In Conversation With Raveena on her album ‘Asha’s Awakening,’ the Aurora Loving Kindness Project, Mindfulness and Meditation, and More


From releasing music independently to signing a deal with Warner Records, Raveena pushed her boundaries while maintaining her true self. Raveena hails from New York and Connecticut and started writing songs at a young age. She attended university at New York University Tisch School of the Arts. Raveena can be described as smiling while singing, hitting high falsettos, and creating a healing community full of love and vulnerability. Her style has been influenced by South Asian sounds, R&B, Soul, and more. A fun fact about Raveena is that she has directed many of her own music videos. She has performed at notable events such as Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival, Jakarta International Java Jazz Festival, Coachella Music Festival, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, ColorsXStudios, and more. Continue reading to learn about Raveena’s incredible journey!

[Read Related: The art of Vulnerability and Empathy Through Raveena Aurora’s Music]

Let’s start off by talking about “Asha’s Awakening!” We really enjoyed the song “Rush” with lyrics like “Dil Mera Taam Lo, Kehna To Maan Lo, Baaki Sab Jaane Tho” which loosely translates to Hold on to my heart, Agree to what I am saying, The rest of it let go.” What was the inspiration behind using these three lyrics in Hindi?

I just grew up listening to so much Bollywood music and Indian music. I wanted to start introducing people to that language in those sounds, because it’s so rare in America to hear that. So many people can relate, and I think that music is the universal language. So, it was a great way to introduce a culture in this way that people can still connect to and feel because everyone can connect through music.

So yeah, it was really an homage to where I came from, and the language I spoke growing up at home.

We were very surprised and excited to listen to a guided meditation on your album entitled “Let Your Breath Become a Flower.” In terms of the concepts of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, do you feel South Asians do not receive the proper credit for being pioneers in these fields? Additionally, do you have any plans to record more guided meditations?

Yeah, it’s such a big part of my life. I was raised in a really religious and spiritual household, and I have been finding that my ancestry and specifically all the spiritual wisdom from that ancestry is my superpower. And I think a lot of our superpowers, South Asian people.

And I think it’s beautiful, to come back to a space in the West, in a place where it’s been so commodified. So, just messages, wisdom, knowledge from our regions have been spread out to the world. That’s beautiful because, I think those concepts should be for everyone to share.

I also think it’s really important to just share more experiences from people who actually, have that in their bloodline and their ancestry, because there’s something deeply powerful about that.

I just want to keep sharing more of it, because I really think that it’s my superpower. It’s also just our superpower as a diaspora and also people from that region. There’s so much history there. It’s amazing.

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We have seen many groups and artists from decades past incorporate South Asian elements into their music. Some include The Beatles with “Norwegian Wood,” The Rolling Stones with “Paint It, Black,” Guns and Roses with “Pretty Tied Up,” The Yardbirds with “Heart Full Of Soul,” THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS with “People Like Us,” Elvis Presley with “You’ll Think of Me,” Stevie Wonder with “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” and more. On the flip side, we’ve seen many modern artists sample South Asian sounds such as Timbaland as well as the table below. We would love to get your professional opinion on if these artists utilized South Asian instruments and sound in the best possible way or should more research has been conducted around utilizing South Asian sounds.

Artists Song Sample
Erick Sermon Ft. Redman React Chandi Ka Badan by Asha Bhosle and Mohammad Rafi
Truth Hurts Ft. Rakim Addictive Thoda Resham Lagta Hai by Lata Mangeshkar
Jay Ft. Kanye West The Bounce Choli Ke Peeche Kya Hai by Alka Yagnik and Ila Arun
La Coka Nostra Ft. Bun B Choose Your Side Mujhe Maar Daalo by Asha Bhosle
CJ WHOOPTY Sanam Re by Arijit Singh

I think music is meant to be shared across cultures, I think it’s the universal language and it’s so beautiful that we can communicate in that way across the globe with each other. That cultural exchange amongst musicians has been happening forever, it’s amazing.

I do think that in America and the U.K. white musicians are always prioritized and I definitely feel it a lot in my career. Just how much we just don’t get the opportunities, we don’t get the proper recognition, you don’t get the proper respect for when we incorporate sounds in our music from our cultures and make a blend of East and West. It’s like, oh, they’re just doing what’s obvious to them, but when other people and specifically a white person does, it’s the most experimental ingenious thing in the world.

I think that’s what my issue is. It’s just how much white musicians are always prioritized in the West, and how much black and brown artists, are constantly creating and quietly transforming culture, and they just don’t get the credit for it. So I think that’s what we need. I think the exchange is beautiful, but the giving people their flowers while they’re here is really important.

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Moving on we wanted to talk about the Aurora Loving Kindness Project. This is dedicated to Black and Brown women and genderqueer survivors of domestic violence, intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Your song “Stronger’ off your LP “Lucid” alludes to similar themes. We would love to learn how these two are connected and what more the BGM community and readers can do to help your cause.

That’s so sweet. Yeah, I created this mutual aid hub, with my friend Brittany Martinez, who does amazing community work here in LA. We did the last grant specifically dedicated to survivors of domestic violence and intimate partner violence or sexual assault. The grant, I’m trying to do twice a year now and focus on different issues in the community that are really close to my heart.

The last one was a mentorship program with black and brown musicians. It is kind of different every time and I’m trying to think of the financial model still. Currently, it’s just mutual aid all funded by me. I had one friend donate a grant the cycle but because I want to keep it away from the nonprofit industrial complex, I’m trying to figure out a way I can give out the money in a way that feels against that model. I don’t know about donations per se. If people just want to spread the word when grants come out, that’s always amazing.

[Read Related: In Conversation With Film Music Director and Composer Mithoon]

“Sweet Time” is one of our favorite songs of all time with lyrics like “I’m lost in melody, harmony, and new family. They wrap me up in a cocoon.” Do you feel you are closer to your goal as you said during your Tiny Desk Concert, “In any live space that I do I just want to cultivate this feeling of softness in the room and community?”

Thank you. I think that’s always the goal. Community above everything else. I think my musical spaces, are definitely open to all and it’s really amazing going to the concerts and seeing how incredibly the diverse the audiences, but they’re all brought together by this kind of sweetness they all have.

That’s the kind of energy I want to cultivate in my live shows. I love building it little by little every year and gathering more people around the music and it’s always really like-minded people across many different backgrounds. It’s amazing.

We love seeing you provide major props to your team. How important is it to you to have a team that supports your vision and creativity? Any shout-outs you’d like to include?

There’s so many people. My stylist Reva Bhatt she’s amazing. There’s too many people like my bandmates Aaron, Cale, and Tyler. Everett’s been a huge part of my production team and I love my core team of Jenny, Preston, Kelly, and Chris from four strikes. I have an amazing PR team Aishah, Nick, and Emily. I have such a good team. I have nothing but only sweet things to say about my team.

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Is there a dream collaboration (or dream collaborations) for Raveena?

My top three would be Solange, Noname, and A.R. Rahman.

Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

I really just appreciate you guys highlighting the work of so many South Asian artists. It’s so important and rare and needed. I find out about so many new people coming up on the scene through you guys. So, keep on the good work.

Photo Courtesy of Furmaan Ahmed

By Arun S.

Arun fell in love with music at a young age by way of his middle school music teacher Mr. D. … Read more ›

Introducing Vaksana: Guyana’s First Sustainable Women’s Retreat

Menakshi Babulall

Sustainable development practices can be utilized as a model for addressing gender inequities worldwide. Empowering women with the resources to gain opportunities, learn skills and collaborate in a safe and welcoming environment is crucial to women’s growth and development as individuals. 

After witnessing the first-hand effects of gender-based violence growing up in Guyana, Menakshi Babulall founded the Canadian nonprofit A Different View Project (ADVP) to promote and implement sustainable development methods across Guyanese communities. Vaksana, which means “nourishing/refreshing” in Sanskrit, is a branch of ADVP exclusively aimed at developing Guyana’s first eco-friendly women’s retreat center.  The retreat will offer wellness activities, training services, regenerative farming and community outreach programs. 

[Read Related: Philanthropist Nirmala Ramprasad Champions Sustainable Development Through Green Dupatta]

Babulall was inspired by Guyana’s rich rugged beauty as a child. Her dual passion for preserving the environment and aiding underserved communities contributed to her studying International Development at Toronto’s York University before launching a public service career.  This eventually led her focus back to Guyana. Babulall talks to BG about her journey as the founder of ADVP, the progress of Vaksana and her perspective on sustainable and ethical charity work.

How and when did you create ADVP? 

“ADVP was founded in 2016 with the vision of empowering communities and fostering sustainable development. The idea stemmed from my desire to create an organization that could address pressing social and environmental issues through innovative and collaborative approaches. One thing that fills me with immense pride is ADVP’s unique ability to bring together diverse stakeholders, including those from the diaspora, to create impactful projects that make a tangible difference in people’s lives while also providing them with an opportunity to connect with their homeland.”

ADVP has worked on projects within Guyana’s fertile Pomeroon-Supenaam region, a vast expanse of hills and villages that dot the Essequibo Coast. Past projects include building a centralized outdoor recreation space for families and facilitating peer tutoring groups for children affected by COVID-related school closures. They also engage with the children of Queenstown Village through storytelling and interactive activities to nurture their passion for the environment. Overall, the focus of ADVP’s projects is geared toward education and sustainability while developing meaningful and positive relationships with the local community. 

Babulall’s remigration to Guyana during the pandemic to oversee Vaksana was a humbling experience. Living in rural Guyana allowed her to witness the benefits that wellness and eco-tourism can bring to a community, but also highlighted entrenched socio-economic struggles. It heightened her senses of resilience, adaptability and empathy; all key facets she believed essential to an effective leader. She soon realized the importance of cementing Vaksana as a catalyst for positive change in the region, particularly as a safe haven for women and gender non-conforming individuals who may face discrimination.

Explain the concept behind Vaksana

“The idea of Vaksana was born out of extensive research and a deep-rooted passion for creating a transformative space that combines wellness, eco-tourism and community development. The journey began with a vision to create a place where individuals could experience holistic well-being, connect with nature and promote sustainable living.

Vaksana’s foundation is built on three essential elements: tourism, community outreach and regenerative farming/agriculture. These elements were thoughtfully chosen to ensure a holistic approach to personal growth, community empowerment and environmental stewardship. By integrating these pillars, Vaksana becomes a powerful force for positive impact, both within the retreat center and the wider community.”

Vaksana is an ode to Babulall’s Indian heritage that was originally displaced and irrevocably transformed upon arrival to the Caribbean. Like its namesake, individuals have the opportunity to reclaim and reinvigorate themselves. Future plans for Vaksana include a kitchen/restaurant alongside sustainable farming, a workshop/training facility and a multipurpose room offering wellness classes such as meditation and yoga in consultation with a behavioral psychologist and holistic therapist. Collaborations with local businesses and partnership with the University of Guyana ensures that Guyanese citizens are actively involved in every aspect of the project, providing employment opportunities and allowing them to take on leadership roles.

What is the current progress of Vaksana, and where do you hope to see the project in one year? 

“As of now, Vaksana is in an exciting phase of planning and development. We have made significant strides in securing the land and are eagerly awaiting the approval of the lease for our carefully chosen site. Our dedicated team is diligently working on the architectural design and construction plans to bring our vision to life.

In one year, we envision Vaksana having completed its initial construction phase, with the retreat center standing proudly amidst the natural beauty of Guyana. We anticipate being fully prepared to open our doors and welcome our first guests to experience the transformative journey that Vaksana offers.”

Babulall believes in transparency regarding the difficulties faced with running a non-governmental organization. She has overcome several obstacles such as limited resources and bureaucratic hurdles by seeking collaborations, leveraging available resources and engaging in open dialogue with members of the community.

When asked about the misconceptions of running an NGO, she replied, “Many NGOs actually strive for financial independence by implementing income-generating initiatives and fostering partnerships that create long-term sustainability. Another misconception is that NGOs are not as efficient or effective as for-profit organizations. In reality, NGOs often have lower administrative costs and are driven by a strong sense of purpose and commitment.” 

She also disagreed with the belief that NGOs only focus on aid/handouts and says, “Many NGOs prioritize community-driven development approaches, working with local stakeholders to identify their needs/strengths and supporting capacity-building initiatives that enable communities to thrive independently.”

By debunking these perceptions, NGOs such as ADVP can continue to attract like-minded individuals to participate in the diverse work they undertake to address social challenges and advance a more equitable future.

How would you suggest those get involved in ethical public sector/charity work?

“I would recommend starting by identifying your passions and areas of interest. Research and connect with organizations that align with your values and goals. Volunteer your time, skills or resources to make a tangible impact. Stay informed about social and environmental issues and advocate for positive change. Collaboration and learning from others in the field are also crucial for personal and professional growth.”

What is your ultimate goal and future plans for ADVP and Vaksana?

“My ultimate goal is to continue building ADVP as a leading organization in sustainable community development, promoting social and environmental justice. With Vaksana, we aim to establish a renowned wellness and eco-retreat center that serves as a model for sustainable tourism, community empowerment and holistic well-being. We envision expanding our impact, fostering collaborations and creating positive change at both local and global levels.”

Guyana’s raw and authentic lifestyle has left a profound impact on Babullal as an individual and a leader. While embarking on the Vaksana project has not been without roadblocks, she is grateful to have gained the strength to confront difficult realities head-on in hopes of creating a safe place for individuals to learn and flourish. She has found contentment in the beauty of Guyana’s lush surroundings and hopes that others find its premise rejuvenating and inspirational. 

To learn more about ADVP visit their website here or follow them on Instagram.

To donate to the Vaksana project, visit their GoFundMe page.

Featured Image: Menakshi Babulall | Photo Courtesy of Menakshi Babulall

By Priya Deonarine

Priya D. Deonarine, M.S, NCSP, is the quintessential Pisces who has been dramatically shaped by her experiences and emotions. She … Read more ›