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Exclusive: Interview with Malinder Tooray

We've known Malinder Tooray for several years now and are proud to call her a friend. You've certainly seen this badass female dhol player collaborating with countless South-Asian creatives, but most recently in Mickey Singh's Urban Desi music video! We met up with Tooray at one of our favorite spots - Badmaash in Downtown LA. There's nothing like chowing down on some delicious chicken tikka poutine fries and catching up with an old friend!

When did you start getting into music?

I wasn't allowed to listen to hip hop growing up. My parents didn't like the foul language. I really wish that they let us listen to it because I would have appreciated the music and it would have helped me understand why there's so much racism. I didn't have knowledge about where racism stemmed from and why everyone was so segregated. Music was a way of expressing that. When I would listen to my friends talk about a Biggie song or a Tupac song I wish I knew all the lyrics too. There was a little bit of disconnect for me, but as I grew older I was able to listen to them and really reflect on their lyrics. Everyone should know their lyrics because their message was trying to make a difference in the world. I mainly listened to Bollywood and Bhangra growing up. It really helped shape who I am today.

Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to play dhol professionally?

Playing the dhol came naturally. It was like a gift. I learned to play by listening to beats. My brothers started picking it up too and we started playing gigs. Our parents would drive us to the clubs, go in with us, let us rock out and then drive us back home. The feeling of being on stage and seeing people smile and reacting back at something you're giving to them is something that can never be taken away. A gift that I have is making people dance. It's like being a doctor in a different way.

Lets talk about sexuality

I'm a queer brown girl. At the age of 6 is when I first became curious about my sexuality. As I got older my feelings for women progressed and got deeper and deeper. I didn't know what to do with these feelings. I was just a kid and didn't know how to bring it up and I knew my parents would have no idea how to handle that. As years went by it just got worse. In middle school is when I really started having crushes on girls, but I never talked about it and I never explored it. My feelings kept building up and I turned to playing sports as a way to express the feelings that were festering. When I got into high school it was starting to depress me and eating me up inside. I would have serious crushes on girls, but didn't know how to ask. I didn't want to freak anyone out. It's not a guy asking a girl out, it's a girl asking a girl out. You don't know how they're going to respond. It was in high school when I was 14 that I first picked up the dhol. It was like what sports was for me in middle school. It was another way to release feelings.

Coming out was very hard - I came out at 18. I met a girl that was also queer. Before meeting her I had no exposure to other gay people at all. She was really sweet. She would write me love letters and leave them under my pillow and we would talk about what she wrote. I really appreciated those moments. At the time I was living at home and knew there would be consequences at some point. It was hard to explain to her how difficult it would be to be open with my parents. It got to a point where she was going to walk out on me if I didn't tell my parents. At that age I was so caught up in my emotions. I didn't know what to do. We were having dinner at my parents house and I grabbed her hand and told my family I had a confession to make and I was like "she's my girlfriend." And they were like, "yea, she's your friend." I was like, "no, she's my girlfriend - we're in a relationship - I'm gay." Things did not go well. I left home for a week because I was scared. I didn't know what I did wrong - I just wanted to be with this person.

Your inner heart is telling you who you are.

You love who you want to love.

There's no right or wrong way to come out. You are who you are at the end of the day. It was a struggle for years, but over time my mom started understanding. Now she'll happily tell everyone that she has a gay daughter. It's amazing - I thank god everyday that I have the best mom ever.

I appreciate every gay person that came before me. It's because of the struggles they overcame that we're at where we're at today.

I'm proud of who I am.

Pride to me is holding your head up high and having confidence in who you are.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but you have to choose to see it. There should be no gender conversation. Everyone should be allowed to be in tune with their emotions. There shouldn't be judgement. If a guy cries he's called a pussy. That's not right. I want people to cry and express their emotions - it's therapeutic.

Becoming a voice for the queer community

There were two queer Desi girls that messaged me from the Bay area that were moving to LA. They said they had no friends and if they could meet up with me. I said absolutely because when I came out there was nobody I could turn to. That feeling of being alone can really damage a person and I wouldn't want anyone to go through that whether they're straight or gay. We're best friends now. There's been more and more people reaching out after I was in the Micky Singh music video. That was the first Desi video that showed a same sex couple in an intimate way. People have messaged me asking for advice on how to come out.

What's next?

I am being featured in a South Asian Bridal Magazine. I'll be the first brown queer girl they've had in their magazine. This will be another platform for me. Modeling is something I never really thought of in my teens or my twenties. I was so insecure before. After I cut my hair and started taking photos I gained confidence - I could see myself differently. Another thing I'm working on is creating a line of jumpsuits. I'm going to create a clothing line that has no gender formality. I'm learning a lot about fabrics and the fashion world in general right now.

God puts you in this world and gives you this opportunity and it can be a challenging opportunity, but what are you going to do with it? How are you going to give back to the world? These are the questions I'm asking myself. Who am I and what is my purpose here besides being the first female dhol player? It's about happiness. I have to find what makes me most happy. It's okay to not have everything figured out. Everything from your past leads you to where you are today.

Who are your biggest music influences?

My cousin, Kuly Ral, who's no longer in this world created a group called RDB. He was a great inspiration to me because he created the two step Bhangra back in the day. He created something that was so different.

What are you watching?

The Handmaids Tale - that is a brilliant show. Sometimes it feels like we're heading in that direction. I'm glad I have a dual citizenship! I just started watching Pose on FX. It's the first vogue ball tv series about the gay community. I think it's really good. I've seen vogue balls and have been apart of them and this show is pretty on point with reality.

Who are your favorite people to follow on social media?

For fashion I like to follow Mani K. Jassal from Toronto.

An author I like following is Rupi Kaur.

An artist I like following is Babbu the Painter.

A singer I love is Horsepowar.

Malinder is such a powerful individual to live a life that is completely true to herself She's been an inspiration and support to so many! We find strength in her strength. Being yourself is the most beautiful thing you can be!

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