South Asian music recommendations
Growing up as a young South Asian girl in a small town in Michigan, finding representation in music always seemed nearly impossible. I had two simple options for listening to music. I could either listen to what was trending in the United States or listen to the South Asian music that my mother played on her phone while she cooked. And while I loved listening to AR Rahman and Dhanush while helping my mom roll out her chapatis on a random Tuesday night, I never felt seen by their artistry. It wasn’t music I could dive into, get lost in the melodies, replay the lyrics over and over in my head like a trance.
My knowledge of Tamil is very limited. I can understand basic conversational Tamil and repeat 14 words. So understanding fluent melodic Tamil was already a challenge, but being able to sing along with the lyrics was unimaginable. So I did what I, at 11, thought was my only option: listen to the radio. 98.7 was my channel. I would get in my mom’s car from school and immediately pause the Tamil song she was listening to because I couldn’t understand the lyrics, just to put on Detroit’s 98.7, which played whatever was trending on the Billboard Hot 100. Over the years, that radio obsession quickly transitioned to the song my brother played in the car on his phone in middle school, and then moved on to whatever my friends listened to or what Spotify gave me. recommended in high school. I could understand and sing every song I heard. But winning that meant I lost any form of musical representation that Tamil music gave me.
So a few years ago, I stumbled across a frenetically searching Spotify playlist, finding South Asian artists I could listen to, enjoy, and relate to. After finding a few that I featured in Part 1, I decided to continue my hunt. Here are some of my favorite artists so far.
Nikhil Ramani is from Chennai, a city in southern India, where my family currently resides. He and his roommate, Luke Duckworth, have been creating music together and releasing it on Spotify since 2020. Through this, Ramani has racked up over 1,500 monthly listeners. I came across Ramani’s music last October when I heard the duo’s song “seventeen.” The song addresses the end of their youth: the period of transition from adolescence to adulthood, reflecting on all the fun times they had as teenagers. The lyrics describe a clear story about Ramani and his friends when they were younger, filled with imagery about the “warmth of Chennai” and the “salty breeze” that hovered around Ramani growing up. This is one of the first things that attracted me so much to Ramani’s music. The lyrics were so direct, allowing me to follow his story as if I were there. It made his music so welcoming and relatable. As if he was someone you knew, who you could talk to and listen to for hours. The music sounded raw and less fabricated, almost like a home video, something so hard to find these days. To get into Ramani’s music, start by listening to “seventeen” and “At the other end of the world.”
Taneja is an Indian-American artist who has been releasing music since 2017. Her latest single, “How does it feel”, has been playing in rotation in my Spotify playlists since its release in January. His music takes a unique spin on R’n’B through a more independent sound, creating a flowing feel that can only bring out a deep calm. The equal mix between music and a more relaxed voice attracted me to Taneja’s music. “How It Feels” is a song that immediately makes me close my eyes and forget about all the pressures in my life for two minutes and 18 seconds. His song “paradise” has become another favorite of mine. The song title itself describes the mood of the song, giving off a light and airy feel. To get into Taneja’s music, start by listening to “Paradise”, “Memoryand “How Does It Feel”.
Kamaraju is a singer and songwriter who started out doing covers of popular songs on TikTok. She would add desi influences, such as adding Bollywood mashups to the covers, which led her to gain popularity. From TikTok, she started creating her own music. His most popular song has amassed over 220,000 Spotify streams. I first listened to Kamaraju last summer when she released “Fire hazard.” The song focuses on the pressures of the outside world she faces as both a young adult and a student. With lyrics like “carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders” and “everything in due time / even natural disasters go away”, the song focuses on how she’s falling apart with too much on her plate, but still resents it. more but with the hope that eventually this feeling of fear and pressure will pass. The upbeat music contrasts with the feeling of mental exhaustion conveyed by the lyrics, emphasizing the hope that things will get better. To get into Kamaraju’s music, start by listening to “Fire Hazard” and “Night to remember.”
With only five tracks released on Spotify, Indian-American artist hrishi is rapidly gaining popularity. He brings his desi musical influences to both his TikTok covers and his original music. hrishi was trained in carnatic music, a traditional South Indian style, for more than 10 years, and showcases this talent in his music while creating carnatic remixes of popular songs on his TikTok. His song “the twenteethbegins with a clear Carnatic voice. The song was released in May 2021 and has already picked up over 130,000 Spotify streams. The lyrics focus on young adult life and how it’s not always the life of the painted party society. To get into his music, start by listening to “20somethin” and “Paul McCartney (superstar).”
With only 203 monthly listeners, Sne’s music is vastly underrated. Her most popular song, “Dear,” showcases Sne’s smooth, sweet voice. Every time this song plays through my headphones, I can’t help but go back to bed and lay there all day as the song repeats, losing track of time in its melodic golden voice that flows perfectly to through the music and immediately sends me into a trance. The lyrics focus on fantasizing about someone – the thought of them consumes your mind like Sne’s voice does, echoing in the back of your head. Where to be with them becomes the only wish and the only thought you have. Even with just four songs, Sne quickly climbed my Spotify hierarchy and became one of my most streamed artists. To get into his music, start by listening to “Honey” and “I miss you.”
Dameer is a Bangladeshi born and raised singer and songwriter. His Bangladeshi roots blend with the western musical influences he heard growing up to create his sunny, modern indie sound. His song “Michelle, with more than 700,000 Spotify streams, spreads a feeling of happiness with each reading. Hearing the song for the first time sent me into a spiral of queuing for each of its songs over and over again, until I could quote every lyric. Dameer’s debut releases in 2018 quickly created a buzz, leading to the release of an album in 2019 titled “‘Cause we’re far apart.” Last year Dameer left independent, breaking away from the label he signed with as a teenager, releasing “Bashbo Bhalo”, his first independent song as well as his first song entirely in Bengali. To get into her music, start by listening to “Michelle” and “Air.”
All of these artists have given me music that I can dive into. Music whose melodies I can get lost in. Music whose lyrics I can replay in my head. Music that I can lie in bed all day and listen to while daydreaming to the sound of their voices. Music I’d love to play in the background while I help my mom make another batch of chapatis on the weekends when I get home from college. But most importantly, it’s music that I can listen to while feeling close to my South Asian roots. They are artists who represent me and artists I can identify with. I compiled a playlist with all the songs mentioned as well as other South Asian artists, I think you should start listening. I hope you will listen and enjoy.
MiC columnist Roshni Mohan can be reached at [email protected]