Reposted from http://www.efictionindia.in/2014/02/tuning-in-with-sagarika-deb/#
By Deepti Razdan
Sagarika Deb has been performing on stage since she was two and a half years of age. Since then, she has come a long way, having carved a niche for herself in the world of music, through widespread recognition of her work. As mentioned on her official website, Sagarika formed the “World’s First Internet Girl Band”, Wild Blossoms. She has numerous achievements to her credit as an independent performer as well, including selection in the ‘Top 10 Shining Faces/Young Achiever of the Year, Delhi/NCR’ 2012. Her first music video, “Shine a Light/Navjyoti Ki Oar”, was filmed by Casandra Prerost and Bruno Acard in Delhi in December, 2013. It is scheduled for a worldwide release in the first half of 2014. The song, originally written and performed for the Navjyoti India Foundation, is in memory of the notorious 2012 Delhi gang rape, that brought women’s issues and, more importantly the question of women’s safety in Delhi, to the fore, and took the shape of a revolution demanding justice for the victim.
Deepti Razdan: What are your thoughts before the ‘big release’ of your first music video? The trailer looks very promising.
Sagarika Deb: This is a very special song, not only for me and the women and young girls of India, but also for women all over the world. It is written with the hope of creating awareness about the plight of women silently suffering and struggling with hardships, across the globe. Through the power of music, the emotions and meaning of words become clearer. I guess that is why people call music the universal language of love and peace.
We hope we will be able to change the perception of people and the way they view young girls, with this small effort. I hope they listen to the lyrics carefully, feel the music and understand our message when they watch the video. If we can change even one opinion and one mind, if we can touch someone’s heart and bring awareness; that is all that matters.
The video will be featured in this year’s prestigious ‘European Independent Film Festival’, and the ‘Los Angeles Music Video Festival’. We hope to spread our message of Women’s Empowerment across the world.
DR: Tell us something about “Shine a Light”.
SD: A year ago, a very brutal rape and murder took place in Delhi. It was so distressing that it created headlines all over the world. Here in India, it caused shock, revulsion, anger, and the loss hit us all very hard. She was everyone’s sister, daughter and friend. The young girl’s name was Jyoti, and she was a beautiful, bright, young student at the University. Jyoti was trying to get home on a cold night after watching a movie with her friend, something that young girls all over the world do. It is a part of growing up, it is a time of fun, which sadly ended horrifically for her, and ultimately led to her death.
I realised then, that things finally have to change for women in India. Laws have to change, but more so, there has to be a change in attitudes, hearts and minds. Women have to be loved and protected. We have so much to offer not only to each other, but to the world as well. With “Shine a Light”, I wanted to reach out to the world.
My contribution as an artist was to sing this song, which is called “Shine a Light” in English and “Navjyoti Ki Oar” in Hindi. It is an expression of hope and change. It is about kindness and peace, not rage and anger. The lyrics spoke to me, and through the music and the video, I hope they will speak to everyone.
The words were written with great sensitivity by lyricist Mellina Barnett and the music was composed by Billy Playle, both from the UK. I have recorded the song in English and Hindi. The Hindi version was composed for Dr. Kiran Bedi’s NGO, Navjyoti India Foundation and used for their campaign for the empowerment of women, ‘Bigul’.
All the people involved in the production of this song are keen to take the message deep into India and share it with the world as well. For a more powerful impact, we decided to make a video of this beautiful song, here in Delhi. I was highly fortunate to have two extremely talented French filmmakers Casandra Prerost and Bruno Acard, sent to India by my management, HorizonVU Music, for shooting the video with me.
DR: You started performing on stage when you were two and a half years old. Tell us about your journey as a performer from then to now.
SD: Coming from a musical family, singing has always played a BIG part in my life. My first steps on stage were at the tender age of two and a half when I dressed up as a beautiful Bengali Indian bride and my sister acted as my groom. A musical act followed, and I remember being really excited to be a part of it all. Even then, I was a child with big dreams, and I knew there was nothing else I wanted more, than performing on stage in front of an audience.
Through the years, I have won numerous Certificates and Awards for singing, dancing and acting. I have always been very passionate about mixing the styles and sounds of Western music with Indian music: a ‘fusion’. Luckily, my musical abilities enabled me to build friendships and contacts with some truly talented songwriters from different parts of the world. My confidence as a performer and singer has grown and I am more aware than ever of the singing career I wish to pursue. I have not looked back.
I am lucky to have achieved great success with my songs. One of my biggest achievements was with my song “Teacher”, written by Mellina Barnett and composed by Sujith Kurian from Kochi. The song was a semi-finalist in the ‘UK Songwriting Contest’, Open Category. More of my songs have had equal success such as air play on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, BBC Radio Warwickshire, United Kingdom, NewUSB Radio, and many more. The beautiful pop ballad, “My First Broken Heart”, written by Mellina Barnett and composed by Billy Playle, was Number One on the ‘Indian Online Music Charts’ for six consecutive weeks. As a singer, I was receiving a lot of appreciation and recognition, which encouraged me a great deal. Country song “Wake up Little One” by songwriter Susan Simonson from the USA has received equally good reviews.
I am now thrilled for the future, as my management and I are in the planning stages of my first solo album. The album will consist of songs written specifically for me by songwriters from Europe and America.
Between the album and video shoots, I also attend musical events as a singer/performer/hostess and even as a Guest of Honour and musical Judge. I am waiting to be the Guest of Honour and a jury member in the upcoming annual cultural fest ‘Converge14’ organised by Jaypee Unversity, due to take place shortly. There are so many exciting things coming up and I can’t wait to share them with all my friends and supporters. It makes me feel very proud to be involved in such celebrated conferences and events, and to get such wonderful feedback and appreciation. I feel truly humbled and blessed.
In my three years as a professional musical artist, I have had the honour of attending and participating in some prominent events. I have had many memorable achievements during this time. One of these was to be honoured among the ‘Top 10 Shining Faces/Young Achiever of the Year, Delhi/NCR’ 2012 by ‘Delhi Desire’, Dainik Jagran Group Magazine.
I have also been inducted into the Limca Book of Records in their music special edition, 2012. In late 2012, I was awarded with ‘Assist World Records’ by the Honourable Chief Minister of Pondicherry Mr.Thiru N.Rangasamy and was added into their world-records book as part of their research on outstanding achievers.
Additionally, I was a finalist in the ‘mBillionth South Asia Awards 2013’ and ‘Manthan Awards Asia Pacific 2013’ in the ‘Social Media Excellence and Empowerment’ category. I was awarded the Certificate of Recognition for the same. Another unforgettable moment for me was to be featured in the BBC World News series’ “Digital Indians”.
My journey so far has been like a roller coster ride, full of ups and downs. Looking back on all these years makes me feel like I was destined to be where I am today. I always knew there was nothing else. Singing and performing are an intrinsic part of me. My dreams have kept me focused. I have a passion in me that drives me on, even in the oddest of situations. I still don’t sleep at night before a big event; my dreams won’t let me sleep.
Luckily, I was discovered by my current management team ‘HorizonVU Music’, a French music firm dedicated to the management, promotion and marketing of the best female musicians of the world. It was a happy day when they signed me on. My journey as a Solo artist began with the release of my single “Shine a Light”.
The last three years of my life have been like a practical tutorial. I have learned how to work as a team member. Now, it is all about WE not ME. Everything I have been able to achieve today is a result of team effort. The support I have had from my management, songwriting team, and my family, has been overwhelming.
I have learnt that a successful artist wants and needs a team that can be relied on. At the end of the day, it is all about trust, sensitivity and support for everyone involved.
DR: How was Wild Blossoms conceived? What challenges did you face forming the World’s First Internet Girl Band?
SD: I have always had immense interest in the internet and social media, and in using these channels to share not only my music, but also important social issues like Women’s Empowerment and Animal Rights, another cause which is extremely close to me.
Wild Blossoms was an experiment which will always be very close to my heart, although now my career has moved on and I am concentrating on evolving as a solo artist. My manager is based in Paris and I use the internet several times a day to communicate with him. I am totally independent of Wild Blossoms now, but I will treasure the memories.
Now that I am absorbed in my own music, it is an exhilarating time, especially with the 2013 release of “Shine a Light”, and its soon-to-be-released video in 2014. I will continue to perform live, release songs and support the social issues I believe in. A big step for me in 2014 will be working on my Solo Album.
Starting and working on an internet-based project is never easy. Everyone thought I was out of my mind when I said that I had no money or funding, but I wanted to prove them wrong. There were hardships and challenges, but who doesn’t face hardships when starting something new? The key is to not give in!
One big challenge I have faced is sitting on my computer, communicating with my team. What people don’t know about me is that I am a person who likes to be very active. I can’t sit still and I am always on my toes. Answering e-mails throughout the day was a personal challenge. I cannot even watch a movie that is longer than one-and-a-half hours, without fidgeting. I like being a busy bee.
At the early stages of my singing career, there were a few communication problems. One of the most important problems, to overcome, was the time difference. This made the work process rather difficult. (I am based in New Delhi, India, my music Management Team is based in Paris, France and my songwriting team is spread throughout USA and Europe).
Contact has become much easier even with the time difference we all experience, as we now use SMS or sometimes make telephone calls if we are in a hurry. E-mail, Skype conferences and Facebook still remain the best choices for interaction, (it’s not always possible to call others because it may be late at night in their country). Gradually, we have overcome all of these concerns and are working together brilliantly – it has been a big team effort though.
Another difficulty has been the production of songs. The composers and songwriters often ask me to record a home demo of the song, in case they need to rearrange any of the music or change any lyrics. It is important that I get their approval before the final studio recording. I have sometimes felt that the songs produced earlier could have been much better if the composer was sitting right in front of me, helping and guiding me during the final recording sessions.
Mixing and Mastering of songs was also an obstacle we had to conquer as Indian sound engineers rarely work on the mixing of English songs. To avoid this problem now, I always collect my ‘raw vocals’ from the studio and the mixing is finalised in Europe or America with professional sound engineers or by the composer of that specific song.
DR: What has been your biggest achievement till date?
SD: Although I feel I have been able to achieve quite a lot professionally, by far two of my best achievements are: being selected for the ‘Top 10 Shining Faces/Young Achiever of the Year, Delhi/NCR’ and getting featured in the International Women’s Day Festival, inspiring women of my country to aim and think high.
Personally, I feel that finding the inner strength and confidence in me after a major setback in my early career is my biggest accomplishment till date. I was able to realise my own ability, how to be a better person, a better performer, and have a better understanding of the music business. This has been a journey, and I am only just starting, but I have already learnt so much about Sagarika Deb as a person, a singer and a woman.
What people don’t know about me is that I am a person who likes to be very active. I can’t sit still and I am always on my toes. Answering e-mails throughout the day was a personal challenge. I cannot even watch a movie that is longer than one-and-a-half hours, without fidgeting. I like being a busy bee.
DR: How was the experience working with classical dancers for your music video? Was it your first tryst with classical dance?
SD: The experience of working with classical dancers was brilliant. I am quite fond of classical dance, and I joined Kathak classes several years ago. I never imagined that, one day, I would be dancing with such amazing dancers. It was like a Bollywood experience and a real honour.
The sequence was very moving. We wanted to use dance as a metaphor to celebrate womanhood in India and show it to the rest of the world. I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to dress up and dance with such beautiful classical dancers and I was proud to have them in our shoot. I hope if I ever do a video shoot with these dancers again, it will not be as hot a day as it was during the shoot for “Shine a Light”. Overall, it was an experience of a lifetime and one I will always treasure.
DR: Who has inspired you the most as a singer since you started singing?
SD: A singer that has inspired me the most is my mother. My mother and sister are both brilliant singers. Ever since I opened my eyes as a baby, I heard my mother singing to me, and I felt so proud seeing her perform on stage. I always wanted to be like her. My family has been my strength and I love them more than words can express.
Before my mother got married, she lived in Kolkata. A very famous music teacher lived there too. He was truly gifted and very special. He once said to my mother, “If there is anyone to take the place of Lata Mangeshkar, it would be you.”
In her prime, my mother had plenty of opportunities to pursue her singing career. However, a career in music was extremely difficult for women at the time (even today it is tough but luckily, I have an incredibly dedicated team as my support network). My mother was also highly devoted to her family and I feel she sacrificed her career for us.
My mother constantly encourages me to aim high. My parents have always told me to chase my dreams and most importantly, that there is no difference between a boy and a girl and that we are all equal.
DR: We would love to hear about the charities/issues that are close to your heart.
SD: I am closely associated with Dr. Kiran Bedi’s NGO, Navjyoti India Foundation (NIF), and attend their events, spreading awareness through my music by joining hands with them. I was first approached by NIF to compose the theme song for their Women Empowerment campaign called ‘Bigul’. This was when we started working on “Shine a Light/Navjyoti Ki Oar”.
It’s a pity that even in today’s world, women don’t feel safe in their own countries. We always wanted to bring this to light and help in whatever way we could. It is very important to me, and also to my family, friends and songwriting team. I am a young girl who resides in Delhi, so I am more aware than many, of the difficulties that affect our daily lives. My parents are scared to let me go out alone, and live with a persistent fear of losing me forever. It should not be this way. With the hope of throwing light on the plight of women not only in India but everywhere, we have composed the song and its video.
We will continue our fight along with NIF and hope one day we will be able to bring some change (no matter how big or small).
It is always wonderful to be contacted by NIF. Recently, they invited me to attend their 26th Annual Day Celebration to celebrate the ‘Joy of Giving’ on the 5th of January, 2014 at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Delhi. Luckily, Casandra was still in India so we attended the event together. I performed my song “Teacher” [Navjyoti Ki Law]. They have a wonderful crowd and staff. Most of the children are from underprivileged families and the love that I receive from them, whenever I go, is extremely touching.
It was funny too, because little girls made me sign five- and ten-rupee notes saying that they will never use them. I feel truly blessed and I look forward to meeting them all again. It is every young girl’s dream to support and change others’ lives for the better, so to meet Dr. Kiran Bedi again was a highlight. She is a terrific lady, so gentle and full of kindness. I was really pleased that Casandra had the opportunity to meet her too.
Also, my association with Animal Rights has been part of me since I was very little. My family and I are very fond of all animals, especially the strays. There used to be a TV Series by Mrs. Maneka Gandhi called Heads and Tails. As a child, I used to watch it regularly. I was filled with horror and revulsion when I found out how these beautiful voiceless creatures were tortured by humans. That forced me to give up eating meat and to fight for animal rights.
Today, apart from feeding stray dogs, my friend (Abhishek Kachhawaha) and I run a Facebook community and blog called ‘We Feel the Pain for Animals’. We hope to educate people about animal cruelty and try hard to bring positive change in the world. It is another battle, but it is close to my heart and very important to me.
I am also a ‘Colony Care Taker’ for stray animals and hold the ‘Government ID Card’. Article 51-A (g) of the Indian Constitution clearly states, “It shall be duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.” I don’t understand why anyone has to be so cruel and heartless towards them. I hope to be a voice for them. I, and people like me, proudly call ourselves “Voices for the Voiceless”.
My day is incomplete without playing with or feeding my stray dogs, and with my own success in music, I wish to form an NGO dedicated to the well-being of animals. A big part of my charity will also be dedicated to people living on the streets. It would be wonderful to have the ability to give jobs to the jobless or homeless people so that they can take care of themselves and their families. It would give these people the opportunity to earn their own money, and live respectfully and compassionately. As you can see, I have many dreams and hope one day to have the ability to bring about change.
DR: What message would you like to give to aspiring singers?
SD: The biggest message I would like to give to aspiring singers is that there is no shortcut in life, especially in the entertainment business. It can be very hard on your voice, so riyaaz (vocal exercise) is important and should be done regularly, as without your voice, you have nothing. Although luck can sometimes come into play, true talent is always recognised so, never give in. Share your voice where you can. The internet is great for this. Be prepared to take criticism, take advice and work hard. Always dream big, there is nothing wrong with that.
Before anyone believes in your efforts you have to believe in yourself. Believe in your own strength, believe in the power of the Universe and always spread a positive message. I always try to be the person I am. I won’t let anyone change me or make me conform. Be kind, but don’t let people take advantage of you. Everyone should have a dream, something wonderful to aim for.
DR: Any unfulfilled dream as an artist that you see coming true in the near future?
SD: As an artist, I always dreamt of touring and performing at venues in different parts of the world with great songs to sing and my very own management that has faith in me. I now have a brilliant songwriting team and an extremely committed management. I am enthusiastic about my solo album right now. Hopefully, after we have finished working on the album, I will have some superb songs to perform, and the concert tours will become a reality. I see all of this happening in the near future.
I am lucky to have a family and a team who believe in these causes too, and support me completely. With each passing day, and with my own success in music, I feel I am slowly moving towards this dream as well.
The future is exciting.
Deepti Razdan is a Ph.D Scholar at the Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia. She has been into Creative Writing ever since she learned how to write, and has been in love with words ever since. She loves writing research papers and short stories, and can be found reading or dreaming in her free time. Location: Toronto, Canada