njali, the singer and producer behind Diaspoura, interviews with Sonia, the multimedia artist known as Raverbaba, on how they worked together as director and stylist for the music video to Diaspoura’s song Glisten. The music video, filmed in rural South Carolina, released in December 2018 via Nylon Magazine with the statement:
“Liberals on the sidelines do not deserve the satisfaction of even knowing about black, brown, queer, trans, working-class, and femme resilience—they should be earning that by providing financial and emotional support.
They can see our tears and our sweat and how we gloss ourselves up and move forward again—it's free for a follow, and it's even tracked and sold back to us. This was my realization when I wrote and produced 'Glisten.' And for the video, my friends and I—a crew of entirely QTPOC, on- and off-screen—rally up and move on with or without them. Buy a ticket or get left behind."
The two artists reflect on their unique styling collaboration as gender non-conforming people, DIY artists, South Asian Americans, and Aries birthday twins.
ANJALI: Earth to Sonia!! Beep beep! How are you?
SONIA: I’m chugging along on a postie (a poster)! But don’t fret, I’m exiting Postieland & buying a one-way ticket to Glisten Valley...
ANJALI: Your postie designs are a whole world! But do come aboard!! Talk about a journey... I remember the night we spent 2 hours pulling off my duct-taped binder for the filming of Automatic (spoiler!! also never again will I duct tape). We also found out that we separately had wanted to interview each other to document the beautiful process of styling Glisten together. Kya baat hai! Was this meant to be, or do we just think fraternally from being born on the same day?
SONIA: Oof yes duct tape binding is cancelled! And I think all Aries can secretly read each other’s minds, but I’m excited to unpack Glisten and share our brain blasts with the world!
ANJALI: Ok, so... Let’s get down to business. *adjusts glasses*
SONIA: Yes! So looking back on Glisten, you intended for the styling to convey your relationship to home, and some of your political beliefs and histories. Can you dive into some of these themes and the ways that we expressed them through styling?
ANJALI: Let us dive in!! Well, I have a complicated relationship to many of my identities and how they are normally represented in the media. If someone is repping the [American] South, for instance, it usually comes with an assumption that they’re white and racist; but what about all the people of color and anti-racist histories of the South? Since this was my first official music video co-directing a team, and having started music as a Southern organizer for art and social justice, I tried to understand how I could embrace some parts of my cultural upbringing, while simultaneously rejecting certain movements which style trends can perpetuate, such as the Confederacy and brahmin (upper-caste) supremacy in the South Asian and Indo Carribean diaspora.
SONIA: ‘Retweet’ to thinking more critically about how caste and other supremacies are reinforced through fashion trends! I also feel like I’ve learned so much from your direct experience with radical Southern organizing, and your independent research on it too — I remember you had a whole powerpoint on deck! As a non-Southerner, your research helped me better understand the vastness and complexity of Southern histories and aesthetic trends.
ANJALI: Totally. It has been a journey to uncover it all even for myself, because Lorde knows our history books were hiding a lot. I have it written in my old notes that we really needed to unpack the first style draft of me in Southern garb. I remember us both discussing how the use of cowboy hats, boots, and distressed jeans had a moment in 2018, but I was hesitant to participate in it. Eventually, we decided the pioneer-reminiscent trend doesn’t feel like a true reclamation when done by non-Indigenous, non-Black people who come from settler families. I did realize, on the other hand, that Southern camo print (not the military print... the hunting gear! Very different, for my non-Southerners!!) can feel very empowering for me personally to reclaim from white deer-hunting culture. Doing so, it took on a new meaning, speaking to my growing relationship to the natural land here. So the gothic-nature look in the film was a great fruit from this conversation.
SONIA: Yes! I know we worked to ensure the styling reflected your experiences in the South — from creating a Southern butch pop star look, to incorporating woven, mesh, earthy garments that symbolized your relationship to the land, to a look that channeled southern goth brown kinship in your scenes with Kaanchee [who produces art and music under Gudiya and Sand Pact].
ANJALI: So although the overall direction was heavily based on my experience in the South, I was hoping that in collaborating with you, you would be able to make creative decisions on the parts of our lives which feel genuinely relatable. What parts of the styling did you personally identify with, and how did you navigate??
SONIA: I remember when the whole crew was sitting on your porch drinking cha before the shoot, we ended up talking about our upbringings kind of organically. Webs of power within the South Asian and Indo Caribbean diaspora are usually so flattened and sterilized — I'm thankful we got to unearth some through our personal stories, in such a compassionate, warm space. Heh, I would love that cha recipe btw...
ANJALI: Hot dog, I will send that ASAP!! Yea, I was so anxious about how many personalities were going to coexist in my little cottage home, all having just met. I had ice-breakers planned just incase! So that whole go-around was a dream scenario... of many!
SONIA: Even though we all had vastly different backgrounds and several of us were non-Southerners, I think we all related to Glisten's themes of unbelonging, home shifting beneath our feet, and fatigue from having our work co-opted, moodboarded, or not credited. I think this bubbled up in the styling through our incorporation of pieces from multiple homes. There’s so much beauty and power in DIY styling remixes!
ANJALI: Yeeaaa, we did do a whole clothing swap by the end of it. Ayqa’s red scrunchie made the opening scene, worn on my wrist! Kaanchee has an i-con-ic style and massive creativity, so I’m grateful that she was open to style direction using a lot of her own clothes. An original Southern gothic legend, she is.
SONIA: I know some of the audience for Glisten read the styling and characters as "femme." How would you like your character to be interpreted, and do you think there are elements of the styling that fuck with gender presentation norms?
ANJALI: I hate gender, but I have to think about it so much!! I wish that being nonbinary didn’t come with the pressure to be androgynous 24/7. I wish that people could be accepted as trans without banishing certain accessories and styles from their wardrobe. When I was letting more people into my closet nonbinary queer experience and transitioning labels, I used “queer femme” for the longest time — including the time of Glisten — because I did not want to let go of feminized presentation norms that I still love, which I now realize don’t change how I feel about being nonbinary: long hair, lipstick, scrunchies, etc.
SONIA: Exactly! Like for me personally, lipstick and long hair have affirmed my gender-queerness and masculinity, even though others perceive that presentation as solely femme.
ANJALI: Gender assumptions need to be abolished already!! I was so scared to risk being put in the rink of “girl power” flicks, because both of us don’t even identify as girls!! I think we made sure to conceal our bodies more-so to protect ourselves from awkward sexualizing comments during the release of the video (which still happened). I am actually proud that we didn’t shy away too much; we tried going with what felt true to us, even if it sometimes read as “femme,” leaving the sad worries created by the gender binary. My inner child is smiling from saying that after so many years of back-and-forth.
SONIA: Baby Sonia is high fiving baby Anjali right now.
ANJALI: Speaking of inner children (is that right?? whatever), do you have any reflections from the making of Glisten that honor and fulfill your inner child?
SONIA: Absolutely! This styling project involved a lot of dress-up, crafting, and experimenting with household items, all of which we're pressured to abandon as adults. I think my inner child believes all objects shapeshift, and that anything can be an accessory. I think everyone should use peach rings, keys, berries, really any objects in or around their space as earrings. An accessory that stands out in my mind is the fabric flowers I found roaming around your home. We pinned them at the ends of your hair for the car scene. Since you took a lot of care to orient us to indigenous and revolutionary histories in your hometown, as well as your own family history, it felt really right that your body was adorned with the same materials as your home.
ANJALI: When Jasdeep [co-director of Glisten] asked me about designers to send garments to show in the video, I suggested we bring you on as a stylist instead, since I had seen your talent to transform old clothes into amazing new looks! It is really affirming and reflectant of my crafty childhood. I’ve grown up with some shame and judgment for buying thrift, having grown up in the poor South. DIY projects weren’t just an interest but definitely a constraint I learned to make beauty within. I hope that more people honor the fact that we didn’t buy anything new for this film AND we looked next level!! And by honoring, I mean acknowledging and paying dues to the working-class contributions to sustainable fashion. Like, if you’re gonna start thrift shopping to be in the culture, you gotta support labor rights and not get me priced out of my stores.
SONIA: One thing I really admire about your creative ecosystem is how you trust and resource your collaborators to step into new roles. I feel like this flies in the face of art world capitalism that pressures artists to constantly generate work or proof of expertise. Can you dive into this approach a bit more, and the importance of DIY styling and media?
ANJALI: Thank you, Sonia!! I think this open floor can be kind of scary for people who aren’t used to having much creative power, but you were someone who took this and ran with it. As someone who was born into some exclusions beyond my control, it is a special goal of mine not to reinforce the nature of degrees and written qualifications. It was clear that you have talent for fashion design by the photos you would post of amazing outfits taken in your bathroom. I could tell that you were fully capable of leading the wardrobe styling as your first style project just by the way you would communicate, follow up, and respect our commitments. From there, I just had to give the guidance and encouragement one needs to do any job well, and remember to give space and not cramp your style. LOL, oop!
SONIA: Oop! You know I’ve said this before, but I’m so grateful for your trust in me, as a stylist and collaborator. Your ability to identify and incubate people’s talents is so transformative! Having someone believe and invest in my creative dream was so empowering, that I started DJing immediately after Glisten. Dare I say...Raverbaba exists because of Glisten!
ANJALI: That is so fulfilling — what a review! I’m dead!!! May I rest in peace. :)
SONIA: RIP to us both! <3
*Sonia and Anjali have left the chat*
The music video to Glisten by Diaspoura is available to watch on Youtube. Buy the song on Bandcamp and stream on any platform. Learn more about Diaspoura’s music, new media art, and resistance on Patreon.com/Diaspoura. Find Sonia’s portfolio of styling, music, photography and more at Raverbaba.club.
directed by: diaspoura
co-directed by: jasdeep
art direction by: ayqa khan and dipika isha walia
styled by: sonia p
director of photography: jasdeep
edited by: jasdeep, dipika isha walia, diaspoura, and ayqa khan
featuring: diaspoura, kaanchee, sonia p, ariel eure, ren trueblood, ansley pope, and p hollis