Meet Rehma, a Los-Angeles based R&B and alternative pop artist who’s taking the music world by storm with her dreamy, introspective music.

Rehma sat down with 5XPress to tell us more about their music journey ahead of their performance at the 5X Blockparty on June 11.

Music has always been an integral part of Rehma’s life that was always swirling around her during childhood. Rehma started singing as early as two years-old, and her first cover, of Hurt by Christina Aguilera, was posted on YouTube by her sister Rohaina at only 10-years-old. Her first official public music release was just four years later. 

Rehma’s mother attributes this musical instinct in part to her grandmother’s career as a Pakistani radio singer. Throughout her childhood, this musical heritage became further fortified by the eclectic musical tastes of Rehma’s parents.

Rehma tells us that growing up, their parents exposed them to music from every end of the spectrum. They were raised on everything from Bollywood disco or Psychedelic rock, all the way to powerhouses like Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Michael Jackson.

This extensive range of music set a broad foundation for Rehma to explore any and every genre as both a listener and an artist.

“It was just like such a clash of sounds in my household growing up, but it taught me a lot because it gave me a very diverse ear,” she said in an interview with 5XPress.

As Rehma got older, their love for singing only grew stronger. Given her evident love of singing, Rehma’s family wasn’t exactly surprised when she said she wanted to pursue it. Still, being a brown child of immigrants telling their parents she wanted to pursue a creative career came with conflicting emotions.

“Obviously it’s not the number one choice for brown parents, for their kids to pursue music. I was definitely a little scared to tell my parents that I really wanted to do this, like, fully,” they said.

But, after Rehma’s first SoundCloud release gained some traction online, her parents realized that they weren’t going to stop her from pursuing something that was such a prominent part of her life.

“They kind of just accepted it and were like, ‘go do you.’”  

From there, things started building for Rehma. She released the Mercy EP in 2020— a shimmery 6-track EP during her time as a Sociology student at UC Berkeley.

The project itself is emblematic of a time where Rehma was reckoning with what it means to be an artist, and juggling all the other aspects of being in your twenties. This is explored in-depth in her track, Lavender.

“[Creating Lavender] was like me figuring out how to make space for my dreams,” Rehma said.

“It’s just about how much you want something. How much do you want to create a difference in your community?”

 Late last year, Rehma collaborated with Houston-born r&b singer Shreea Kaul on Ladke— a brown girl anthem that explores the shortcomings of the brown boys they’ve dated.

When Shreea reached out to her with the intention of collaborating, Rehma said she was excited to collaborate with another South Asian artist who was making music that was so different from their own. 

“There doesn’t need to be one version or model of what you have to be as a South Asian artist. You’re tapping into your culture completely differently than I am, but still doing it wonderfully,” they said. 

The track touches on the high expectations of brown women in relationships, and how so many have been disappointed by the boys in their dating history— an experience that resonated with people in various South Asian communities. 

“Pakistani outlets, Indian outlets were taking notice of the song. Sri Lankan people were resonating, Bengali people were resonating. That’s why I was like, ‘this is the united front, nobody can stop the women,’” Rehma said.   

Rehma said that shooting the music video, which now has over 150,000 views on YouTube, was by community, for community.

“I place a lot of importance on working with people I actually fuck with, who actually care about creating something bigger than just making something or being famous,” she said. 

As a recent Sociology graduate, Rehma’s passion for social justice is inextricable from their identity as an artist. Art, to them, is an opportunity—a conduit to something bigger than herself. 

After the Mercy project dropped, Rehma held a digital listening party, where folks raised money for the Black Immigrant Collective

Moreover, the commitment to community is evident behind the scenes through the people that Rehma creates art with. 

“I think the only reason I want to do music today is because it creates the platform for people involved in the project, the photographers, the directors, my sisters— all who are mostly South Asian or Arab.”

Art can provide a space that makes people feel a wide range of emotions. For Rehma, creating these spaces comes with a great deal of responsibility.

“I want to use my art for something good—use it to make people feel better, to vibrate higher, to move in society with love and feel free,” they said. 

Creativity is also an avenue to encourage folks to be themselves and embrace every part of who they are. 

“I’m hoping music can just be a channel for all the young, queer brown girls at there. Nothing should stop you.”

Ahead of performing at the 5X Festival, Rehma is eager to continue to be in a space dedicated to uplifting South Asian art. 

“To know that there is a space for a bunch of South Asian artists and people who enjoy art to come through is dope. I’m really excited to be immersed and meet more brown people,” she said. 

“There’s not enough art in this world.”

About the author

Jeevan Sangha

Jeevan is a UBC Sociology student, writer and self-proclaimed cinephile (to annoy the film majors). An aspiring journalist, she loves writing silly little articles about pop-culture, media, politics and the South Asian experience while balancing her job in community-engaged learning. When she isn't having an existential crisis, you can find her over-caffeinating, binging a new show or trying to prove that she's a much cooler, brown Rory Gilmore

Instagram: @jeevanksangha 

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5X Press is a forum for opinions, conversations, & experiences, powered by South Asian youth. The views expressed here are not representative of those of 5X Festival.