Kohinoorgasm(photo: Jasdeep Kang. Styled by Reva Bhatt and Pragya Bhatt)

Like most modern-day youth, Josephine Shetty got her start in music through interest in pop music as a young child. “My whole life, I just had this great appreciation for pop and I always loved whatever was on the radio, like Prince, Madonna, or Lady Gaga and the intersection of pop and theatrics drew me in,” she explains. Unlike most kids, Shetty delved into the deeper connotations of pop music and explored what she enjoyed about it the most: its execution.

Mesmerized by the idea of pop music as theatrical performance, she began honing her personal interpretations of the art of pop as theater. “I loved the idea of performing and acting out a song on stage,” Shetty adds. Today, Shetty goes by the moniker Kohinoorgasm (pronounced KO-HEE-NOOR-GASM) when performing her experimental lo-fi pop tunes.

After moving to the Bay Area for college, Shetty began taking the teenage piano-pop ballads she created in Los Angeles further, and started experimenting with GarageBand. She even hosted her own radio show for a few years under the name Mantis on KALX 90.7FM, UC Berkeley’s college radio station, as she studied art history at the university. Continuing her love for theater and performance in college, Shetty collaboratively directed and performed in Yoni Ki Baat, a play inspired by the Vagina Monologues and put on by the San Francisco chapter of the South Asian Sisters.

Shetty in her room in Berkeley, CA.

“I was never formally trained in an instrument, my only formal training was in dance and theater,” she says. “And so, I got a

[musical] rhythm. I’ve always had this specific vision of what I wanted my own music to look and sound like.” Shetty jokes that in lieu of a college thesis, she put out an EP the week of finals in 2016 and was surprised by the amount of support she received. It was a pivotal moment that served her well — it was the start of Kohinoorgasm.

‘Kohinoorgasm’ originates from the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a diamond stolen in the 1850s during British colonial rule in South Asia.

Plenty of things have occurred to Kohinoorgasm since then. She recently returned from a two-week roadtrip across the US, crossed paths with the the Kominas on her August tour across Europe with Wizard Apprentice, and performed at SXSW in April. Through traveling, Shetty was able to connect with other similar minded individuals.

“In London, I got to connect with a lot of other Desi people. We had this show with an all Desi lineup at this venue called the Old Blue Last and that was the last night of the [Europe] tour. […] Another show from our Europe tour was at this place called DIY Space for London…It was a cooperatively-run social center and an all queer, trans, and POC show where everyone was so supportive. Because they promoted it well, people knew who I was. That was a magical feeling, to be in a different country. But we’re all impacted by imperialism and white supremacy, and we had come to this space to share a moment together to celebrate ourselves.”

From her bedroom-pop roots to a commercial boom on platforms such as SXSW and a profile on NBC Asian America, Kohinoorgasm’s personal message and the reason she is inspired to continue sharing her music should not be discounted. ‘Kohinoorgasm’ originates from the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a diamond stolen in the 1850s during British colonial rule in South Asia that is now one of the Crown Jewels of England. Although several Middle Eastern and South Asian countries have demanded the diamond’s repatriation, England has made no move to return the diamond to a rightful owner.

“It’s an example of how peoples’ cultures and identities have been abused by colonizers,” Shetty says. “I would say I do see my music as an act of decolonizing and reclaiming identity by complicating it.” Aside from the profound personal connotations behind her name, dancing and inspiring her audiences to be themselves is key for her overall message. “When I make my music, I want it to be danceable or evoke some kind of movement,” she says. She claims coverage on high-profile platforms allows her grassroots-based message of dance and resistance to be shared with even larger audiences.

A year ago this month, Kohinoorgasm released the music video for her song “Azaadi is Freedom is Fate” — a milestone Shetty is currently reminiscing. The video is directed by her friend and frequent collaborator Jasdeep Kang and the song is featured on her self-produced album Titalee, released earlier this year in January. A few of the songs on the album are performed in Hindi, a tribute to the Hindi pop songs Shetty listened to growing up. Kohinoorgasm hopes to release new music by the spring and is playing a show with Chhoti Maa, Humid, and Ötzi at San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop on December 12.

Despite her origins in the Los Angeles area, Shetty believes the Bay Area gave her the motivation she needed in her younger years to pursue her outlets and meet other creative individuals. In an increasingly gentrified Bay Area and today’s political administration, Shetty feels she still has more to say and give back to the community that allowed her to develop her platform. She’s incredibly thankful for the opportunity to play shows such as the Universe is Lit, a queer Black and Brown punk festival where she played alongside other queer, gender non-conforming, and femme artists such as Wizard Apprentice, Spellling, DJ Haram, and Beast Nest, among others.

“It makes me sad so many incredible, decolonial artists have to move through such aggressive colonization in the Bay,” Shetty says. “I have a lot of love for that extended network and a lot of my momentum has come from that.”

Stream Kohinoorgasm’s album Titalee below and see her perform at the Rickshaw Stop on December 12.

Chhoti Maa, HUMID, Kohinoorgasm, Ötzi
Rickshaw Stop
December 12, 2017
8pm, FREE