For singer and songwriter Raveena Aurora (better known mononymously as Raveena), music has always felt like a way to transcend the limits of her everyday world. Growing up, the queer Indian American artist remembers “singing in the bathroom for hours and hours and hours a day” — a passion that eventually grew into her decision to pursue music professionally at the young age of 11. “I was pretty set on it, honestly. Since I was really young, I knew that there weren’t any other options for me,” she recalls.
In the time since, the now 28-year-old artist has come a long way. After her breakout Shanti EP captured audience’s attention with its dreamy soundscape and themes of self-love in 2017, her debut LP Lucid introduced her fans to a new, deeper dimension of the artist in 2019: the ethereal R&B record dove deep into her relationship with sexuality, spirituality, and healing — especially as it relates to her intergenerational trauma as a child of Indian immigrants.
Although her parents were initially “very hesitant” that Raveena wanted to pursue music as a career, they’ve always been supportive of her developing her craft. “My dad was interested in Indian instruments, like harmonium and tabla — we always kept that in the house. They were very connected to music,” she says, adding: “They were bathroom singers themselves.” As a child, Raveena distinctly remembers listening to a mix of Bollywood, Jazz, and R&B. She drew heavy inspiration from singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Corinne Billy Ray, and Billie Holiday — “I would try to imitate them in the bathroom,” she laughs — and rock icons like Fleetwood Mac and SPICE.
Now, Raveena’s own work coalesces all the sonic influences around her as a child, bringing together these inspirations to create a soft, sweet style that defies genres to be uniquely hers. As it turns out, the feminine energy — specifically maternal energy — Raveena brings to her music is very much intentional: “As women, we’re often told that our softness, our vulnerability and the things that are really beautiful about being feminine are weaknesses.” For her, the maternal energy of being both soft and powerful at the same time speaks to the “true meaning” of the divine feminine.
“It’s the ultimate powerful energy that you can embody as a woman,” Raveena continues. “I think that is kind of what my music has been all about for me. It’s been about regaining a sense of power in myself and doing it in a way that feels true to my femininity — because I think a lot of my loss of power was experiencing abuse and assault, which is meant to put women down. Being such a femme person, it was really important for me to tap into that maternal energy and regain the sense of power that was lost.”
Moonstone, her 2020 four-track EP that features outtakes from the Lucid recording session, marked a massive turning point in that direction: the short EP, which was widely attributed to forging her role as a queer icon, reinforced Raveena’s dedication towards femme power in the music video for “Headaches,” a track that describes emotional rollercoaster of the beginnings of a new romance. Self-directed by Raveena, the video features her and influencer Hitomi Mochizuki as the two women dance, paint, and kiss as they navigate falling in love. In a rare break from the male gaze that dominates Western media, the work is a bright moment of authentic, genuine representation of Raveena’s identity as a queer Asian femme.
These days, more space is being made for Asian representation in entertainment. But even now, the singer still feels limited by the lack of South Asian presence in music: “It’s still so rare. There’s always been a really exciting underground movement of Asian artists throughout history, and it’s hard when it’s not validated and seen in the mainstream. My hope as an artist is that I can lift other people up in my community. Because while I feel really honored that people are making space for me, there’s so much space for other types of South Asian voices, and I hope those get heard too.”
From a young age, Raveena saw songwriting specifically as a way to break through those barriers. “Even if people don’t know what you look like, if they hear a song that is undeniably good, people are gonna want to listen to it,” she says. Since Raveena never saw Indian American singers like her growing up, she actually planned on being a songwriter for other artists — but that path took a left turn after her own music took off. “I wrote hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of songs before my first project. Good songwriting is the heart of any person’s success, so I felt like the only thing I could do is write good songs to prove myself.”
Ultimately, Raveena hopes that her journey can inspire other South Asian women and South Asian queer folks to be completely and authentically themselves: “There’s such a big part of South Asian culture that is about being very concerned about what other people think. And I really want to challenge that because I feel fundamentally — as a person, beyond being South Asian — I don’t like to live my life that way.”
“I always feel like a black sheep and an odd one out, no matter what I do,” Raveena says. “So I always want to challenge what I was taught — hopefully inspire others to do the same.”