music by collaborating with singer-producer Joshua Singh and rapper Sahir on Singh’s track ‘Breakfast in Bed’, on track ‘Day 6’ from Singh’s debut EP ‘Understudy’, as well as an international collaboration with Russell Jordan on the song ‘What If’.
On November 27th, she put out her single titled ‘Yellow Brick Road’, a conscious freestyle composition inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement that emanated from the United States of America following the brutal death of George Floyd. The Ticket Fairy spoke to k o k u m discussing the inspiration and motive behind ‘Yellow Brick Road’, and also an all-encompassing dive into the musical aspect of all things k o k u m.
The Ticket Fairy: You released your single “Yellow Brick Road” on all platforms yesterday, how has the response been so far?
It’s mad, I can’t believe it myself. I have been playlisted on Apple Music, Spotify, a couple of playlists on Amazon. Especially this piece, it was so personal. It is quite unlike the normal hip-hop song or a love song, it’s not about any of these more common themes. I was quite nervous to put it out but I felt that it was important. So, I psyched myself up and I am so happy because people are really responding to it. They love it.
Can you explain what prompted you to write about the Black Lives Matter movement?
I guess it was one of the learnings that happened after you leave and come back because being in America for all those years, I got to see what it feels like to be a brown person in not a brown country. I realized for the first time, “oh, I am actually just a “brown” girl.” I endured weird stereotypes I had never thought of. And once I had that experience of being othered in a foreign country, I thought “even in India dark skin is so bothered.” You don’t talk about it but you definitely feel it.
Blackness is punished all over the world. It’s really something that’s universally seen as less than or not good enough. That was one aspect of it and it’s in the song as well. There are things people call you in middle school even in India associated with your skin color. It is messed up but we arm ourselves against it as you grow up and become thick-skinned. Blackness as a concept was something I began to understand and reflect on better after I went to America.
While I was in India, I realized I wanted to be lighter. I wanted to look another way that I am not and didn’t really feel as beautiful as I should. When you’re in America, you are othered in such a big way because of the cultural distinctions. I realized learning to be proud of myself was the first step that I learned all over again after coming back to India. I think blackness is something all of us can identify with. If you open your eyes, if you pay attention, you see it around you.
The George Floyd issue was very close to the CAA (Citizen Amendment Act) and NRC (National Register of Citizen) protests (in India). So, the common theme there was an abuse of authority and police brutality. BLM manifested protests all over the world. But you think about India – Dalit, Muslim, transgender, and LGBT people, all of those nameless victims are just going under the dark. It all boiled up to a point that I wrote it and I just put it out. It was very spontaneous and very emotional and I think that’s why I was so nervous to put it out. But that’s how it all came about.
What made you opt for spoken narrative as your choice of medium?
I feel it’s more freestyle than spoken narrative. I did the first verse, put on some music, said the first verse out loud and the rest of it just came. It was very spontaneous and I didn’t want to mess that up. I thought, “this is my most sincere and honest version of what I am feeling right now.” There was no contemplated thought of ‘let’s do it this way’. I don’t normally do spoken word, all my music so far has been me singing.
Would you incorporate politics as a recurrent theme in your future releases?
I did already! I was part of a very cool project called We Stand With Her, that was in collaboration with the non-profit organization BeBetter collabs and Little Sounds, which is the music production house. They have recruited artists all over India to create a protest album in all different languages, all the native languages of India to stand up against violence against women. The entire project was sparked by the brutal Hathras rape case. An incident that speaks to caste and gender issues in India today. Women’s safety in our country is a very pressing issue. So, we put out the English one (‘Free’) which I did. The Bengal one is out soon and the English one just got playlisted on Rolling Stones Hits.
How would you describe the music that you typically create?
I would say it’s a blend of hip-hop, R&B, and dream pop… that ambient dream-pop vibe. When I am producing myself, I am in a very zen mode. My first track ‘Floating’ is super zen, very unlike anything I’ve ever put out so far. It’s a mix between these genres. ‘Yellow Brick Road’ was a mix between spoken word and conscious hip-hop tracks. Therefore I don’t like to label it because who knows what will come out next! I just try to be as real in the moment of creation, focus on how I am feeling, and just go with it. I am as honest as I can be with myself so it is my hope that the listener can pick that up. People have said my vibe is a lot like Norah Jones and she is one of my favorites. When someone asks me about my music, I say, think Norah Jones meets James Blake. That’s the spectrum of sounds that I play with.
Could you talk about your experience of collaborating with Joshua Singh, Sahir, and others?
I love collaborating! I think it’s one of my favorite things about creating music. Yes, it is very personal and therapeutic sitting in your own room and playing or singing to yourself. But musically, when I got to collaborate with people, we were feeding off of each other. You have different ideas and different experiences that are coming together and it’s much more fun.
With Joshua and Sahir, I was just working at Joshua’s studio when Sahir came over to jam and record ‘Breakfast In Bed’. The first line of the song is Joshua singing ‘What if your girl isn’t real’ which I struck me as somewhat odd. I went with that concept and I thought ‘what if I am the girl, what if I played the illusion?’ They loved the idea and we went with it.
That whole song was done in a day – our parts, written and recorded in one day. We banged out our parts and Joshua sat with it and made it sound the way it sounds. That was a pretty fun collaboration especially because I was not meant to be on it. I made my way in so it was awesome.
Can we expect more collaborations?
100 percent! Sahir and I have a track that’s in the works already. It’s the one that I produced which is really cool. I am also singing with an up and coming rappers’ new EP of which Sahir is the executive producer. Lots of collaborations are coming up but my next one is a solo project in mid-February to complete a whole year since my last release.
Have you performed before COVID-19? And do you have plans to perform now that things are almost up and running?
I had my first concert literally two days before the lockdown! I did it with a visual artist duo called Kokoro. They did live visuals while I sang ‘Floating’, some covers and a bunch of unreleased tracks. It was really nice and fun, and I plan on doing it more in the future.
We set up a space in my own home. I called people over and it was super intimate. I feel like I have done everything on my own terms. Because it really has been an exploration of myself, k o k u m is mostly about me. And me learning about me. Music can be therapeutic for the listener and the creator. I feel like I overcome a lot of my state of mind through my music, it’s my respite. Transforming myself into this person who has had the courage to put out such a political piece. I am pretty proud of myself.
Will we see an EP or Album?
I don’t know. Let’s put it this way, I have a lot of content for an EP but I just haven’t conceptualized the way I want it to look. I am going to give myself that time. So when it feels right, I will do it. But there is definitely more music coming!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Read about k o k u m’s ‘Yellow Brick Road’ – k o k u m releases BLM inspired song ‘Yellow Brick Road’
Listen to k o k u m’s collaboration with BeBetter Collabs and Little Sounds – ‘Free‘
Find K O K U M Online: