Friday, May 04, 2007

BLOG INTERVIEW - Sona Mohapatra

Meet Sona Mohapatra. The singer with the "ancient" voice who floored audiences with her debut album Sona.

Pop star, folk singer, classical musician - you just can't fit her into any one mould coz Sona's in a league of her own. She's been singing all her life, dabbled in ad jingles (if you try hard enough, you will recall which ones) and quit her job as a FMCG brand manager to immerse herself fully in the pursuit of her dream.

Sona told Toe Knee Unplugged her collaboration with Aussie band INXS (for Afterglow) won't be her last with international artists. Also in the pipeline is a hip-hop version of the chartbuster Aaja Ve.

Sona is strikingly different from other albums in the market. How has the response been?

The response has been great. I have people from all over the world writing in about how refreshing and original the material is. My band has been playing to live audiences who seem to know the lyrics by heart, especially Bolo Na, Sapne and Aaja Ve. Can be no bigger high.
For us (my team), the main objective was to create 'soul music', music that moves you. The biggest decision that we had to make on the creative front on this album was whether to stick to making a 'cohesive' album that showcased one aspect of me or to make a more 'diverse' album that highlights the inherent dichotomy that is me.
I'm moved to sing ancient words, learn histories and I'm told I have an ancient voice. But I'm also a young, urban woman who wants to communicate her feelings. We chose the latter and I'm really glad we did.
How did the collaboration with INXS come about? Any more international ventures in the offing?

Sona was released in September last year. The first single Bolo Na was among the most played songs and struck a chord with the urban audience almost instantaneously. INXS was coming down to India in October for a concert in Mumbai and Bangalore and evinced interest in collaborating with an Indian artist.
I understand that SONY BMG sent them options of Indian singers and their material but fortunately for me they chose to go with me as they felt my voice would complement their lead singer J D Fortune. Soon after the band got in touch about wanting to do another track together. It's a work in progress.
I've also collaborated with a DJ from the UK called John Flemming on a dance track. The production should be completed soon. Some UK artists recently got in touch with me to create a 'hip-hop' version of Aaja Ve and a couple of interesting projects... so lots in the pipeline.
The video for Aaja Ve (my favourite Sona Mohapatra song) really stands out. How did you come up with the concept?
The concept is Deepti Gupta's. She also shot and directed the video. She came up with it after watching a live performance of mine in a concert where the audience was in her words 'intoxicated' and the performance had a unique interactive quality to it. That's where the idea of the video came from.
While the song is a dialogue with the divine, in this video it's a call beckoning to live life and let yourself be elevated by the spirit of the song.
You have been trained in classical music, right?
Yes. I wouldn't call myself a classical singer though, that would require a whole different life of sadhna.
You took a few years to come up with Sona. How long do fans have to wait till your next effort?
There's lots in the pipeline as I mentioned earlier. I hope to tour and play live a lot more. Hope that the climate in the country for live music and venues improves. I've started working on new material but will put it out only when our listeners are ready for it.
The fact that most music is downloaded for free or consumed off television doesn't help the cause of music like mine.
Any particular style of singing you want to explore. Who are your favourite singers and composers?
I do want to research various folk stylings around the country. It's also a dream to go live in Spain for a good enough period and understand and learn some basic Flamenco stylings. My favourite singers and composers include Nusrat Fateh Ali, Sting, Bebe, Girija Devi, Pt Channulal Mishra, Ram Sampath, A R Rahman... the list is endless actually.
And I take it you have absolutely no regrets about leaving a high-profile career. Was it a hard decision to concentrate solely on singing?
I took the long, hard road to music. I believe my education will always hold me in good stead - not so much literally, but in terms of shaping my personality and opinions. You're only as good as your experiences. This may sound corny but you don't choose music. Music chooses you. I NEED to sing. I'm most alive when in front of an audience, with my band behind me.
I've dreamt about being a singer for as long as I can remember. What I didn't want to compromise on was a good education. So I chose the long, hard way to Mumbai, but I believe it's been worthwhile...and absolutely no regrets. I'm living my dream...and with no compromises.


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Mahesh Dattani
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