Kayan Opens up About her Music Artistry


From making YouTube covers in her bedroom to collaborating with producers around the world, Kayan pushes the limits of what is possible. Ambika Nayak who goes by the stage name Kayan is a Mumbai-based musician known for her ethereal sound. She is a multi-talented singer, producer-DJ, model, actor, and voiceover artist. Kayan is an artist who continues to grow by experimenting and exploring different sounds but ultimately sticks to the core of who she is. Continue reading to learn about this incredible artist’s journey or listen to the interview by clicking here.

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Let’s start at the beginning of your musical journey. Who were some artists who inspired you and how did they impact the way you create music from style, cadence, and overall lyricism.

Okay, so I think throughout my musical journey, I have listened to a lot of different kinds of music. When I was younger, I listened to a lot of pop because it was so easily available and all over TV all the time. But I was also introduced to punk music, so I used to listen to a lot of new-age punk music. I had my phases, you know, with different kinds of music. And as I grew up, I got introduced to a lot, a whole new world of electronic music. And then when I mean when I joined music school, I was introduced to a soul and R&B and funk and hip hop, which honestly, really, really struck a chord with me. And since I DJ and I also write my own music, the kind of music I listen to ranges from like, really wild electronic music, like a lot of hard-based music, electro ghetto tech, house music too, like I said, a lot of soul and funk and r&b and dancehall and Afro beats, you know, so it’s, it’s, it’s literally all of this, that somehow has had, you know, their own impact on the way I write my music. I don’t think I can specify that I take lyricism from this sort of particular artist, or you know, how my style is from a particular artist. I think it’s the fact that there has been so much music that has surrounded me, gives me an idea of my own style, because I’ve kind of heard things and I have understood what I like and what I don’t like. And I think that has definitely helped shape the way I write, listening to a lot of music, and also covering a lot of music.

Musicians often practice their chops by covering other artists or making up their own lyrics over instrumentals. What specific tracks or instrumentals did you practice over?

What I actually used to do a lot was covering other artists so I have covered a lot of Jorja Smith a lot of said the syd the kid sometimes Tyler the Creator was like you know this space of r&b, Soul alternative R&B or whatever you’d like to call it. You know, I think covering a lot of this music helped me kind of realize what I like. And I don’t think I’d ever really practice over the instrumentals of these songs. Obviously, I’ve sung you know, like my cover was to the song instrumentals, but I found the whole world of beats on YouTube. And that’s literally how my song cool kids came about. I was just going through random beats on YouTube, I found this amazing producer and I found this beat and I remember just freestyling over it. And I had kind of written a hook and I just put it up on my Instagram story and I got such a huge response to that saying this needs to be a song blah blah blah and so I took that idea and I worked on it and that became my song cool kids.

I’ve interviewed many musicians throughout the years, but I wanted to try something different. Sing the first thing that comes into your head.

Dancing on my own, that’s what I like. It go like front kick, back kick, slide You know I do it and I do it so right Could be all day, could be all night. So why you so alone, yea You got you I like it on my own, yea That’s how I do. That’s my song “On My Own.” That’s the first thing that came to my mind.

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What is the inspiration behind the R&B vibe of your song “Please”?

So with please, which was the first song that I had released as solo Kayan and also the first song that I really worked on the production of what came up was a very basic groove. And this baseline that kinda repeats itself through the song. It’s this very strong and honestly reminds me a lot of Tyler the Creator on some of his songs. That was the first thing that came about the song and the song is about just honestly heartbreak and it’s just a very sad song. Oh my god, I get sad even thinking about it. So Yeah, that was how Please happened. I actually finally had time since it was during the first lockdown that we had in India in Bombay. And I was trying to work on my production skills a little bit. And I came, I made this beat first, which was something that was just playing in my head on loop, and that baseline that was just kind of stuck in my head. And then a very dear friend and amazing producer, Nate @nate08music (credits) helped me complete it. His vibe of music is also in this space and his style also does really well with r&b, Lo-Fi, you know, soul. So I think that kind of added and made this track complete.

The track “Cool Kids” is about wanting to fit in but realizing that it really doesn’t matter at the end of the day. Describe a situation where you were trying to fit into something in your past and ultimately learned to just be yourself.

Honestly, I think the biggest place that I’ve probably ever felt that is at gigs, every show is preceded by an after-party. And initially, I used to be, I think, a little more nervous, because I’m sober. And I don’t drink or do anything and usually, that’s a very easy icebreaker for most people, you know. And, initially, I think it used to be something that I did not know how to deal with, I would tell people honestly, that I’m sober, but it’s something that I just kind of didn’t have a grasp over. So I used to feel a little bit of this wanting to fit in. Initially, when I used to go for a lot of these after parties and shows. I kind of just didn’t know what to do with myself, honestly, over time, I think I’m so much more comfortable in my skin. It’s the last thought that would even come to my head, you know, I’m just so okay with being whatever I am that. You could put me anywhere and it’s not even something I think of. It’s a huge inspiration for the song.

We see that you’ve got a couple of tattoos. How many tattoos do you have? What does each of them express?

Okay, I’m gonna have to call my tattoos if that’s okay, so 1-234-567-8910 11 I have 11 tattoos. I don’t think I can explain every single one because they’re like 11 but I would say before I talk about the first tattoo that I got, which is on my right forearm it’s the dad who have this Egyptian cat goddess whose name is Bastet and basted has a sister sekhmet and it’s very interesting because I’m planning on getting sekhmet as the other tattoo. I’m gonna probably just get it because I’m over this tattoo thing I think. But um, bastet is the one half of the two sisters sekhmet and bastet. And both of them have to own their own things that they represent a basket kind of represents calm and grace. And Sekhmet is more of the fighter and has the head of a lion and Bastet as the head of a cat. So first I got think both of them together would hopefully be something that I can imbibe in my life. Like way more than it probably is right now, which I think is really cool because they’re both like fighters, you know, Egyptian goddesses, which is really cool. Another tattoo that I really really like, which is I have one on my finger on my right hand finger. And it is Luna and Japanese. That’s all that’s written, that was the name of my first kitten who went last when she was a little kid in itself and I was really sad. I have always loved her and she came in a very important part in my life and in my family and really helped us a lot. This little kitten got her name tattooed on me.

There’s another tattoo that just gonna you know what one of my favorite tattoos is. This one on my left arm, and it’s a middle finger in the middle finger in the middle finger. My friends call it the fuckception, that’s the name we’d given to it like ages ago. That was just kind of sometimes to need to look at it and remind myself to just fuck it and let go

Many of your fans found your songs through VH1. Apple Music. Spotify playlists, and more. How has newer technology helped indie artists get discovered across the globe in terms of your own experience?

I think it’s great that we have these platforms, and the ability to put our music out there on these platforms without having to be signed to a major label or something like that, it’s very easy, we have platforms that basically just let us upload a song, upload an artwork, you know, think of your own release plans and put your music out there. Um, VH1 really had my music video get a lot of traction, and they still kind of run some of my music videos on repeat, which is amazing, because it’s just, the more places it’s playing, the more people are listening to it. Right. And that’s really, really amazing. playlisting also helps a lot. You know, so I think, personally, for me, what one really amazing thing that happened was a song that I did with another art in collaboration with another artist oaff @oaffmusic called So Good, was part of the Spotify radar program, as part of the radar program, they really push us off, they put it on a lot of different playlists, um, not only Indian playlist, but you know, playlist international playlists to the moment that gets picked up, the streaming numbers just go up and you just have so many more people from so many different countries listening to your music, which is so cool. And the same thing happened with cool kids also, cool kids was just, I mean, that is just something that got picked up by itself. And it got added to this really cool Spotify playlist called Park hangs, that was another, you know, way for the song to get so much traction. And it was pretty amazing. So it’s, it’s really, really helpful to have these platforms, because that’s how we can basically have our music out there. It is where it lives.

“On My Own” showcases lyrics such as “So why you so alone, yea You got you I like it on my own, yea That’s how I do.” Do you enjoy being on your own as more of a homebody or do you prefer to be out and about?

I think I’m like a really strange mix of the two, I used to be someone who was out and about all the time. I think I’ve been like that ever since I was a kid, I just used to be outside. Especially when I was much younger, I would just leave the house and I’d be doing shit all day roaming around, going from one place to another. I was like, fun back then, as I was much younger. So in school, it’s different. But even as I grew up, I think I’ve been someone who has partied a lot. And I’ve had my fair share of enjoying that also a lot. But then what has happened over the past two years, I think is that this has nothing, not that much to do with COVID-19 actually. So I’ve been performing every weekend almost for like, let’s say about a year, you know, and I’ve been playing these DJ sets. So every weekend, I’m already traveling to two or three different cities and I’m playing. And it’s not that I just go somewhere and I play right, I’m traveling, and then I’m meeting people and socializing and this whole thing is, it’s very, it can be very, very exhausting. And the more the work started coming in, and I’m very, very happy working I love it bring me more work. I’m very happy. But you know it when I’m back from the weekend, when I’m already playing so much I really don’t feel like going anywhere. I just want to be at home in my bed with my cat. So it’s kind of like my work takes me out there and I’m out and about because I have to be but when I’m done I’m very happy being at home because you kind of just need a little little time to like recuperate.

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Fans have commented your song “Be Alright” helps them get rid of the blues and ultimately changes their mood. How do you feel hearing that your music can change how listeners are feeling on a day-to-day basis?

It feels very surreal and I can’t get a grasp on it because I feel like that about so much music. You know there has been so much music that’s been a part of my life in so many different ways and songs that I’ve just heard on repeat and repeat and repeat that made me feel things and has made me feel like it’s saying something that I’m not able to say the fact that someone else could ever feel like that about my song is just insane. I mean I guess that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing right.

“DFWM” looks like a scene in a movie and soundtrack all in one. What was the artistic vision behind this music video and track and how did it feel to play this role in the music video?

So we had a really really amazing team on board for DFWM. We did not have a lot of time to put this thing together and do it because we were sitting on the song for about two years. And it was just not the music video that was just not coming together and something that I really, really wanted to get out there. The song is in collaboration with another dear friend and amazing producer oceantied @oceantiedmusic. I had a basic beat down, I had this idea down, I sent it across to him, he helped put the whole thing together and just complete it. And the song comes from like, you know, a space of being in a toxic relationship. Where you’re constantly playing games, and you feel like you have to be on the top of it. It’s kind of like, Fuck you, but just something that I’ve actually experienced. So we had this team that kind of put together this brief idea for the music video, my brief was like, I do not want it to be too obvious. This is an idea we have, we want to have some blood in the video. You know, let’s see what we can do. I don’t want such a blatantly clear storyline, I think the song says what it has to say. And everything just came together. And, you know, it turned out to be the super cool video that I’m actually really, really happy about. And how it felt to play a role in this honestly felt absolutely natural. I think acting in your own music videos is so different from anything else. I’m not following any script or anything. It’s my song, it’s playing, I know the vibe, you know, I know what I want it to be like in my head, I kind of know what I want it to look like. So with a little bit of right direction. And you know, in this case, a great team put together it was very easy to make that happen.

What is the meaning behind your track “So Good“ and what feelings do you hope to invoke in your listeners?

So good, again, is in collaboration with a radio fan, an amazing producer, I was talking about who we’d done the Spotify radar thing with So Good (@oaffmusic) The hook was it was written by Kabir and me, aka Oaffmusic of music. And the idea is, it’s playing with this thought of wanting something in your life that you probably know is not going to be good for you.

And even though you know, it’s not, you’re still gonna play with that thought and, you know, it makes you feel so much. And I think a lot of people can relate to that.

Many of your songs are progressions of feelings based on experiences. How important is it to you to express the phases of your life through music?

I think more than how important it is, you know, I don’t look at it as a process like that. It’s something that happens very naturally, because every time something happens, or not every single time, but more often than not, I turn to write about it, which is going to keep happening, right? And as long as I keep feeling like that. I’m gonna keep expressing different things, different experiences of my life through music.

As your name Kayan is your last name backward what made you come up with this idea to use this stage name and what does this stage name mean to you?

Okay, honestly, years ago when I joined Instagram, which is now a really long time ago, my name Ambika Nayak was taken on Instagram. So I flipped it. And initially, it was Kayan, which is my name the other way around. Eventually, I cut it to kayan.a And then I released my first song as kayan.a, and then we dropped the .a and now it’s Kayan, which makes a lot of sense. So the .a was unnecessary, I think. But that’s literally what it was. What’s really cool is, that it is actually my name. Is this my name the other way around. So there we go. That’s the story the way it is Kayan.

What do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?

When you say the first song that comes to your mind and think about it, and I sang about and I sang ‘On my Own.’ I feel like, you know, this is just the start of my journey and there’s so much that’s going to come about and I keep working towards it. I have a wonderful team that’s working towards it with me, the whole thing is it’s, it’s great. What’s happening right now. You know, the shows that are coming are so much fun. I have a growing audience and it’s absolutely amazing. There’s so many big things in the pipeline and collaborations and music videos and projects that are coming about and I’m so so excited to do all of this. But even like in how I say it on my own You got you and you do you is like something that I literally live by. And I hope that if anybody else is even trying to do something that they really love, whether it’s music, or art or anything, it could be anything. Like, you know, just go ahead and do it. Don’t let your resources limit you because that’s never a limitation. A lot of these music videos that I’m talking about and I’m being asked about in interviews are made with barely any resources and just, you know, fabulous people who have somehow met and got on board and, you know, I shot the music video ‘On my Own’ alone and in our hotel room by myself on my phone. So nothing can really stop you. So you just gotta do what you got to do. And you don’t need anyone either. And by that I don’t mean that you do everything alone. You have people around you, who grow with you, but let that never ever be a limitation to what you do.

Photo Courtesy of Aditya Thakur

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 ›

Wyatt Feegrado Talks Upbringing, Comedic Style, and his new Amazon Special

Wyatt Feegrado
Wyatt Feegrado

Wyatt Feegrado is a comedian and content creator from Walnut Creek, San Francisco, California. Feegrado moved to New York City to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Feegrado always wanted to be a comedian and grew up watching “The Last Comic Standing” with his mom — his favorites being Alingon Mitra and Sammy Obeid. In 2020, Feegrado starred in the TV show “Bettor Days,” on Hulu and ESPN+, as the character Vinnie bets on the baseball team The Astros and wins big. Feegrado also has a podcast called “First World Problematic,” along with Vishal Kal and Surbhi, where they talk about a range of topics such as racism, sexism, and homophobia, and will be dropping an “Indian Matchmaking” Reunion show. Currently, in Bangalore, Feegrado is performing his first show in India, at the Courtyard in Bangalore. He was previously on tour in the United States. He recently dropped the Amazon comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate.” Continue reading to learn more about Wyatt Feegrado.

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Do you feel that your upbringing in Walnut Creek and your personal experiences are what molded your comedic style?

Walnut Creek, for people who have never been there, is frankly a very white place. I must’ve been one of four or five Indian kids in my high school of 2000. I think growing up like that, you begin to believe that it’s a bit ‘odd’ that you’re brown. Part of finding my comedic voice was changing that perspective to say; it’s not weird that I’m brown, it’s weird that you’re not. That’s the paradigm shift — I don’t move through the world trying to impress people, why should I? Who are they? They should be trying to impress me.

What was it like attending the Tisch School Of The Arts and what classes helped shape you as a person?

I hope I don’t get too much flack for this…but I don’t really think that NYU helped my career very much. Being in New York helped me immensely, it raised the ceiling on what I could achieve. I really appreciate NYU’s approach, they teach art as a fundamentally collaborative discipline, which I do believe it is. However, that’s just not how I learn. I’m a competitive person, I want to be pitted against my fellow students and prove I’m the best. That motivates me. I would say, if you want to use NYU or any art school to your advantage, understand that classes are only half of what you’re supposed to be doing. That was a pet peeve of mine, I used to see my fellow students finish class and simply go home. That’s not the way to do it in this industry. Every day, after school, I used to go to two or three open mics, send in self-taped auditions, and make opportunities of my own. You’re betting on yourself — so go all in.

What was the process of creating the comedy special “Wyatt Feegrado: De-Assimilate?”

In terms of writing the jokes, it’s the culmination of studying joke writing for 10 years. But I was approached with the opportunity in March or so, and I had my reservations to even tape a special — I’m a perfectionist so I wanted all my jokes to be some of the best ever written. But that’s just a bad strategy in terms of trying to make it in life. When an opportunity falls in your lap, you have to take it no matter what. Worry about whether you’re ready later. One time I was cast in a commercial for Facebook that required me to do skateboard tricks. I lied and said I knew how to do skateboard tricks at the casting call. I landed the commercial and then started practicing how to skateboard. I think the most important lesson in comedy you can learn is how to believe in yourself when nobody else does. I always have the confidence that I will rise to the occasion.

What was it like getting your special on Amazon Prime?

So Four by Three, the amazing production company that produced my special, has a very good relationship with Amazon, as they’ve produced a lot of content for their platform. They handled distribution for me, and together we made the strategic decision to also release De-Assimilate on YouTube. I think because of the over-saturation of streaming services you have to pay for, combined with the renaissance YouTube is having, where a lot of the content will have TV-level production value, more and more young people are turning to YouTube as their primary source of content. People are always asking who is going to win the “streaming wars.” My dark horse candidate is YouTube.

As a comedian how do you deal with hecklers?

So many comedians are mean to hecklers. I hate that. There’s no reason for that. They’re a person too and it’s not right to berate them unless they truly insulted you first. In my opinion, there are three types of hecklers — the heckler who is just too drunk, the heckler who thinks they’re helping the show, and the heckler who actually hates you or thinks you’re unfunny. I think only the latter deserves to be berated. The rest of them I try to work around, and tell them they’re interrupting the show in a way that doesn’t interrupt the show in itself.

What was the first joke you ever wrote and your favorite joke you have ever written?

Oh god this is going to be horrible. The first joke I every wrote was:

“Shawn White is a professional snowboarder, but a lot of people don’t know he is also very skilled in Curling, his hair”

That is so bad. I’m embarrassed. At least it disproves the BS some people say that “funny isn’t learnable.” That is NOT TRUE. What they mean is the infrastructure for funny scant exists. There’s no Standup Comedy Major in Art Schools or Textbooks that teach joke writing. There will be one day, but for now there isn’t.

My favorite jokes I write are jokes that I really think encapsulates the zeitgeist. My favorites on the special are the joke about how Jesus’ Disciples are Brown, and how the Vaccine is the first time anyone in the US has gotten healthcare for free.

Are there any jokes that you regret telling in front of an audience?

Of course. Referring back to my answer to the first question, any joke that has the underlying presumption that it is ‘odd’ to be brown — which is a genre of jokes that many Indian-American comedians in history have been pigeonholed into — I regret saying those type of jokes when I first started. Now I do the opposite. Sometimes I’ll do a joke about how Jesus was brown in Texas just to piss them off.

What has been your favorite project to work on?

Flying to Nashville to shoot Bettor Days for ESPN+ was great. I was just out of school at the time so it felt amazing to make money, travel, and work. Also the sets were fun and I’m still friends with the cast. And then getting to see myself on TV for the first time — thrilling.

Can you tell us more about your podcast First World Problematic?

Yes! First World Problematic is the comedy podcast I host with Vishal Kal — yes the same one that broke Nadia’s heart on Indian Matchmaking — and Surbhi, another close comedian friend of mine. We’re all Indian-Americans, and we discuss a wide variety of topics, such as dating, pop culture, and just in general make a lot of jokes. ALSO! We just released an Indian Matchmaking Season 2 reunion special — we brought back all the cast members of season 2 for a tell all! In Jan we plan to do a Season 1 reunion.

Who do you look up to in the world of comedy?

Man. I’m a student of a looooooooot of comedians. So so so many people I look up to. Steven Wright and Dave Chappelle are my first loves. When I was a kid, I used to think standup was just time pass, until one day I stumbled upon Dave Chappelle: Killin Em’ Softly on YouTube. That is what made me realize that standup can be high art. That is when I knew I wanted to be a comedian. Steven Wright is the comedian who first inspired me to write jokes, many of my first jokes emulated him. I have learned so much about modern Joke Structure from Dave Attell, Emo Phillips, Dan Mintz, and Anthony Jeselnik. Bit structure I take directly from Louie CK and Bill Burr. As for my comedic voice, I learned so much from Paul Mooney. Listening to him is what I feel really unlocked my approach to comedy, the way how he is so mean, so aggressive. He talks about white people the way the media talks about black people. I always thought us Asian people needed that, an Asian comedian that talks about Asian-American issues, but not with the friendliness you typically see Asian comedians portray. He taught me to be in your face. And Chappelle taught me how to be nice about it.

[Read Related: Book Review: ‘You Can’t be Serious’ by Kal Penn]


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[Read Related: Sabeen Sadiq: Comedian, Actress & Muslim Pakistani-American]

Do you feel that South Asian comedians can be easily pigeonholed?

Historically — unequivocally yes. In the modern times, much less so. I very much think South Asian comedians in some sense pigeonhole themselves, by trying to emulate past South Asian comedians, who were pigeonholed by the market. I do think now, and it is completely because of social media, there is a market for every kind of comedy. Like I said in my previous answer, I’d like to be a South Asian comedian with the confrontationality that we have historically only seen from Black comedians.

But you know who is really pigeonholed nowadays? Female comedians. This may be a tangent, but if there was a Female comedian that talked about Female issues, with the hostility towards men that Bill Burr will occasionally have towards women, in my opinion she would likely be the GOAT.

How do you feel social media such as Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, and Snapchat have changed comedy?

Social media has been a truly beautiful thing for comedy. It has completely decentralized the power structure of our business. Back in the day, if you wanted to get famous, you had to do comedy that appealed to the white men who held the power at the networks, at the talk shows, in the writers rooms. They still do control all those things, but now because of social media the people watching our stuff are representative of the population, and we can grow our followings because the market is wider. Now if you have a social media following, you have all the leverage, and therefore you see a multitude more styles of standup comedy out there. Also social media in my opinion is the third great comedy boom. Seinfeld made standup a household art form, Netflix made it possible for people to binge watch standup, and now Tiktok and Instagram have proliferated standup to the point where it is EVERYWHERE. There are more comedians than ever and there’s a bigger market for standup than ever.

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

Us Indian-Americans are at a very interesting financial and cultural intersection. Indians are the richest ethnicity in America, and culturally Indian parents will generally pay for their children’s college, unlike other ethnicities. If Indian parents were to hypothetically support their child to go into the arts, just like they may support them in getting their Masters degree, I believe Indians would have an astronomically higher chance of making it in the arts than anyone else. The greatest gift you can give your artist child is financial support in the early stages, since we all know the early stages of the arts make next to nothing. We just have to get rid of the Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer only BS that I would argue is a remnant of the Caste System in India.

Also, remember to call white people Euro-Americans. It helps the movement!

Steve Yensel

By Brown boy

Brown Girl Mag's 'Brown boy' vertical seeks to create a community inviting to brown boys—of all kinds—to develop a sense … Read more ›

Celebrating our Cultural Identity With Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam- A Dance to My Cultural Identity

What is Bharatanatyam?

Bharatanatyam is a traditional Indian dance form and the oldest classical dance tradition in India. Bharatanatyam, originally a dance performed by women in temples of Tamil Nadu, is often used to convey Hindu religious tales and devotions. It is taught by a teacher known as a guru. The dance costume resembles that of a South Indian bride and the dancer wears anklets, called ghungroos, to keep the rhythm while dancing to the music. While Bharatanatyam is still taught all over the world in the traditional way, the styles of teaching have changed over the years. For the last six years, my sister and I have been taught modernized styles of Bharatnatyam in the USA.


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What is an Arangetram?

An Arangetram lasts approximately three hours and has nine, or in our case 10, dances in total. It begins with an introduction dance called a Mallari or Pushpanjali following the guru’s nattuvangam (rhythm kept using symbols). In the middle of the program is a Varnam — a centerpiece dance that lasts about 30 to 40 minutes. This dance tests the dancer’s endurance as well as their storytelling ability. The performance is concluded with a Thillana which is seen as the last glimpse into the dancer’s full capacity. The Thillana is followed by a Mangalam, the closing dance of the Arangetram.

[Read Related: Reinventing the Panchakanya Women Through Bharatnatyam]

Preparing for the Performance

My sister and I began learning Bharatanatyam in 2016 when we were nine years old. Despite our instant attachment to the art form, we were always daunted by the idea of having an Arangetram of our own. It would be challenging, mainly because we are twins, and our performance would have to be suitable for two people to perform side by side. We began preparing for this event in the summer of 2021. Our guru would make us run for the first half hour of class to build our stamina — much-needed for a three-hour repertoire. We would spend the next two and a half hours learning our repertoire. The first dance we learned together during this time was our Varnam. Learning this dance took a month and we spent a lot of time memorizing it. Our Varnam was dedicated to Lord Krishna, one of the many Hindu gods, known for his charm, wit, and being a master Guru whose philosophies were immortalized through the Gita — the Hindu Holy scripture.

An Arangetram is the on-stage debut of a traditional Bharatanatyam dancer following years of training and discipline under the able guidance of a guru. This is a milestone for young artists as it opens up the opportunity for solo performances, choreographing individual pieces, and instructing other dancers.

By January, we had learned our entire repertoire and were starting to memorize it while adding expressions, poses, and building up our stamina, making them look effortless. Some dances were more difficult to memorize than others, particularly dances that were story-based. Because most Bharatanatyam dance music is in either Sanskrit or Tamil so we couldn’t understand the lyrics right away. Our guru helped us interpret the stories before teaching us the choreography making them easier to commit to memory. We also had help from our mother who listened to all our songs and gave us keywords that corresponded with our dance moves. Listening to dance music on the way to school, dance, or while getting ready for bed, became a part of our daily routine as it helped us internalize the rhythms.

Although a year seems like a long time to prepare for an event, the day of the Arangetram came before we knew it. The morning started off with family and friends coming to our house to help us transport decorations and essentials we would need backstage. We arrived at our venue — the Balaji temple in Bridgewater, New Jersey — and made our way to the green rooms. Our makeup artists assisted us with hair and makeup, which lasted four hours. During this time we were going through the dances in our heads and mentally preparing for the performance to come. Once we were dressed in costume, we headed for the stage pooja, a prayer session on the Arangetram stage with close friends and family, to invoke a successful performance. This was also the time when jitters started kicking in. It had just occurred to us that the performance we’d been preparing for our entire dance careers was about to happen and this was the only chance we had to show the audience our very best.

A person can only have one Arangetram in their lifetime, and this huge milestone comes with pressure given how special the performance is.

As the masters of ceremony were introducing our first number all I could do was stare at my sister standing in the other wing, and I knew we had the same thoughts going through our minds.

[Read Related: Two Classical Indian Dancers Bring Bharatanatyam to the Forefront with Social Media]

Delivering the Dance

As we began dancing I felt almost a sense of relief because of how well we knew the dance. Every single dance was so ingrained in our muscle memory that it felt like second nature even in front of such a large audience. During the repertoire, we had two costume changes, with three costumes in total. Each costume change took 15 minutes while the audience was learning about SAMHAJ or listening to speeches from our friends and family. Backstage, our makeup artists and backstage moms were busy helping us change our costumes and jewelry, adjusting them to make sure nothing would move while dancing. We also had some of our fellow dance girls backstage giving us water and fruit as well as tightening our ghungroos so they wouldn’t fall off on stage.

Our Varnam was a huge success, resulting in a standing ovation from the audience. After the Varnam, we performed a slower dance called Ramabajanam, telling all the stories about Lord Ram, another Hindu god known for his chivalry and virtue. We decided to dedicate this dance to our parents since it was always their favorite to watch and listen to. My mom was heavily involved in helping us memorize this dance by telling us the stories so we wouldn’t forget the choreography. Right before the last dance, we acknowledged all of the people who helped us backstage and were presented with our graduation certificates. In order to give the audience a peek at the effort that went into the performance they were watching, we shared our experience with the audience as well as our guru’s message during this time. Our last dance surprised the audience, as our mother joined us on stage and danced with us. She always dreamt of being a dancer as a child but was never able to learn. Sharing one dance meant a lot to us, and watching it was very entertaining for the audience as well. After all the dances were over, all our guests proceeded to the banquet hall for dinner where we were able to greet all our guests and thank them for coming. When the night ended we were exhausted but still full of adrenaline.


Even though the tension that had built-up in my head over the last few months had now subsided, I was somewhat disappointed that the process had come to an end. I wouldn’t exactly call my Arangetram journey perfect or effortless, but I grew so much this past year as a dancer and as well as a person. The lessons I learned from dance about hard work and resilience will carry on with me for the rest of my life and for that I am forever grateful. The event itself brought so many people together such as my aunt and cousin, who came all the way from India to attend, as well as so many relatives that we hadn’t seen in years. Grandparents, as well as young children all gathered in the audience to watch a display of their culture, or for some audience members, learn a new one. Not only did we spread awareness for this beautiful art form, but we also raised awareness on mental health amongst South Asians — an issue we’re passionate about.

Along with our guru, we decided to leverage this event to create awareness for mental health amongst South Asians in the United States. We decided to advocate for SAMHAJ, a charity that provides education and support for South Asians affected by serious mental illnesses. In order to educate people about mental health, SAMHAJ offers workshops to social service organizations, schools, and mental health professionals as well as provides culturally competent mental health services by creating bilingual support groups. You can donate to SAMHAJ via this link.

Overall, this process has been immensely gratifying and I simply cannot wait to see what the future has in store for me with Bharatanatyam.


By Shreya and Shibani Sarkar

Shreya and Shibani Sarkar are 15 years old and they started learning Bharathanatyam from Guru Sanjeeta Mukerjee at the Sanchari … Read more ›

In Conversation With Kevin Wu: Creating Content in a new Generation

Kevin Wu
Kevin Wu

Kevin Wu, previously known as KevJumba, is an American YouTuber, from Houston, Texas, with more than 2.68 million subscribers on YouTube and more than 323 million views. His content consists of vlogs, social commentary, musical parodies and more. Wu also streams on Twitch and has released original music as well as freestyles. His most popular YouTube video is titled “Nice Guys” with Ryan Higa. Wu has also worked with many individuals including A-Trak, Chester See, David Choi, Globetrotters, Iyaz, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Lin, Ryan Higa, Wong Fu Productions, and more. He has also appeared in movies such as “Hang Loose,” “Revenge of the Green Dragons,” “Man Up,” and more. Wu is one of the first original YouTubers gaining popularity in 2008 and even had another channel, titled JumbaFund, now known as Team Jumba. Continue reading to learn more about Kevin Wu’s journey!

[Read Related: Superwoman and Humble the Poet’s #IVIVI Music Video Celebrates Toronto’s Diversity]

We really enjoyed the project ‘Underneath the Lights.’ On the track “WHY U IN LA” the lyrics, “Don’t know who I might be, it might surprise me. I could be a hypebeast, That’s nothing like me, It’s so enticing.” How do you feel this speaks to the idea of self-discovery? What have you learned about yourself, diving back into making content?

I love that song we did. The artist who sang those lyrics his name is Zooty. I really provided the energy and direction for the musical piece, but I give credit to my producer Jonum and Zooty credit for the lyrics. Both guys are a slightly different generation, gen-Z, whereas I grew up as a millennial. I find that I left a lot on the table when I left YouTube at 23, so when I work with gen-Z I have so much that I want to give. Coming back to YouTube this time around, it’s all about self-reliance. Coming from movies and television, you have to depend on people to get a better product. But with YouTube, I’m going back to my roots and putting my wit and effort into every part of the process again (writing, directing, performing, producing, editing). I want the result to be authenticity and a homegrown feeling.

[Read Related: JusReign’s Reign on YouTube]

When you started your YouTube channel you were known for your vlogs and social commentary. How do you feel about the new age of content creation — where content is in surplus but individuals aren’t feeling the content?

It’s hard to say whether or not individuals are or aren’t feeling content — the taste is just so wide now. It’s like living in Los Angeles; food is very competitive, and when picking a restaurant you have every ethnic variety and even fusion foods. I imagine opening a restaurant in LA to be very competitive and the attention to detail in what you make has to be authentic or hit a certain demographic. I feel on the Internet, YouTube does a decent job of catering to your sensibilities, the so-called algorithm. However, the personal connection you get with content creators has somewhat been shifted, and now it’s become more interest-based (ie gaming, how-to, music, politics, etc.)

How do you feel the original algorithm has changed, and what do you miss most about that time?

I don’t remember talking about algorithms back in 2010 to 2012. People watched their favorite Youtubers because their homepage included their subscriptions first and foremost, and then if your subscriptions hadn’t posted anything new, you would typically check the most popular page. Then trending became a thing and now you have algorithms generating your timeline based on a bunch of data. I think it’s forced creators to think externally and hanging onto identities i.e. what are my interests? Am I a gamer? Am I a streamer?

We parodied your music video for “Nice Guys” for our orchestra music camp skit back in high school. If Chester, Ryan, and you, had to recreate “Nice Guys” today, would you focus on the concept of self-love for the current generation? We also really loved “Shed a Tear.”

I definitely think self-love would be a very nice theme. Recreating it would be nice, actually. I think it’s hard to get three people to all be in the same room again, especially after leading different lives. But “Nice Guys” was something special for each one of us, and Chester See deserves a lot of credit because of his musical talent. It’s made me realize today the impact of music. I really enjoy the expression of music because it forces you to be more artistic, versus just saying what’s on your mind. Like poetry, or hearing harmonies.

You’ve worked with many individuals and groups in the past including, A-Trak, Chester See, David Choi, Globetrotters, Iyaz, Jamie Chung, Jeremy Lin, Ryan Higa, Wong Fu Productions, and more. If you could create content with any group of individuals who would be your dream collaborators?

At this stage in my life, I really enjoy coming back and rekindling those creative connections and checking in with previous friends or acquaintances. Doing a video with Ryan Higa, Jeremy Lin, Chester See, David Choi, Wong Fu, Jamie Chung, those would all be very fun. But the first step would be to just see how they’re doing. So that’s the closest thing to a best case scenario for me. I’m not trying to force any collaborations at the moment (haha!). Unless it’s convenient.

As an NBA fan you expressed you would like to talk more about basketball on Ryan’s “Off the Pill Podcast.” How do you feel watching sports and has playing sports helped you become more in tune with yourself?

After going through a lot of physical adversity after my car accident, reconnecting with sports has been really helpful. I played basketball for a while and I’d like to get back into soccer. I wanted to talk about basketball on Ryan’s podcast because I was still dipping my toes into Internet content/social media and didn’t want to talk too much about myself at the time.

As a content creator how do you balance not letting validation get to your head and authentically connecting with your audience?

We all seek validation. It’s innate, but it’s about where you seek it. Nowadays I remember to validate myself first, by starting with my mind and body. After a while, you can get a sense of when you need validation versus being totally unconscious of it. Sometimes that sense of validation is important, so we know to check in with our parents, or see if a friend needs positive feedback. To connect with the audience, that’s like number five in my priority list (haha!). Having an audience can be scary; you definitely want to be in tune with yourself first.

How do you deal with comments consisting of “I miss the old KevJumba?”

I just smile. I miss the old KevJumba too!

[Read Related: The Authenticity and Individuality of 88rising’s Niki]

As live streaming has become a new form of content now, how have you enjoyed live streaming on Twitch for the Head In The Clouds Festival both in 2021 and 2022? We really enjoyed seeing Ylona Garcia sing “Nice Guys!”

It’s fun, I enjoy live streaming and I really appreciate 88rising and Amazon Music for inviting me both years to be the host for their livestream.

What was the decision behind putting your family in your videos?

I put my Dad in my videos accidentally; we were on a ski trip. I think people responded really positively in the comments, and then I just sat down had a conversation with him on camera, and it became a hit. After that he just became his own character. I think I tend to come alive more when I am interacting with someone on camera.

We really liked seeing you upload videos to Team Jumba. Is the mission still to donate earnings to a charity that viewers suggest?

At the moment, no. The Supply, which was the charity I donated to before, has since shut down. I also don’t make much money on YouTube anymore, since I was inactive on my channel for a while, so that format from 2009 will be difficult to replicate.

We really enjoyed the ‘KevJumba and Zooty Extended Play,’ specifically the track “With You in the Clouds” featuring fuslie. How has Valorant inspired your music as well as other forms of content creation?

The album was really experimental. I find the personal connections I made in gaming to be the most enlivening. “With You in the Clouds” was inspired by TenZ and, since he’s such a legendary figure in the pro FPS community, we had to do a worthy tribute. I think paying tribute to the things you like is a really great way to think about content creation.

How do you feel your childhood experiences in Houston, and playing soccer, have shaped you to chase your dreams of acting? How have you enjoyed acting in comparison to YouTube?

I love acting. It’s a wondrous lens at which to see your relationship with others. I find that in studying acting, you are often really studying the human experience or the mind. It’s like learning psychology but you are on your feet, or you are reading great theater. Playing soccer and growing up in Houston don’t really contribute directly to why I enjoy acting, but I very much enjoy coming from Houston and thriving in soccer. It made me commit to something and seeing how consistently “showing up” can really ground your childhood and prove to be valuable, later in life.

How do you feel we can uplift each other across the Asian diaspora and unify to create ripple effects of representation?

I think listening is probably the best thing you can do. Just genuinely hearing about something, or someone, helps you really invest in them during that time that you are there. So I think that’s probably the first step.

What made you go back to school and finish your degree at the University of Houston in Psychology?

No one reason in particular. I was also studying acting at the time back in 2017-2018 when I completed the degree, so it was just testing my limits and seeing what I could balance. I finished it online.

What are your upcoming plans?

Just experimenting on YouTube for now. Making videos with my own effort.

Your first video was uploaded back in 2007 and was titled ‘Backyard,’ where you are dancing to a song called “Watch Me” by Little Brother, off of the “The Minstrel Show.” We also really enjoyed your video with Ryan Higa titled “Best Crew vs Poreotics.” Are you still dancing these days?

Yes. The body does what the body wants.

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

Nothing in particular. I try to let my mind flow when I answer questions. I may have jumped to conclusions before fully investing in some of the questions, so I apologize. If you are reading, I thank you for your time and patience. I also thank Brown Girl Magazine for putting together a vast array of questions that allow my mind to stretch and work out a bit. I hope you find a stronger connection to your own truths, and I hope I did not disturb those in any way. Regards.

Photo Courtesy of Kevin Wu

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 ›