photography Ryan Walter Wagner
words Zarah Cheng
Where are you from?
I’m from Richmond, BC. But the last four years I have been going back and forth between Richmond/Vancouver and Victoria for school. Shout out UVIC and Cook Street. I share the same Canadian soil as Drake, and damn it feels good.
How would you describe your music?
At this point in my music I would describe it to be very honest and proud of my heritage, while also using humor to show who I am as a person- which is a goofball. I grew up watching hella Hindi films and always dancing around pretending I was Karishma Kapoor, so now I try to incorporate as much of who I was/am/want to be in my music. I’ll never lose my pride for my culture and upbringing; therefore, my roots will always have a place in my sound.
You’re very vocal about the way that Bollywood has influenced you as an artist. Which specific elements have you incorporated into your music and stage performances?
Bollywood has certainly influenced me! It was the first type of music that I cared about. I remember recording mix tape cassettes of different Hindi songs so that I could listen to it through my Walkman when I was five years old on vacation, roaming Punjab with my mom and cousin. So my passion for Hindi music kept growing until about 2010 when I stopped listening to the new stuff because I got older and hit a little emo phase – BUT NOW I’M BACK. I like to stick with the 90’s and early 00’s, my era of Bollywood.
As for my work, I like to get my good friend and DJ, the Homeboy Jules, to sample Bollywood tunes and go from there. A lot of Hip Hop has been influenced by Indian culture and has sampled a lot of Hindi before. But it’s all about picking the right track that has the right memory attached to it. A lot of my reasons for choosing to focus on specific Hindi songs (for sampling and such) is because I have a personal relation with that song or film or moment.
When it comes to my performance, I think without even knowing it, I pull elements from the Bollywood world. I am a theatre major after all. I love performing and luring the audience into Horsepowar. I find that the more energy, drama and spectacle I can bring to my performance, the better it is. And the more memorable. It’s not so much specifically Bollywood that has influenced me in my music, it’s simply South Asian culture. I love to show the hybrid world of being a Desi Girl living in a Canadian suburban world, and I’ll rock a salwar kameez while doing it!
There’s this really hilarious section in “Queen” where you drop a ton of Jennifer Aniston references: ferret’s tail, Along Came Polly, and “Rachel Green Rachel Green!” Why Jennifer Aniston?
There’s no particular reason why I chose Jennifer Aniston specifically. However, when I’m writing, sometimes my thoughts roll on by and there’s a snowball effect where I just add on top of my ideas. Kind of like word associations. It all started because I wrote, “You a soft bitch, a ferret’s tail,” then I realized how shitty/funny of a diss that line is. So just like in the song, I laugh at that diss while repeating it. Then my mind remembered its association with ferrets. I’m not much of an animal person so the only connection I had was Along Came Polly – which brought me to Rachel Green because in another track, I reference how often Rachel Green’s hair changes according to each season of Friends. Anyway, it’s a long brain wave of how Jennifer Aniston is actually lingering in my mind and I didn’t really know it until now, thank you. Hah.
“Motherland” is a pretty emotional song that delves into your own personal struggles, substance abuse, and embracing your cultural background. Can you walk us through how this song came together?
This song was written in pieces. I first wrote the last verse in which I talk about the passing of my brother. That was the most difficult thing that my family and I have endured and to this day, plays a part in how I interact with my environment. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Jason. I find it easy to write about my feelings and openly talk about the grief of losing my brother. Death is something the entire world shares and I know that many people can relate to how it feels to lose someone close to you. It was an important moment for me to remove myself from the joke rapper that I used to be and write something with sincerity and substance.
At that point, I felt no fear holding back and expressing myself about other personal struggles that I face, and that I know many others do as well. As an artist, I want to show the community that we’re all in this together and no one is alone. My favourite part about this song is that I show a range of Desi girl problems, from death to substance abuse to finding a goddamn haldi (curry) stain on my t-shirt after walking out the door to begin my day.
Your 2013 digital EP, HORSEPOWARXHORSEPLAY, was praised for its raunchy humour (which was often sexually explicit), but you recently told Noisey that you’re trying to become more of a role model with your music. How has this influenced your approach to writing music?
Yes, I started rapping by doing the whole obnoxious, overly vulgar, horny horse joke rap look. But I noticed I wasn’t confident in showing my work to my family, especially my parents. I knew it was pushing boundaries, and later I realized I don’t want to push those particular boundaries because I have young nieces and nephews that look up to me and I need to think about using my art as a platform to be a strong role model. This doesn’t mean I will refrain from being sexually explicit, but I will be in a tasteful way. I’m making music for my nieces; I need to show them how to be a strong, beautiful brown woman who runs the globe. So now, my approach to writing music is to be honest and tasteful with class and sass, but never to forget about the little girl who idolized Nelly Furtado in the past.
When Rob Schneider, who at this point is playing Jessica, is about to get in a fight outside the club with this white dude with a pony tail and he/she says to him, “You think you’re so cool ‘cause you can pee with your penis” and then whoops pony tail dude’s ass. Yep!
I’ve unfortunately only ever seen one Bollywood movie. For my Bollywood education, which film do I absolutely need to see?
AH! There’s a list. But I would have to say you have to watch, Sholay, Hero, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), Taal, Bombay, Khal Nayak, Devdas (the Shah Rukh Khan one) and just because it was a childhood fave of mine, Judwaa!
What can people expect from your live shows?
I pride myself on my live shows; I feel that is where I shine the most. I absolutely love putting on a spectacle and getting right in the audience’s face. What you can expect from Horsepowar is a complete full set of rapping over strictly instrumentals. I’ve noticed far too many rappers are performing over their tracks with their vocals on it and only jump in for a verse and a hook, and then they’re either chilling, dancing or smoking while enjoying the spotlight. But for me, if I stop rapping, you won’t be hearing any vocals, simply the instrumentals.
What’s next for Horsepowar?
I’m currently working on a full-length album where I dig deeper into my experiences and pull creative elements that the universe can connect to. I got a music video for “Queen,” from Bollywoes coming out which was shot by Joseph Klymkiw (Nardwuar’s videographer – go CiTR radio! Crimes & Treasons what’s good!!). And in late August, I’ll be heading over to Toronto for an art/rap/fashion show I’m in the process of curating and to link up with my homies to create some more content. You can expect my album to drop by September – I can’t wait!!
What creeps you out the most?
Feet. The Illuminati. Sleeping with the door open. When people have extremely short fingernails that look painful.
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