We came across Ushamami and her single Hesitation taken from her debut forthcoming ep Proximity on a midnight music trawl. The hypnotic Hesitation resisted categorisation and we liked that. While electronica seemed a foundation to the track, in truth it was hard to know exactly what genre the track might be placed in. But that inability is ok. Categorisation is in part an aid to help some music journalist fulfil their word count.
Further exploration of Ushamami's sound revealed a heady mix of factors, influences and inspirations which coalesced. From her Indian heritage, to her identity as an Indian queer femme, to her love of the defining Solange (check her banging remix of her album) Ushamami is part of that nouveau wave of independent artists where freedom of ‘self' is paramount.
While that freedom is important Ushamami can and does represent something more. Despite our infinitely global world, Western music in terms of youth culture still seems rather absent of the female Indian artist/musician. Reasons for that paucity are multi-faceted and we could not do justice to that in a few sentences. Of course, there is the uk's MIA (Sri Lankan by origin) who has achieved global success, but she is an anomaly at present.
On one level that lack of representation is a glaring issue. But necessity can be the mother of opportunity. For Ushamami the rarely trodden ground of female Indian artists represents a fresh pasture for her to define not only her sound but of course Ushamami in all her Indian, queer, female independent glory.
Let's talk your name. It evidently has Indian roots.
My stage name has roots in my family. Both my mother and my paternal grandmother are named Usha, which is a common Punjabi name. Mami is kind of a term for aunty in Hindi (technically it means wife of your mother's brother). My cousins call my mom Usha Mami, and I loved the way it sounds. it represents my relationship with brown motherhood and feminism, but it also has a nice ring to it.
Talk to us about your formative years and family and the impact on your journey into music?
Music has always been a constant in my life. I can't remember a time when I wasn't obsessed with it. When I was younger, I used to love burning cd's for my friends. Also, I played classical violin for ten years. Once I was a bit older, I took up playing jazz guitar and bass. In fact, I was a serious jazz/rnb/funk musician mostly playing in bands throughout middle and high school. I was lucky to be in a community where hip hop, jazz, and rnb were so central to the lifestyle and culture. Many of my friends were musicians so I was always being challenged and encouraged by my peers.
Did family encourage your journey into music?
My parents were supportive of my obsession with music, as long as I kept up with my schoolwork. As far as I can remember, music was never something they forced on me, rather just some light encouragement here and there. As an instrumentalist, (and specifically a guitar player), I became used to being the only woman in the room at a young age. Things progressed and I picked up computer music, sound design and moved into more technological realms, that dynamic only got worse. But my parents and my community instilled a lot of confidence in me, so I always kept pushing on.
I have got very little representation to look up to, which is frustrating because 1/6th of the world is Indian!
We note your origins. There is a rarity of Indian singers in the genres you reside in-why is that and do you think it is changing?
This is a complicated and nuanced issue that would take me a while to unpack. I mean, regardless of genres, (because I am not even sure what ‘genre(s)' my music is), there are not many Indian people in Western popular music, or popular culture even. I have got very little representation to look up to, which is frustrating because 1/6th of the world is Indian! Nonetheless, there is so much amazing music coming out of India that intersects with Western genres like hip hop, house, rock and more.
You touched on this but genres love or loathe them?
Genres really frustrate me. Honestly, I just see them as marketing tools. I just want to blend genres as much as possible. I like to think of my music as the intersection between two experiences: growing up playing straight-ahead jazz/neo-soul/rnb and spending the past few years dancing and listening mostly to more glitchy, electronic stuff like techno, ambient and house.
We note a love for Solange.
I do love Solange! I made a remix piece of her 2016 album after it came out because I was so inspired by so many aspects of her album. The voice she put forward for black women in that record was so beautiful and impactful. I love how unapologetically vulnerable, political, and artistic she is. She creates such a cohesive and innovative aesthetic with all her different types of work. She has such a vision! Other influences are James Blake, Yaeji, Four Tet and Sampha.
You seem to have an edge, slightly left field approach. Where do your thoughts and opinions reside and how is that reflected in your music?
This is a big question. I am not sure I could put all my politics and opinions in one interview. But what I can say is my art is totally embedded in my experiences as a queer Indian femme. I like to play with gender a lot and assert myself as a woman, especially since I am participating in such a masculinized sphere.
So your debut ep first off talk to us about production (did you produce) who was involved, technical aspects regarding instrumentation, mixing, collaborators etc?
I produce, mix, and master everything myself. I collaborate mostly with my best friend Zack who plays drums on my single Currents and appears in a few other tracks on my ep. Other than that, I have an isolated process. I'm a total nerd, control-freak. and perfectionist with my music. I use Ableton, software instruments, and some analogue synths mostly.
Interesting artwork on the debut talk a bit about who created that and why you went with that look?
I made that with my friend Qualeasha Wood who is an amazing artist. She did the photography, graphic design and does a lot of beautiful screen printing work. I love working with other women of color and she really understood my vision. I wanted something that would be noticeable and that gave off my genderqueer vibes.
What were you aiming for in this debut as debuts can be difficult?
More than anything, to blend genres and show my abilities as a producer. At this point, I've been working on it for over a year and I'm just ready to be done and get it out there.
We loved Hesitation and that is when we started researching you. Formulaic question-what is this rather sexually charged track exactly about?
Hesitation is about queer desire and all the confusion and tension that can go with it. There's a real narrative to it, but I don't want to say too much to give it away. I love to leave my lyrics up to imagination for the listener!
The outro on that track with the synths (right?) great way to end.
I had my friend Kevin voice those synths for me and I love that part. I was going for a sort of James Blake style outro-he's a huge influence for me.
The other track we have heard off your debut ep is Currents. Slightly more rnb type sensibilities.
Hesitation has similarities to the rest of the album. Currents is a track I wrote in two days and I was excited with how catchy it was. I dropped that song before the others because I had completed it for the ep first. I think or hope once I drop the whole project people will see how it all fits together.
What other tracks can we expect from the EP?
There's a pretty big range! I have a love song, a house song, some more synth-y stuff. Honestly, more than anything I wanted it to be cohesive piece of art that represents me as a musician and brings a lot of different styles together. There's 6 tracks total with 2 interludes.
All images by Claire Dingle