The magnetism of Desi-American Artist, Kohinoorgasm
WORDS BY ANNA NOLAN | PHOTOS BY ANDREA GRANERA
When I first met LA-based Desi-American pop fairy Josephine Shetty, better known by her musical moniker Kohinoorgasm, we were behind the counter working a shift together at the Berkeley Art Museum bookstore. I’ll never forget the day she wore dangling butterfly earrings, each one the size of her impressively constant smile. Everyone who stepped into the bookstore that day stopped to either say hello, compliment her earrings, or linger casually hoping a conversation worthy of her attention would strike very soon. I felt undeniable joy by association.
Having just met her, I wasn’t sure if her smile had always attracted this level of attention. Some years, three releases, and a handful of international performances later, I have a few theories that aim to pin down the source of her magnetism and how her new EP Chalo is a coy reminder to use music as a tool for celebration.
It finally dawned on me, I should just take this into my own hands. Why am I waiting for a lesson? Why am I waiting for validation from some system? I should just do this. I love doing it. I don’t need that many resources to start,” she said.
IT’S HER BACKUP DANCERS.
Pop has a few essential ingredients, and as a DIY artist some recipes require thoughtful substitutions. The production might be more simplistic, the styling more thrifty and the backup dancing more experimental.
The limited resources make the magic of Kohinoorgasm even sweeter. Every part of the performance is a celebration of creative substitutions, from clothing and makeup choices to the unconventional venues. Experimentation and dance is what drives the experience of a Kohinoorgasm show.
For Kohinoorgasm, “Dance is a celebration. It’s a prayer. It can be a kind of exercise. It can be healing. It can literally exorcise pain and hurt out of you. It’s so powerful.” In incorporating backup dancers, her primary objective is, “For the dancers to feel like they are empowered in that process of discovering what moving on their own terms means to them, despite so much societal pressure and structure that is trying to fit them into something.”
For a Kohinoorgasm performance, the choreography is as simple as a few words of encouragement and a reminder to stay hydrated in the 24 hours leading up to the show. The pep talk goes a little something like this, “Wear what you want, move how you want. It’s really just supposed to be your natural reaction to dancing live to this music and I want you to do what feels good.” The result is always bright, fearless, and a delightful tribute to pop music as a whole. Kohinoorgasm rarely catches a glimpse of her dancers while performing but the energy and care they bring to the stage are unmistakably part of the Kohinoorgasm effect.
IT’S THE GLOW OF MOTHERHOOD.
It is rare to speak with an artist so humbled by the process of creating, so aware of the power of the microphone, so thoughtful about their collaborations, and so careful with every part of the process. For Kohinoorgasm, “Art is a baby.”
In the world she creates, femininity and vulnerability are superpowers. Those superpowers color her music videos which are all carried out by femmes and underrepresented peoples of varying shades and shapes.
“Everyone has a superpower,” she says, “not everyone is connected to it. Not everyone has the privilege of connecting to it, not everyone has the capacity to connect with it and I just feel grateful that I’m able to do that. I hope to encourage, inspire, and equip other people with that capacity.”
IT’S HER POP PREDECESSORS.
Pop is a transcendent experience. Young and thrilling. Hopeful and sad. Sometimes pure light.
For Kohinoorgasm, Prince was a big part of her journey to and love for pop. The influence music making endows its artists with is exceptionally powerful, she sees Prince as having, “A massive respect for that power. He really used it in so many ways, not just in his music, but in everything that came with his music— his wealth, all the resources he had, all the people who he knew he was touching, all the different kinds of music he made.” That kind of all-encompassing care and responsibility is something Kohinoorgasm brings to every beat and costume, every casting choice and video concept.
IT’S THE PROCESS OF COLLABORATION.
Artists rarely represent a single perspective— their power lives in careful collaborative choices, from the inspirations that brought them to the stage to the team that helped them dress for it.
People who collaborate with Kohinoorgasm understand vulnerability and femininity as superpowers. They respect her choices and have their own stories to tell. Oftentimes that looks like assembling teams of, “Not only people of color, but mostly women, femme people, non-binary people, and trans people, people who stand against war, people who are anti-capitalist, just people who I can trust, who’s visions I believe in.”
Once the performance or music video has taken place Kohinoorgam says, “The people who are listening to my work are engaging with me in a communal way. Their support feeds me in the same way that my music might feed them.”
The same level of care that goes into assembling the team behind the camera or on-stage goes into finding an audience. For Kohinoorgasm, it’s about finding “spaces that attract people who understand why I think it’s important to be vulnerable, why I uplift my very soft, whispery vocals, why I want to have dancers just grooving to their own kind of expression.”
The end result is the intended “safe and sacred process for everyone involved.”