Photography: Landon Neil Phillips
Styling: Dalia Dalili
Clothing: SCAPES NY
Model: Anjali Naik
Assistant: Camela Guevara
If anything good has come of the past year in the United States, it’s been everyone waking up to the need for sociopolitical activism. And while Donald Trump’s election may objectively suck, artists of all kinds have risen to the occasion. Anjali Naik is one such artist, making ambient, electronic protest music under the name Diaspoura, and she couldn’t have come at a better time.
Without knowing the words, you may not listen to a track like “GTF” and realize it’s a protest song. But underneath Naik’s hypnotic vocals and a trip-hop beat, she throws shade at all the people who didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election. Having devoted her first album, Demonstrations, to exploring melancholic nostalgia for her childhood, Naik has shifted her attention to contemporary issues, both on a global scale and in her own life. Though she’s spent a lot of time doing volunteer and activist work, the 22-year-old South Carolina-native isn’t currently focused on any one cause––she’s just dealing with her shit in the only medium that can handle it. For her, Diaspoura is an attempt at self-care and community building in a time when we really need it.
BULLETT caught up with the artist to talk adolescence, Americana, and finding her sound. Read our interview, below.
How did Diaspoura start?
Charleston, South Carolina is really big on Americana and folk music, and I went to Charleston for school––I grew up in rural South Carolina. So I thought that rock and folk music were just what people did when they grew up. I started writing folk music even though it wasn’t my thing. I played some open mics, did some cover songs, and then I realized it was stupid that I was writing folk songs when I actually liked electronic music. So I began writing electronic music on my own in January 2016. Before that, I had no experience with it.
Is there anything you couldn’t communicate writing folk music that you can writing electronica?
Definitely. Electronic is not really a genre, it’s just a format. So there was a lot of room for me to just create something that was my own. I love the computer in that way––the internet has allowed people to express themselves in ways that our traditional, capitalist, square society doesn’t allow for. It’s expanded our society and created so much accessibility. But I still don’t know what my genre is.
Why do you call yourself “Diaspoura?”
Diaspoura is something I came up with to create my own unique style. Really the only life I know is being an outsider––I know that’s kind of cliche, but in terms of my identity, and my interests growing up. When I discovered feminist literature by an Indian-American woman, and started searching online for more work I could relate to, I found that the easiest way for me to find it was with the word, “diaspora.” I’m really interested in learning about the experiences of people who talk about the diaspora, about being separated from your ancestral culture. It’s a beautiful word to me, in general.
How did the process of writing Demonstrations compare to writing “GTF?”
Demonstrations is a reflection on the things that I was never able to express growing up. So, a lot of nostalgia and reflection went into that, and it came off in the writing of the album. I think “GTF” just came at a different time, and I had a lot of anger. I was feeling more resentful than I was with the first album. You can’t really look back and feel as much anger towards the past as you can in the present moment.
You’ve described Diaspoura as a means of self-care. Can you tell me about that?
It’s something that I’ve been working on ever since I came to college and learned what self-care is. I was doing a lot of different types of volunteering and activism. But I never felt like I had permission to talk about myself in any of those places––my story never felt relevant. The issues I couldn’t talk about were isolation and exclusion, feeling unwanted and feeling so different from other people. Music was the place to talk about myself without feeling like I’m taking up too much space.
What inspires your songwriting?
I can’t pinpoint a certain thing that inspires me, but I do think a lot of my lyrics come out of intensity and when I’m feeling emotional––whether that’s sadness, or nostalgia. I’m an Aries so I can get riled up really fast. I think my best work comes when I’m feeling a lot. It’s a feminine quality that people write off, but I think that emotionality is so powerful––the world would be a better place if we took it seriously. There’s so much power in empathy and honesty, and trust, and building relationships.
What do you write about?
I’ve written about identifying “both/and” nuances rather than “either/or” in my own life. I’ve always felt that I needed to be one or the other, and I think a lot of my work comes from talking about my oppression while also recognizing the privileges I’ve had. I talk about ownership and whether I own certain parts of my culture, or if they’re even my culture. Now I’m moving in a direction of exploring what it means to be a femme of color and an artist, and what pigeonholing and diminishing femmes and women of color results in.
How would you describe your sound?
I describe it as a lot of things. On my Instagram I call it “ugly cry music.” Sometimes I call it “synth sap,” or just messy, but soothing. It’s layered, and it can be hypnotizing.
How do you hope to evolve as an artist?
I expect my work to take on a more grounded quality. I want to focus it more on contemporary issues, especially with the amount of things there are to talk about right now. And I want to make my music a place for community building and healing.