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Interview with the beautiful singer Jonita Gandhi!

Jonita Gandhi is a desi damsel with upbringing on the phoren shores. But she never forgot her roots and returned to soar high in the musical sky like a whistling songbird. Born in Delhi, India but moved to Toronto and Brampton (Canada) for the most part of her formative years, talented young singer Jonita Gandhi never neglected her inherent talent nor compromised on honing it further. Like many from her generation, this 28-yearold performer too initially tested waters on her YouTube channel and emerged successfully with over 4.5 million views and 40,000 subscribers to boot. After a brush with the limelight, she is now completely immersed into Bollywood playback with a door kept ajar for independent music and joint-ventures. She talks to Score music magazine about her career choice, maiden film offer, being a daddy’s girl, composing in the closet, singing style and so on…   

You have an exotic touch to your profile having hailed from Canada. Did that give you an extra fillip during your foray in Bollywood as a strong command on world music scene is considered an added bonus today?
I firmly believe, versatility is a real valuable trait for any singer. And that quality develops from a keen indulgence in eclectic genres of music. Growing up in Canada, I was exposed to both western and Indian music equally. So I have spontaneously developed an ability to build up my skills in two distinct spheres of music — first by training in western classical singing, second by self-practice with Indian songs of various kinds. Thus having the aptitude to blend western vocal techniques with the nuances of Indiangayaki was something that has helped me begin the process of shaping a unique sound of my own over a period of time.

How has been your musical grooming in Canada? Would you miss your desi sangeet on a foreign land till you decided to pack bags and shift base?
Performing at events in Canada was quite a different experience for me than it has ever been here in India. But overall, it propped me up well to prepare for the various types of events I dabbled in while visiting back home. In Canada, most events tend to be for an audience of amalgamated Indian cultures, so the energies and expectations span over a wide range.

Seems like language is never a barrier for you and you have sung in several regional lingos. How do you manage this?
I use phonetics to learn the lyrics of languages am unfamiliar with. This is a very scientific approach for me. I rewrite the words based on how they sound to me, and over time, I have developed a sort of a legend of my own that I can apply to each and every vernacular I chanced upon to croon in. It’s really important to me to get the diction right. So I take aid of those immediately around me who natively speak the language of the song to help me correct my pronunciation while I’m picking up the tongue.

You could have easily chosen a career in corporate business or health science as your academic background highlights the same. Instead you chose music. Was it all about your passion’s call?
Deep down inside, singing was always my happy-haven, but I wanted to have a strong academic backing before attempting to pursue a career in music. Getting a good education as a solid backup was something my parents had instilled in me. So once I completed my studies, I was confident of giving the vocalist’s discipline a fair chance as a full-time preoccupation, knowing well that I have a stable foundation to fall back on, lest my career flunks to take off properly. So here I stand now feeling absolutely content and thankful to having followed my gut in chasing my passion for music. I’m also grateful that I had the much-needed support-system to succeed on this score.

Who has been your greatest guide, support and source of inspiration in music?
I owe it to many people who have along the way shared their experiences with me, provided that desirable relevant guidance and have also continued to support me on this ever-changing journey. I’d like to first and foremost refer to my parents for incessantly motivating and encouraging me through thick and thin. Musically, I am inspired by those who push boundaries and exude the self-sufficiency required to manifest their dreams into reality.

Your respected father — Deepak Gandhi — too is a musician by hobby and was the first person to unearth your talent. How did he encourage and introduce you to music?
My dad has been leading a music band in Toronto since I was a kid. When he first realized that I had a knack for singing, he cheered me on to learn and practise the craft. I was very shy as a child and he made all the efforts to trigger that spark in me and help me discover my true calling which lies in music. Thanks to his push and belief in me and the opportunities that he provided along my path by allowing me to perform with his band, that today I am where I am. I stand at a certain height now to keep challenging myself by adopting new techniques and grasping the essential ropes of the musical vocation.

Was Bollywood naturally your next step towards progression in terms of music? Didn’t you think of trying your luck on international platforms?
Well, I have always had this aim to take my penchant to an international level, since I grew up in a place where Bollywood wasn’t the be-all and end-all when it came to entertainment. I remember waiting to be 16 so that I could be old enough to audition for certain English musicals and also participate at the Canadian singing competitions. That being said, it was solely the Indian music that lent me an identity while in Canada. Because I had the most prospects to showcase my talent and culture when I sang Hindi and Punjabi songs, and so that became the primary focus as far as professional singing went.

How important was your training in both western and Hindustani classical music given the fact that it’s a rare combo to spot in an artiste’s CV?
Though I manage to deliver the techniques required in semi-classical songs that I perform, my training in Hindustani classical music has been limited thus far. This is something I would really like to work upon. I’m grateful that I have learnt a bit of both styles though, and I hope I can learn a lot more soon. I think the more styles you know, the more fun you can have taking on new characters in the studio as a playback singer.

You tasted fame by posting your music videos of super hit covers on the YouTube that went viral. How significant do you think is grabbing this digital space in today’s times to make yourself heard across the board?
The rise of YouTube and social media as digital platforms for artistes to exhibit their work has increased substantially since I had first begun uploading videos back in 2011. I think it’s a perfect window for artistes to adjudge their pluses and minuses alike. Yet at the same time it brings them a golden opportunity to be heard and seen by audiences, significant musical personalities, music producing companies and record labels across the world.

Tell us about your first break in Bollywood and how it all happened.
A friend of mine was working at Vishal-Shekhar’s studio as an engineer and had taken me to visit his workstation. He introduced me to Vishal Dadlani sir, who at the time was scoring notes for the title-track of Shah Rukh Khan-Deepika Padukone starrer blockbuster, Chennai Express. After listening to some of my music he asked me if I would want to try out a few lines on the track. I went in to record with zero expectations and thought nothing of it after I left, beyond being simply obliged for the surprising scope that fell in my lap to have had him hear my voice. It wasn’t until weeks later that I found out my vocals being retained intact in that number. I was over the moon and you know what — I guess, am fortunate enough to suddenly notice things turning in my favour and falling into place without any hiccups. I was quite naturally welcomed within the industry and never ever made to feel like an outsider.

You share a wonderful rapport with the musical genius A.R. Rahman and have not only lent your vocals to his film-tunes but also collaborated on an album with him called Raunaq and even crooned at his concerts. How has your entire tryst been with the ‘Mozart of Madras’?
I really mean it when I say that working with Rahman sir has been a dream come true so far and I feel so blessed for every single opportunity I got to record and perform with him. There always used to be something new to learn from him and I am humbled by the fact that he taught, directed and threw challenges at me to live up to. You won’t believe how much I have learnt about myself and grown as a singer because of his guidance and the tenacity with which he has goaded me beyond my self-defined limits. It’s been a total revelation or me!

Does it irk you when you come across mediocre singers or even actors getting to sing tunefully by virtue of the Auto-tune technology?
Initially I won’t deny that it did bother me a bit. But now, I’ve matured and realized that there is room for everyone in this industry. Everyone has the right to give a shot at something new, especially if it makes him/her glad. You can’t blame a person for using technology to do a certain patchwork. And today, audiences are more aware than ever. If you need to rely on Auto-tune to sing, the astute listeners would anyways come to detect it, and that may not always fare well for you in the long run.

Working with hitmaker Pritam Chakraborty also fetched you a winning streak as you bagged the Mirchi music award for Dangal and also got a Filmfare nomination for the ‘Breakup’ song. So it’s a double bonanza for you. What do you have to say to this?
I feel so honoured to have received such a prestigious award and to have been nominated for so many other accolades this year. I take it as an added impetus to become the best musician I can be. You know it’s such an overwhelming experience to be bestowed with recognition by multiple committees for these songs. My sincere gratitude goes to Pritamda for giving me such lovely compositions, and also to both the teams of Dangal and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil for absorbing me into their folds as a significant part.

Are you doing any musical collaboration?
I’m working on a slew of collaborations, both on film music as well as YouTube material, but nothing that I can elaborate on at the moment. So please stay tuned for the updates (smiles)!

Any EP (extended play) or a single on the anvil?
Not as of now, but I hope to dip my toes a little deeper into the independent musical shores in the near future.

Why do you think there is a dearth of female composers in the music industry barring a few like Sneha Khanwalkar, Jasleen Kaur Royal or the erstwhile Usha Khanna? Would you ever like to compose a note or two yourself?
I’ve never considered myself a composer. I’ve written a few songs casually here and there, but those are my private thoughts penned at leisure. They are exclusively mine and not for sale. I can hum a few stanzas for my own gratification and solace in a lone corner but won’t really look to broadcast them over the mike. See I thoroughly enjoy the process of creating, but in my public life, singing will always remain my principal priority. I’m not sure “why” there is a dearth of female tunesmiths in the tinselville, but I can clearly figure out a voluminous emergence of more and more female technicians and behind-the-scene craftswomen, etc. in showbiz currently than ever before, which is indeed a positive sign and a step in forward direction!

Again there is a resurgence of remakes of golden oldies or yesteryear hits. How challenging is it for today’s singers to do justice to such songs, yet deliver a fresh feel with their contemporary twists?
This is something I deal with regularly, as I’m known for a lot of covers I do for the YouTube, where I too must execute an already existing song with much integrity and yet add my own verve and freshness to its present-day version. It is definitely a challenge, but audiences are open to hearing new interpretations of songs they love. It’s why our YouTube covers get so many views, hits and likes. So, it is definitely possible to strike the right balance between staying true to the original as well as adding your own spin to it.

What would be your future plan of action? Is Hollywood/international indie music scene calling?

By Jove, I want to do it all! Taking it step by step though. While for now, I’m just about getting started in Bollywood. Slow and steady wins the race — doesn’t the sagacious saying go that way?

You don’t have a typical sugary sweet voice but a new age one for sure. Is that a blessing in disguise for you to stand out of the crowd?
I think finding your own unique sound is extremely crucial for singers. I am delighted, my voice isn’t considered ‘stereotypical’ — precisely that would be the last adjective I’d wish to associate myself with!

Do you follow or incorporate any particular singer’s style in your rendition? Who is your favorite international artiste and what quality attracts you to him/her?
I’m sure I subconsciously incorporate the style of several singers who I’ve grown up listening to. I try to learn from everyone I listen to. One of my all-time favourites has been the sensational soul/popstar Beyonce Knowles. She’s an amazing all-round performer and a musical trendsetter in her own right.

Your message to your fans and readers of the magazine…
I am indebted to everyone whoever lends an ear to my music! So conveying my loads of love to all those die-hard fans and followers out there. Besides, I’d ask you all to stay plugged-in, as I have many exciting things coming up in the next fiscal! Ta-ta!

Sau Tarah Ke – Dishoom
Pink Anthem – Pink
The Breakup song – Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
Gilheriyaan – Dangal
Saajan Aayo Re- Ok Jaanu
Meetha Zeher- Playing Priya: Short Film
Blessings from the Sky- Pelé: Birth of a Legend
Kahaan Hoon Main and Implosive Silence-Highway

Read the interview in our May 2017 issue here:

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