I GREW UP in a rural South Carolina setting. I was one of three South Asian students in my school, which included my brother, and there was just a noticeable lack in my life of other young South Asians, period. I had definitely found friends, but I couldn't get the kind of support that was like, I know how you feel, I understand. Publishing things as Diaspoura was the way I could break through the fear and shame that I had from dealing with those issues on my own. And I think that really resonated with a lot of other people who are experiencing isolation around certain cultural phenomena, something they were feeling was only affecting themselves.
When I first released Diaspoura and I was coming up, the primary offers I was receiving were all based around certain marginalized identities that I have. At the time, I was not outwardly non-binary, so it was women-centered events, it was South Asian community events or queer playlists. And I'm glad to be witnessed and supported in my identities like that. But then when I was asked for interviews regarding my identities, it was giving me a different experience: it was always, always just making me relive the most terrible realities that I was still living in, and talking about how much I suffer with this thing and then this thing and then this thing...And I think being someone who is othered with my race, sexuality, gender, disability...it just became so clear what was happening to me, that I was just this living character who embodies all of these oppressed traits, and that I'm living to talk about suffering.
And I was like –
How can I not suffer? Can anybody tell me how I can not suffer?
> Do I
This is one part of my understanding of liberation now: the transformation of victims to survivors and asking them how they're surviving and how they can be supported.
SO I STARTED my Patreon as a call to my friends to directly support me instead of me transitioning into a label or receiving sponsorships that could pay for my music. I started getting those offers, and it felt really grimy to feel like I had to do this secret business and then cover it up so that it looks like I'm this self-sustained and successful artist who came up from the trenches. So my Patreon was a way for me to say, hey, I'm willing to be completely transparent about everyone I'm working with, how intentional everything is...Can you just help me get a living wage to keep making music in a really honest way?
My community is still holding this space for my art – it’s such a beautiful feeling to be loved this way by this constellation of amazing people in my life. This is the biggest thing that has helped me survive up to this point. Also knowing what exactly I need and accepting that I'm not a capitalist and that I don't strive to live in wealth and excess. So how can my community provide and how can I reciprocate so that we all have our basic needs met?
ANOTHER GRASSROOTS STRATEGY I have is horizontally booking with people. I've led a couple of tours where we've co-headlined the tour, instead of there being a big name headliner and then there being smaller, assistant artists that get to benefit from the big name and whatnot. And then along with booking, I've done a lot of advocacy with bookers to be like, hey, can we make the payout process really transparent? How much are other artists getting paid? Can you afford to pay us a liveable wage and then cut budgets in other ways?
My vision when I was creating Traumaporn was being in a place of affirming queer and trans people of color. We have each other, we're well connected. We love each other. We're not going to keep participating in your systems that are not serving us.
> We're going to set the standard and you have to follow.
It was also about having people like us not only on the screen, but also in the credits. We were starting to see people who looked like us on screen, but then we'd look at the credits and then see all of these white guys with all of the filming and directing roles. And it's like this doesn't even feel like our story anymore. This seems like a portrayal of how they see us versus how we see ourselves.
MY RELATIONSHIP TO my South Asian identity is absolutely complex. There are some things that I appreciate, like images, objects, memories, smells, because I think aesthetically I take so much from my South Asian upbringing and culture. Even the things that my parents would listen to around the house, I’ve subconsciously brought that into my music now.
There are also parts of my South Asian identity that make me feel pained and confused, particularly all the things that I've been brought up with that were narratives to make me feel complacent or closeted or impure. Coming from a Gujarati, dominant caste background and seeing how caste has really infiltrated into a lot of cultural norms has made me rethink a lot of things and see how I can accept myself, while not priding myself on things I'm not proud of. For instance, I don't have to acknowledge or celebrate Diwali, and that doesn't make me any less South Asian, especially because there's tons of people who are being oppressed by Hindus in India and everywhere.
I guess I've put a lot of fixation on my parents' support because I feel a limited amount of mentorship in my life and exposure to my culture and my ancestors, and because I don't talk to the rest of my family. My parents have come some ways, I think. I have recently been more publicly polyamorous, and I told my parents about how I have two partners right now who know and like each other. It was definitely hard for them, but a couple of weeks ago, one of my partners was driving me to the airport to see my other partner. I told that to my mom and she said to say hi to both of them. And just her acknowledgment was huge for me. I was like, well, yeah, you're accepting the fact that this is a normal life.
I personally believe that just representation is not going to liberate me or people like me. I think it's really important for all of us to think about what kind of representation are these people giving us. What kind of representation are we looking for? And for me, I’m looking for representation where queer people are not having to boil ourselves down to our fashion and creating character tropes about ourselves. Representation of people working cooperatively together.
ANJALI (they/them) is the radical force behind DIASPOURA, creating art, music, and community. Diaspoura's sound and speech has brought forth a fresh perspective to the media of a poor, Brown, and gay South. Their most recent EP Traumaporn (2018) is a sonic study of power and vulnerability. You can support them and their practice here and you can follow their journey here.