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k o k u m On Black Lives Matter: ‘I Felt Connected to The Issues on Multiple Fronts’

The Mumbai-based artist opens up about tackling social injustices on her latest offering ‘Yellow Brick Road’

David Britto Oct 08, 2020

Mumbai artist k o k u m. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

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Mumbai-based artist Karishma D’Lima aka k o k u m has made quite a mark in the independent scene with her collaborations with multi-instrumentalist Joshua Singh (from alt-rockers Spud in the Box) on his 2019 EP Understudy as well as this year’s single “Breakfast in Bed.” D’Lima also released her debut k o k u m track “Floating” this past February. She says, “I’m really keen to evolve into a kind of collective of people who come together to uplift each other.” She adds, “The Indie community feels somewhat exclusionary at this point and I’d love to be a part of the shift in that culture.”

In August, k o k u m released her spoken-word track “Yellow Brick Road,” which includes electronic undertones and quaint synth and piano parts. The track is a socially conscious offering with the artist speaking up about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and how she resonated with it.

The vocalist says, “The BLM protests were a global phenomenon, and so soon after India’s own protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) that disproportionately affect non-Hindus.” k o k u m connected to the movement on multiple fronts such as police brutality and authoritarian governance which she says is “very relevant to the Indian citizen today.” She adds, “I don’t need to talk about the colorism inherent in our society. We are steeped in it – the fairness ads, the models on billboards, ‘Beyonce Sharma Jayegi.’ (which has since been taken down and rewritten).”

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k o k u m – who stayed in California from 2012 till 2018 – knows first hand what it feels like to live as a person of color in the U.S. “I certainly became more aware of my brown-ness,” says D’Lima. Although she grew familiar with being praised for her “good English” and “exotic beauty,” the musician explains that it is nothing compared to what an African American person goes through. She says, “The stereotypes inflicted on Black people are violent and are continuously used to justify human rights violations.”

According to her, “Yellow Brick Road” was not an easy undertaking as she has to account for the fact that she is a non-black person of color as well as her financial and urban privilege in India. The artist says, “I do not share this experience, simply because I’m not African-American, or my last name is not Khan, but I think we all recognize the targeted abuse, and I felt compelled to speak up for what I know to be right.”

Whatever the issue is, be it political, cultural or intellectual, D’Lima hopes that people tackle it with a sense of humility. Although she will never be able to experience first hand what African American people or Dalits go through, she says, “I just listen, and hold space for the community. That’s how I learn.”

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For the accompanying lyric video for the song, k o k u m collaborated with Nick Friend from FriendFilms to showcase the peaceful protests that took place across the globe. “The media overlooked it in pursuit of a more violent rhetoric,” she says. The clip was edited by independent filmmaker Grant Alan Davis. The song was recorded at k o k u m’s home studio and mastered by Mumbai-based sound engineer Ayan De.

While k o k u m plans on putting “Yellow Brick Road” on streaming platforms soon, she’s also readying for the release of two more singles in the coming months. A music video for “Floating” is also in the works. “You will get to see one of the most beautiful parts of Ratnagiri, it’s such a vibe and I’m really excited for that,” she says.

Watch the lyric video for “Yellow Brick Road” below:

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