damnshestamil

Priya Ragu

damnshestamil

“I almost feel like I’ve created my own genre,” Priya Ragu tells Apple Music about her debut mixtape, damnshestamil. Cowritten and produced by her brother, Japhna Gold, it’s an infectiously bright and lively affair that reflects Ragu’s dizzying, diverse musical influences. “Growing up, I would listen to everything from Tamil folk music to Ghanaian music, reggae, rap, jazz, and R&B slow jams.” For Ragu, the EP’s title represents an act of playful—but purposeful—empowerment. Born to refugees from the Sri Lankan civil war, she grew up in the Swiss city of St. Gallen, where Tamil people like her were perceived reductively. “At that time, we weren’t seen as pretty or cool or admirable,” she says. “So, when I first joined Instagram, I thought, ‘Do you know what? I’m going to call myself @damnshestamil.’ From then on, I was owning my identity and embracing it.”
The results don’t just celebrate Ragu’s heritage; they also reflect the profound creative bond she has with her brother. “There’s something magical about writing songs with him, because we both come from the same source,” she says. “We don’t have to prove anything to each other or be scared to show weakness.” Read on as she digs deep into damnshestamil track by track.
“Leaf High” “When I wrote this song, I just remember feeling really free and almost like I had no responsibilities. I had gone to New York with one goal in mind: to write 10 songs and just see what I could create. I felt like I could achieve anything, so this song is really about how we, as humans, are so much more capable than we think. I think there’s more to all of us than, maybe, we even realize sometimes.”
“Good Love 2.0” “This song is about a perfect love that goes beyond religion and caste. It’s actually inspired by my parents’ love story. They met in the city of Jaffna, in Sri Lanka, and my grandparents were strictly against the idea of them having a ‘love marriage’ because they really believed in arranged marriage. So, for my parents to choose each other, that was making quite a statement at that time. It was tough for them to begin with, but they made it through. When the song’s outro comes in, it’s meant to sound like the feeling of falling in love.”
“Lockdown” “I was thinking about people who have difficulties living alone—the sort of people who always have to have human company. I asked myself the question, ‘How are they dealing with the pandemic now that they aren’t allowed to have people around?’ And from that point, the song came to me really quickly. It’s definitely not about me, though. I’m actually so good just being by myself.”
“Lighthouse” “In this song, ‘light’ represents your soul, and ‘house’ represents the body you’re living in. The song is saying, ‘Whenever you feel low or insecure, you will find the answers within yourself if you look down deep.’ At the end of the song, I’m chanting in the Indian language Telugu. That part of the song was inspired by a time my parents took me to the Venkateswara Temple at Tirupati. Thousands and thousands of people go there, and you stand in line for four or five hours until you see Krishna. I remember going through all kinds of emotions during that wait: I was angry, I was sad, I even had a fight with my brother. And then, everybody in the queue started chanting, ‘Govinda!’ and even though I thought it was stupid at first, I realized there was nothing to do but join in. That moment really stuck with me, so I thought, ‘I need to put that in a song.’”
“Anything” “I think this song shows another side of me. It’s a ballad about letting your guard down and feeling like you’d do anything for someone, but then the relationship doesn’t work out. I actually find it easier to write ballads, because I can really choose the words I want to use. Lauryn Hill’s ‘Ex-Factor,’ Alicia Keys’ ‘If I Ain’t Got You,’ and Donny Hathaway's ‘A Song for You’ are songs I’ve always had such a deep connection with.”
“Chicken Lemon Rice” “When I heard the beat, I was like, ‘OK, this song is definitely about celebration.’ I wanted to make it a high-energy song that people could dance to. The title ‘Chicken Lemon Rice’ just sounded right rhythmically, but it’s not about the food; it’s more about mixing different ingredients together to come up with a dish. In the song, we’re using Tamil instruments and African rhythms to come up with this new thing, which is really what ‘Chicken Lemon Rice’ symbolizes for me.”
“Deli” “I’m talking about something that happened right outside a deli in New York. It was just before midnight, and I met this person I had a really strong connection with. We got beers and a few chips and just hung out and had this deep conversation until, like, 4 in the morning. It was foggy, it was raining, there were trains passing by, and I remember thinking that it felt like something out of a movie scene. When I went home, I was like, ‘I need to memorize what just happened, so I can write about it.’ I’m not in touch with that person now, but I’m pretty sure he’ll know this song is about him. It was just such a specific scenario.”
“Kamali” “This song was inspired by a documentary short [also called Kamali] made by director Sasha Rainbow. It’s about a seven-year-old girl who’s the only skateboarder in her village in India, and all the sacrifices that her mother makes for her. It’s such a bold move on their part, because the mindset in the village is very much like, ‘Skateboarding is something guys do. Girls don’t do that. What if she breaks her leg and can’t get married?’ Hopefully, we can speak to other Kamalis in the world and inspire them to be so bold.”
“Forgot About” “This song is about the person from ‘Deli.’ It’s really about having that strong connection with someone, thinking it’s going to last forever, but then it’s gone. And then, a year later, you wonder, ‘Do they still think about me? Or did they move on?’ Writing this song actually helped me to process my feelings from that time. There’s a line in the song—‘Sometimes I reread our convos just to be close to you’—which is something, I think, we all do after a breakup. Even though it’s a crazy thing to do!”
“Santhosam” “I cowrote this song with my parents and, originally, it wasn’t for the mixtape; it was just a song we did for us. My dad is very musical—he taught himself to play the tabla—and my mom has a good ear for music, too. ‘Santhosam’ actually means ‘happiness,’ and this song is about a guru, a spiritual master, who kind of changed our lives when we met him. He showed us how to do yoga and meditate, and the whole family just got a bit more chill after that. I put a snippet of this song on Instagram one time and people started DMing me, saying, ‘Whoa, what is this song? When is it coming out?’ So, I figured I should put it on my mixtape and make it the perfect 10 songs.”

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