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Varsha's Tiny Desk Contest is inspired by the Hindu goddess Durga

VARSHA KRISHNAMOORTHY: I'm currently sitting in my ancestral village. This is where my grandpas' grandpas' grandpas and all of them retired. And they come back to this village when they grow old. We are in the middle of a function right now for my grandpa, so I'm actually sitting in his home in a sari. So I think that I'm definitely in the midst of reconnecting to my roots right now.


Varsha Krishnamoorthy is a 21-year-old singer-songwriter of Indian descent. She's also one of the hundreds of musicians who submitted a song to this year's Tiny Desk Contest, and she was a standout for her song called "Woman."


KRISHNAMOORTHY: (Singing) I am woman.

PFEIFFER: She calls it fusion music. She blends the sounds of traditional Indian songs with American R&B. Krishnamoorthy says her music is influenced by having lived all around the world and regularly spending time with her family in India.

KRISHNAMOORTHY: I grew up visiting India almost every summer, and it definitely feels like I learn a lot every time I come back here. And I take little bits of those lessons and try and implement them in my sound, and I think it definitely reflects in my artistry.


KRISHNAMOORTHY: (Singing) I am desire. I am beauty. I'm affection, introspect within. I am what has been.

The song is about the experience of South Asian women and all of the different aspects of what it means to be a South Asian woman. And it's particularly told through the lens of Durghama, who is one of the most powerful, all-encompassing Hindu goddesses.


KRISHNAMOORTHY: (Singing) I am woman. I am woman.

The strength of a woman, the beauty and nurturing aspects of a woman, how she flows, the curves, you know, the union which is womanhood, all of those things I took from different names that Durghama is called and what those different names mean.


KRISHNAMOORTHY: (Singing in non-English language).

I always knew that I wanted to include it in the song because this specific prayer is for Durghama. And because I was writing it from the lens of all of her different incarnations and manifestations, I wanted to make sure that I included a prayer to her. It is basically saying, glory to Durghama in all of her auspiciousness and salutations to her. I know that recently there's been kind of a wave of Indian fusion artists that are coming up, and I think that's so exciting. And I think that that sort of representation is so important for Indian or Desi kids or South Asian kids growing up in the West to have that sort of representation and say that, oh, I can be from the U.S. or from a Western country and still be proud about my Indian identity. So that's why I think that it was so important to me that I do this song specifically for the competition.

PFEIFFER: That's Varsha Krishnamoorthy. Her submission to the Tiny Desk Contest is called "Woman."


KRISHNAMOORTHY: (Singing) Universe and time, hundred-eyed, day and night... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.