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Midway through her second full-length album, Asha’s Awakening, Raveena ponders the evils of the internet. In a spoken word interlude, “The Internet Is Like Eating Plastic,” her thoughts will likely resonate with fellow twenty-something earthlings who have been equally impacted by all the vile and beautiful things that spring from the world wide web. As this 27-year-old puts it: “The internet has me stupid and smart at the same time.” While the bulk of Asha’s Awakening is set out in the nebulous cosmos, Raveena’s personal penchant for jazz, funk, soul, and inklings of Bollywood, from her native Indian culture, all make their way into the inner lining of this galactic record. And like any good concept album, the record’s protagonist journeys from this insecurity about the internet toward something brighter and stronger by the project’s end.
Though her first album, 2019’s independently-released Lucid, followed up a well-received initial EP, Shanti (which translates to “peace” in Sanskrit), this new album represents a massive breakthrough for Raveena. Technically her fourth release — it comes after she shared another EP, Moonstone, in 2020 — Asha’s Awakening marks her first release signed to a major label. For some artists, the transition from indie darling to mainstream pop can be a buzzkill, but for Raveena, the extra support only helped her expand. Her sophomore album is richer, warmer, and even more inviting than her debut, the work of an artist who understands how to weave disparate sounds into her own mesmerizing whole. And as one of the few Indian-American artists in the mainstream, despite pop’s increased representation in other areas, her visibility represents more big shifts in 2022.
“I kind of just wanted to really tap into my confidence, and tap into my bravery as an artist, to take risks,” she told NPR of the record. “That was kind of the awakening for me – I think this character was a beautiful vehicle for that because she is so bold, and so fearless. She goes through so many transformations, I found a lot of myself in her, and found a lot of courage in her.” Asha, the record’s titular protagonist, lives in ancient Punjab, but finds herself “transported” to another planet, where aliens educate her on their spiritual teachings and magic. After spending a thousand years on their planet, she misses humanity and love, and returns to earth to find the only thing that tops being a cosmic princess — connection.
And connection is the driving force linking the fifteen songs on this soft and sensual album, which kicks off with a stellar pairing — the frenetic, joyful opener “Rush” and beat-heavy “Secret,” featuring none other than cult favorite West Coast rapper Vince Staples. Vince’s inclusion here signals Raveena’s quick ascent into the big leagues, as a guest verse from Staples isn’t necessarily common for emerging pop stars. Actually, Asha’s Awakening includes not only that verse from Vince, but appearances from visual artists and musician TWEAKS, on the dreamy “New Drugs,” as well as legendary Indian singer-songwriter Asha Puthli on “Asha’s Kiss.” Considering Lucid had a sole feature, and both EPs were Raveena alone, working with other artists is another way she’s expanding her sound.
As a first-generation immigrant who was born in Massachusetts and raised between Queens and Connecticut, Raveena’s experiences could easily fit into what has been dubbed “third culture kids,” a split upbringing between the culture of her parents, in India, and physically growing up living in America. Though for every TCK, the pull between conflicting culture comes with different overtones. In Raveena’s case, her family are survivors of the 1984 Sikh genocide, so the collective trauma of that violence is also part of her lineage. Given the chaotic, sometimes painful nature of those relational forces, it’s not surprising that she gravitates toward the calming practice of meditation, and the healing forces of practices like reiki. Or, the escapist fantasy of an alien planet, where there’s plenty of time to learn coping mechanisms and return to earth ready to move forward.
All those influences naturally spill into her album, as the funky “Kathy Left 4 Kathmandu” splits the difference between Hindu practices and American experimentalism, and “Kismet” incorporates sections of Hindi lyrics into the intro and chorus. At the closing point on the album, Raveena leads her listeners through a guided meditation called “Let Your Breath Become A Flower,” and just like her lament about the internet, nothing could feel more natural to close out this emotional, eclectic project. “I wanted to just offer people a very practical tool for their life, and be able to actually use it if they needed it — to go to sleep, or just to calm down,” she told NPR of the concluding track. Within the song’s natural birdsong and crickets, gongs and bells, it’s still her voice that is the most soothing of all, instructing the listener to breathe in starlight and use it as a protective force against suffering. “In this space you are unconditionally loved,” she claims, manifesting her own journey from the malaise and insecurity of the internet’s chaos and landing in the zen of enlightenment.
Asha’s Awakening is out now via Warner Records. Get it here.
Raveena is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.