Meet Twinjabi, who make the most of their Indian-American cultures through their music

Indian-American music duo Kush and Neil Nijhawan discuss bridging their dual cultures with music, plans to shift base to Mumbai and a soon-to-be-released single, ‘Brown Magic’

Updated - June 03, 2020 05:34 pm IST

Published - June 03, 2020 04:05 pm IST - Mumbai

Kush (Kushy) and Neil (Neilstar) Nijhawan

Kush (Kushy) and Neil (Neilstar) Nijhawan

Kush (Kushy) and Neil (Neilstar) Nijhawan loved their visit to Mumbai — a visit which included a performance at Khar Social club — in February so much, they made the bold move to make the city their base for six months of the year.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and their plans had to be put on hold. But that has not hindered their drive to create music and connect with fans.

Over a Zoom call, the 26-year-old twins are at their home in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. Ask them to look back on their career so far and name one prominent turning point, and Kush responds, “We started out with zero and at zero. But we started recording in 2018 and our music kept getting better. For me, the turning point was when we dropped the ‘Bombay’ audio — our second recorded track but first release — at the start of 2019. We released a video on May 24, 2019, and that video was picked up by Vh1 India and they played it on rotation six times a day on television. Our début video [ which has over 4,00,000 views on YouTube ] was picked up by international television!”

Kush and Neil add that, up till then, they had received a lot of skepticism from their community about their career choices but the success of ‘Bombay’ effected a lot of pride.

Screenshot of Twinjabi’s music video for ‘Bombay’

Screenshot of Twinjabi’s music video for ‘Bombay’

“Another turning point had to be when we got onto the cover of Spotify’s playlist Bridge To Bombay; and we’re still on the cover. It’s a popular playlist for a lot of people. We have family in India seeing us on TV which is great.”

That said, Twinjabi have their fourth release coming out on June 5: ‘Brown Magic’ which Neil pegs as “an anthem for all the brown girls around the world. It’s a very soulful record with empowering vibes; it’s especially important for brown girls in different parts of the world who were probably picked on as kids for being brown, to embrace their culture.”

Growing fanbases

Have the pandemic and lockdowns hindered their creativity? No, they are creating music. “During this time, our social media has grown the fastest, and not just from India. We’d started out with fans from America, India and Canada, which is normal because those places were our bases, but now we see people from other countries — Russia, the Czech Republic, Tanzania and Brazil — enjoying songs like ‘Rani Recognize’ which is a mix of Hindi and English. Some fans don’t understand it but they love the vibe of it.”

The artistes have learned a lot about the healing power of music, with Kush commenting, “Mental health is such a big issue now across the world; I know I deal with it, and with the pandemic making it worse, you are stuck at home and you feel very limited. So people look to entertainment and music to have that escape.”

It is natural to believe that working with family is tough, and Neil and Kush agree to an extent. “Like any brothers, we fight but we love each other. The hardest part is that we are hard on ourselves and hard on each other too, and maybe it is not what the other person wants to hear but they have got to realise it comes from a good place. We are pushing and challenging each other, because I know Neil will kill his part so I have to do the same.” When travel gets easier, they want to explore Goa, Kolkata and much of the south. One of the challenges, which the two are overcoming, is learning Hindi as they go. Kush holds up a small Hindi dictionary and explains that lyricising in Hindi does require effort but it is effort they are both happy to continuously make.

Neil agrees, explaining that Twinjabi prides themselves on quality control. “We want anything we put out to be the best thing and compete with the A-listers, like Drake. We really need to bring change to the game, not just the Indian communities. The advantage of our diaspora is that we were born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, and being Indian, we are bringing so many different elements through our journey.”

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