Mena Sachdev has always had a hunger to create their own music. A multi-instrumentalist producer, DJ, and vocalist, they released their solo project, Ushamami, through their first EP, Proximity, in 2018. The limitations of their reality, of who and what was not represented in the electronic music universe, became their inspiration to be assertive in making themself and their identity visible through their music.
“I just wanted to create my own world, and I think that’s a result of my coming into my queerness, my coming into everything that I was listening to. I didn’t really know anybody around me that I identified with…I think at the time, I created the solo project because I didn’t have a choice,” they told Kajal.
Ushamami’s music straddles a dual space of resistance and vulnerability, knitted into electronic beats through soft vocals and layered lyrics. In “Scars,” they sing, “Had to see the part of you that validates my open scars / got wounds on my back / guilt on my hands / tell me you like me.”
Their words are honest and raw, reflecting the openness that they embody. However, vulnerability hasn’t always come easily to them in their music. As someone who presents as gender-queer, they often struggled to accept being feminized for their voice and their lyrics.
“I eventually realized that I can be masculine presenting and be queer…and still have that softness and vulnerability that doesn’t typically go with masculinity, ” they said.
Ushamami’s journey into forming their musical identity went hand-in-hand with their journey of coming into their queerness. The music that resulted displaces norms and pushes boundaries, audibly and visually queering sound and listening.
Ushamami is not afraid to take up space and create representation that is often left out of the mainstream. The music video for their song “Jinx,” an electronic head-bop hit that reimagines 80s pop, was released by Dazed in early 2019. It beautifully features their friends in an honest, intimate portrayal of queer desire and polyamory. Songs like “Hesitation” and “Mind Up” similarly play with uneven beats and soft synths to mirror the dual sensuality and softness of queer intimacy.
“Queer desire is so important to me and my work. I think a lot about desirability politics and polyamory and queer sex and just how political it can be…and how beautiful,” they said. “I mean desire to be free, to be liberated. Desire to do anything.”
Their music draws from the multiplicity of desire and intimacy that shapes their own experience and that of their community to extend what is possible and what is visible. Intentionality is central to how Ushamami engages with sound.
“I think listening can be such a sacred practice for anybody. Hearing and sound are so intimate and so important to the world,” they said.
Since their solo EP, Ushamami has been collaborating with other musicians, songwriters, and producers to develop new music and create intentional queer spaces to critically engage with sound and music. They draw inspiration from other queer South Asian artists, like Diaspoura, Kohinoorgasm, DJ Ushka, amongst others, who have left a mark on them — pulled through at shows, been a kind aunty, and showed them that other queer South Asian musicians exist.
“They give me hope when I look at their music and their art. I feel like what they’re doing affirms me,” they said.
While Ushamami was born out of a scarcity of artists that they could identify with, finding similar collaborators and community and seeking to create spaces like theirs has helped Ushamami refine and push their sound further in their next album.
“I can be really intentional and take control of who I bring into this sacred creative space; that is when our art is going to be better than ever,” they told Kajal.
Their next album continues to be imbued with 80s dance melodies, but features a matured sound that brings a new depth to their haunting voice and honors the vulnerability that has always been a marker of their lyrics.
Having reached a point of transition in their music, Ushamami has used the creative process to “visualize and move into a future world that is more honest.” Their next album is representative of their desire to unlearn and decolonize their mind, to let go.
“I feel like I’m inside this beautiful fantasy right now while I’m writing these songs about just fucking letting go of all of this shit, the generations of shit — generations of everything that we carry on our shoulders, that I don’t want to pass down to future generations,” they said.
Ushamami is stoked for their next album; there’s no doubt that it’s going to be visionary.
“I’m writing for someone like me and my entire community…I’m queering the future in some ways,” they said.
Photos by Sonia Prabhu.