If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then I am the entire solar system and beyond… as seen through my mother’s eyes.
These are the words of non-binary South Asian artist Naavikaran, a producer, choreographer, and chai-maker from Mumbai and Bangalore based in Brisbane, Australia. A multidisciplinary artist, their latest work is a song titled ‘If My Genders Were The Entire Solar System’.
The musical composition is especially unique because it reimagines gender beyond the binary of male and female, through the eyes of an Indian immigrant.
“The title is a funny story, actually and is entrenched in gender liberation and immigration,” Naavikaran told Indian Link. “Having moved to Australia in 2015, I found it quite hard to convey who I am. Most people I know and have met have a very shallow and binary understanding of gender, race and intersectionality. I therefore wanted to create something floral, playful and yet accessible that I could use when I met people and introduced myself.”
‘If My Genders Were The Entire Solar System’ is a track that is part of a bigger theatre-spectacle and album called Brown Church created by them and commissioned to be presented as a part of the Undercover Arts Festival in September last year at Queensland Theatre.
Naavikaran worked on the lyrics of the poem-song for over 2 years.
Their partner and music producer, Levi Kohler, is behind the tune of the ‘deeply celestial track’. Kohler was inspired by the synth melodies of artists like Himera and Oklou.
“The idea was to create a soundscape that really awoke the sense of what travelling through the solar system would feel like,” Naavikaran revealed. “That led to the creation of the track that is informational but yet has a child-like curiosity and wonder to it.”
For inspiration, they listen to a lot of A R Rahman, Shreya Ghoshal, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. They also follow musicians like Dua Saleh, Florence and the Machine, Doja Cat, Janelle Monae, and writers like Ocean Vuong, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou.
Naavikaran is not completely new to the music scene; in December 2021, they dropped their first single ever – ‘Where Are You From?’. The track captured the experiences of people of colour being asked that question, often by White people, not necessarily out of genuine curiosity but more from underlying roots of racism.
“I wanted to create a track that analyses how a very innocent question can be quite destabilising to many people of colour, migrants and even Indigenous people. The work signifies the way in which racist tools like micro-aggression can create violent experiences for people regardless of their indigeneity, immigration status, class and gender,” they said.
Naavikaran and Levi wrote the track together, which exhibits a range of different sections including Indian classical and hip-hop, that blend in smoothly to give listeners ‘a fun yet chaotic experience’.
Making music as an Indian immigrant in Australia
When asked about breaking into Australia’s music scene, Naavikaran shared their first-hand experience.
“I am still ‘breaking’ into the music scene. The music industry is extremely racist and gatekept.
“As a non-traditional South Asian, trans, disabled, dark-skinned artist on a visa; who is using mainly spoken word and experimental music as a form of expression, there is neither a strong audience for the genre nor curated spaces that cater to diverse art forms. Whatever spaces do exist are culturally unsafe and under-resourced,” they shared.
“The journey is, however, entirely exciting! I am lucky to have a very small yet loyal following and I am looking forward to keep working harder for them,” they added.
They also emphasised that Australia, especially Queensland, has poor resources, funding, and structures for storytelling and performance.
“I think we have a long way to go to change the narrative so that the distribution of recourses, mentoring, opportunities and avenues to creative forums are more equitable to women, queer and disabled folk and other marginalized intersections,” Naavikaran said.
For them, making music means being more accessible, it is the easiest way to share their work with everyone.
“Most of the world has access to the internet and I am really interested in offering more and more ‘free’ ways of people being able to listen to my work,” they said.
As a storyteller, Naavikaran is deeply invested in resourcing spaces for culture, liberation, and expression for various intersections and communities, as led by those intersections and communities.
“I believe that the practice of culture and storytelling is the practice of caring for land, elders, children and therefore directly leading to a better and safer planet for us all. Making music is one of the many ways I am engaged in that work,” they mused.
Naavikaran is currently engaged in theatre-making; along with their team, they have produced two sold-out works, People of Colours at Brisbane Powerhouse and Brown Church at Queensland Theatre, in 2021. They are also building two new works this year, soon to be announced on their social media handles.
The talented multi-hyphenate also authored a piece called ‘Hazards of dating as a queer person of colour’ on SBS.
Lovingly known as Auntie Karan by Instagram followers, Naavikaran will bless the their feed with their evocative poetry from time to time. Here’s an excerpt from an untitled poem:
We aren’t IKEA built monoliths.
We are biryani in my house for Ramzan and idlis and chicken kudi at yours for Easter. We are cricket and badminton amidst dhai-handi and Sawant uncle’s daughter’s wedding in the same kilometer’s radius.
What advice does Naavikaran have for someone like them who wants to make it in music?
“Build your community. Find mentors. Explore authenticity that is beyond ‘decolonising’ and then live by your values. Collaboration is key,” they said.