“We wanted ‘Humraahi’ to stand out,” says Jonita Gandhi on her new song
October 03, 2019 · 6 Minute Read
We managed to get some time off Jonita Gandhi’s busy schedule to discuss her latest release, journey as a musician, touring with A.R. Rahman and her backup plan!
Hi Jonita! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Starting it off with your latest release, “Humraahi,” tell us how this song came around and what’s the story behind this?
Lyrically, “Humraahi” is about best friends, what inspired the lyrics behind it? Any of your personal experiences?
The lyrics are written by Geet Sagar and it’s a very happy song. It’s inspired by the rapport that Arjuna and I share as friends and our desire to spread happiness and positive vibes through our music.
In your opinion, can music help one express himself/herself in a better manner? Also, what do you think of raising awareness about socially sensitive topics through your music?
All artforms allow creative people to express themselves. Although others have started using music to raise awareness about socially sensitive topics, I think that’s something I would prefer to steer away from. I do support raising awareness for important social topics, but I would likely do that in ways outside of my music content for now.
Talking about the production, it sounds very different in a pleasant way from what we’ve been hearing for a while now. How do you approach a song and the sound when you’re working on it?
We wanted “Humraahi” to stand out, and not blend in with all of the other music that’s coming out these days. Our first intention when making a song is for it to be well-produced, well-arranged and well-sung. Quality is our first priority. When Arjuna composed this song, he definitely kept both of our musical sensibilities in mind. We’ve kept it relatable but we’ve also thrown in our own creativity in terms of musical expression. We also tried to showcase our versatility because that’s something we both like to do through our music.
Did your upbringing in Toronto and Indian background affect your musical palette while growing up?
Growing up in Toronto was a blessing in disguise when it came to musical diversity. I grew up listening to a variety of genres of music. Some of my favorites were, and still, are, RnB, Pop, and Reggae. At home, I was surrounded by Indian music of many eras. My dad is a musician by hobby and has a band that performs around the Toronto area.
Regionalization is the focal point for almost all the artists out there in the market and you’ve been there done that with songs in English, French, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Kannada and Malayalam. Even though you’ve got a Canadian accent, your diction is pretty clear; what’s your workflow when you’re singing in any language apart from English or Hindi?
Pronunciation is really important to me in any language, so I work really hard with the help of those in the studio when I’m recording. Over the years I’ve developed a legend of my own to decipher different sounds when I write out lyrics. In essence, I use phonetics to replicate the sounds I hear.
We’ve heard how music was always a hobby for you since childhood; what motivated you to take it up as a full-time career?
I think it’s everybody’s dream to make their hobby their full-time career. For me, it was the same but it was just a little far-fetched. I thought it would be unrealistic to depend on music as a full-time career option because financial stability was always important to me. I’ve grown up with the value of education instilled in me, so I wanted to make sure I focused on something a little more sustainable so I could have a strong fallback plan, but I was always motivated to take up singing full time, if and when it would work out. I think I didn’t really try until I was done my studies and realized I could afford to go all out and follow my passion.
Were your parents supportive of your career move and you moving to India to test the waters at a career in music?
My parents have always been my biggest supporters. They were totally game for me to test out the waters and give Bollywood a shot. When I first came to India, I came with a time frame for myself and if I hadn’t achieved anything or made any progress in the field then I would head back home and pursue a traditional career.
In a hypothetical situation, what if the tides didn’t turn in your favor, what would be your alternate career line and how would you imagine your life to be if you weren’t a singer?
Before coming to India, I was working as an intern in banking. I probably would have pursued a career as a banker if I didn’t pursue singing as a full-time career.
From refusing to sing for people to performing worldwide with some of the most popular acts around the world, what changed things for you in your mind regarding the on-stage confidence and your skills?
I’m not really sure when the switch happened, but deep down inside I kind of always knew that I was meant to do something big. I used to write about it in my diary when I was a teenager. After university, I started uploading covers, which wasn’t really common practice in those days amongst Indian artists. The videos started going viral and people like A.R. Rahman and Salim Merchant were seeing them. Just after university, Sonu Nigam was touring North America and needed a female vocalist at the last minute. A local promoter recommended me and that was the start of it all. Soon after the tour, I came to India. And now we’re here.
You’re one of the few singers in the industry who’s dabbled in both, playback singing for movies as well as your own independent songs. How different are the two experiences?
When we sing for film, there’s a character and plotline that defines a lot about the song and singing style. Most of the time, we are also bound within certain other confines that are dictated by the composers, producers, directors and so on. Independent songs give us the opportunity to creatively express ourselves in so many ways. Both are rewarding in their own unique ways. I like acting through my voice, but I also enjoy the creative freedom of expression. Singing for playback songs keeps me a lot more behind the scenes, whereas independent music allows me to come more into the forefront.
I really hope so. There are so many really talented artists out there who are making such brilliant independent music. I really hope the mentality in India changes to look at all music as equal, and not differentiate between Bollywood and independent music so everyone can hear it all!
While artists are blurring the lines between genres as well as languages and moving towards pop-centric/radio-friendly material, how do you think an artist can differentiate himself/herself from the crowd?
I think an artist staying true to what they like is enough to differentiate themselves from the crowd. I think right now too many people are focusing on what they think people like and what they think will go viral and because of that a lot of the music that’s coming out both in Bollywood and outside of Bollywood is starting to sound the same. So to differentiate yourself, I think it’s enough to stay true to what you really like to do, even though it may not necessarily be the most commercial thing to do.
Bringing this conversation to an end with your thoughts on a topic which is seldom talked about the music industry, what do you think of actors turning singers?
I think actors turning singers is the case for some, and some of them have been singers already who just started showcasing their talent after they’ve presented themselves as actors. Either way though, I think if you’re passionate about it and you have talent, it’s a great thing. A lot of us are multi-talented and as artistic people, we like trying different forms of expression and I think there’s a lot of overlap. Even as a singer, I find myself acting in my music videos, dancing when I’m performing on stage and I don’t think I need to conform to one role. Likewise, I don’t think actors need to either.