Tag Archives: Singer

Amanda Sodhi traveling (Images from her Instagram @amandasodhi)

12 Months. 12 Cities. 1 Suitcase: An Indian American Travels to India to Find Her Home

Amanda Sodhi is a DC native and was previously an LA-based screenwriter, songwriter, filmmaker, and writer. This year she has launched a program titled Twelve Steps to Home to travel across twelve cities in India. Amanda Sodhi has taken an unconventional path, following her passion and encouraging women to do the same. She has built on her versatile talents and uses them to questions the ways in which women are bogged down by society. In this interview, she expands on her new project and what it means to be a woman on the road less traveled.

IC: You have a background in writing and music, what urged you to fuse them together and create your project Twelve Steps to Home, and what does it mean to you?

AS: I was born and brought up in Washington, DC. I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles, too. I moved to Mumbai when I was 25. At 29, I moved to Kolkata, shuttling between there and Delhi. However, I kept outgrowing each city after a point, and it really felt quite isolating. I felt like I belonged both everywhere and nowhere. I couldn’t identify any one place as “home,” as a place to return to. 

Often, people define home as where their family is. Since I am estranged from my family, the definition of “home” is especially blurry for me. 

The lease of my Kolkata flat was anyhow expiring in December. So, I sold all my furniture, downsized to one suitcase, and began a brand new journey of uprooting myself consciously month-after-month – 12 months, 1 month per city. I will be documenting this journey in the form of a book. And, I intend to release my next song with a music video that draws from footage from all 12 places. 

I have no idea what the outcome is going to be at the end of this path, if I will discover what “home” and “belonging” means or not. But, at the moment, I feel like I’m living my best life, indulging in all these new experiences and meeting so many new people.

IC: As an Indian, there are often challenges that urge us to take a ‘safe’ path in our career due to family or societal pressure. What brought you to find success in your passion and how do you cope in that environment?

AS: It was difficult. My family was neither able to accept that I wanted to pursue a creative career, nor were they were able to wrap their head around the fact I was going to move to India. Eventually, I reached a breaking point where I felt it was high time I lived my life fully, without any guilt. Therapy also helped. Sometimes it takes years of something building up slowly to make a person finally snap, not care about what society thinks and muster the courage to live life on their own terms. 

IC: As a woman traveling in India, how is your artistic process impacted through challenges or obstacles you may face that other genders don’t? What has changed in your journey?

AS: It is challenging – often, people try to discourage women from traveling solo by instilling fear in them. Sometimes people feel resentful that you’re traveling freely when they have succumbed to societal pressure and are conforming to certain expectations of how life should be structured by XYZ age. Some people show sympathy that, “Oh, you don’t have a boyfriend or husband to travel with?” as if that’s even a prerequisite! A few people, however, feel inspired to also travel. It’s a mixed bag.

I remember when I was in Port Blair, one of the hotels I stayed at created random rules just for me because I was the only solo female traveler at their property. It was suffocating. Also, in many cities, I have faced eve-teasing. It can be really upsetting. But, I don’t let it discourage me. Why should a few assholes ruin my plans? My life has been enriched through all the travel experiences I’ve been blessed to have – I’ve learned so much about different places, different people, different cultures, different viewpoints, different lifestyle choices. So many stories to tell!

Regarding my artistic process, there are a lot of men with very fragile egos one comes into contact with; some of them do try to jeopardize your project(s). This is why I like to work alone as much as possible. And, this is why I don’t rely on artistic projects to pay my bills. I freelance as a social media consultant, content writer, and VO artist. This decision has enabled me to create art on my own terms.

IC: In the same manner, how has the pandemic impacted your journey?

AS: The travel guidelines for each state in India keep changing, so I have to pick places accordingly. And, I have to be mentally prepared that flights may get canceled last minute. Because not as many tourists are flocking to each city, I get to experience the best of the local vibe. With this crisis occurring in India right now, it seems I’ll stay put in Kashmir for another month. I will proceed with caution and be sure to monitor the situations carefully. 

IC: What do you want to say to women, who also want to strongly pursue their dreams but are afraid to for different reasons? 

AS: We are all going to die sooner or later…Marne se pehle, please thodda jee lo.

The fact we are all mortal should be the biggest motivation to pursue one’s dreams unapologetically. Better to try and fail in the process rather than be resentful or blame others for stopping you. Yes, everything comes with consequences. But, in the end, I firmly believe the only person stopping you is you. 

IC: As a woman who has taken an unconventional path in life, is there a lot of emphasis on mental health? In India, where there is a strong barrier for women, and where mental health is a taboo, how do you cope with facing such challenges? 

AS: I’ve been in and out of therapy for nearly a decade. I’ve also reached out to shrinks and life coaches, as and when I’ve felt it was required. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder. Instability, for prolonged periods, is usually a trigger point for me, which mainly stems from a lack of a sense of what “family” is. Sometimes being open about your own mental health journey – especially if you seem high-functioning – inspires others to also seek help. It is best to lead by example.

I conduct writing therapy workshops through my startup Pen Paper Dreams and try my best to counter the stigma surrounding mental health at a smaller level. For example, one of the books I had my reading group explore is Maybe You Should Talk To Someone. It helped bust a lot of myths. 

IC: You have traveled and lived in places that are on opposite ends of the world, adapting to cultures that may be completely alien to you. What is your support system in this process and how do you thrive in each city and culture to fully experience it?

AS: Indeed, every city is unique. But, at the same time, humans are also very similar, irrespective of their surface-level differences. When you are mentally prepared that you have to make the most of any place, any situation, it helps you adapt quickly. I’ve been lucky to make friends and acquaintances everywhere I go – they have all been an extremely important part of my support system. Humans are social creatures – we need interaction in healthy doses to thrive; that’s definitely one thing this pandemic has made crystal clear. 

IC: How important is it to have an identity as a person separate from being a daughter, mother, sister, etc and in Indian society, how do women tackle that?

AS: Before being a daughter or a mother or a sister or a spouse, you are first and foremost an individual. A person is much more than just the role they play within a family. One’s identity is a mix of different elements at a personal level, family level, and social level. Do not let one role define your entire being.

Check out Amanda Sodhi’s music here:


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 


 

Sakaar Singh Leaves Punjab to Become R&B Singer, Simba Sing

Sakaar Singh, son of Bhangra Artist – Jasbir Jassi, “Simba Sing”, is an emerging R&B and Pop Singer. Singh left his home state of Punjab at the age of 16 to embark on absorbing and contributing to musical styles far beyond his homeland. Sarkaar’s released singles, “Got You,” “80s Love,” and “Big Boy,” bring to his listeners an eclectic mix of influences, which represent his upbringing in India, along with his adventures around the world. 

Singh’s exposure to Western-style music began when he was about nine years old and he sang in a school choir group in English for the first time. As a result of this experience, Singh thought, “this is what I want to do. That was the only perception I had of what I like to do.” Later on, his friends introduced him to famous American rappers such as 50 Cent, Eminem, and Akon. Singh remarked candidly, “At first, I was more fascinated by their gold chains and big cars. But later, I realized that was not everything they were about. There was much more to them.”

Although Jalandhar was his home for 16 years, Singh felt it was not enough for his future as a musician. It seemed to him that he was the only musician pursuing Western music styles in Punjab. Singh recalls, “The place I was growing up was a place where you did not think of being a pop singer because there were no pop music sources around. Bhangra music is so deeply embedded in the state’s culture and there are so many sources of Bhangra music that everyone can think of being a bhangra singer. I made a decision to be an American R&B singer, that made my choices and tastes different from others.” 

While Singh always had an inclination towards Western music, he considers his constant exposure to Indian music in Punjab as important in shaping his own style. All of his father’s songs are Punjabi folk tunes and Sufi songs. Singh says, “Indian music tends to take a story into intense detail. I took the calm serenity of Sufi songs and applied it to my own music.” He added, “when I perform, it is just inbuilt in me. It is not something I consciously learned; it just naturally came to me.” For example, “Got You,” is about an experience with a lover and the lyrics invoke strong passion and love. “I like to go to those places so people can feel these things at a deeper level,” Singh says.

A chance encounter at a relative’s wedding in Delhi was the turning point for Singh’s destiny. When Singh sang on stage at the wedding, Madan Gopal Singh, a friend of his father’s and a well-known singer in his own right, encouraged Sarkaar to move to Delhi because it offered more opportunities for aspiring music artists. Singh stated, “It was his influence that made me move from Jalandhar to Delhi, so I could soak in more.”

In 2014, Singh embarked on what became the most gratifying chapter of his life. He traveled to the USA on Madan Singh’s recommendation to study at the famous Berklee School of Music in Boston. He reflects, “Berklee gave me a lot of knowledge. It gave me the foundation of what music is.” The college’s resources also gave Singh access to music styles from around the world and exposed him to teachers from several different nations. This exposure to international music is evident in Singh’s first song, “I Got You,” which features a rhythm that has roots in South American music. 

Singh is indebted to his two years with Jeff Bhasker for shaping him as a human, songwriter, producer, and singer. According to Singh, “Bhasker loves to mix genres…his beats are very unique.

Bhasker commented,  “Sakaar is a supremely talented guy who has a strong lineage to follow because his dad is so brilliant. It has been awesome to see Sakaar going from being an intern to ultimately seeing him release songs on his own. He has so many of the great qualities his father has but he is making his mark with his own style. He is an Indian guy making truly authentic western pop music.”

Singh’s early exposure to the gold chains and expensive cars of American rappers gave him the courage to leave the land of five rivers, and ultimately travel across the globe in pursuit of his vision to become an English music pop star. By soaking in all these unique vibes along the way, he has created a distinct name for himself which further exposes Indians to the richness of music traditions from around the world. His pioneering efforts have sowed the seeds for other enterprising Indian youth to seize the day and picture the universe as a destination full of opportunity in store.

In reflection, Singh says “I think the path I have chosen will influence the Indian audience, especially in my hometown and state. My decision to be an American mainstream R&B singer had a certain amount of risk attached to it. Through overcoming all these challenges to reach my goal, I hope to show to the Indian people that it is possible to think about something and achieve it.”


Nikhil Misra-Bhambri is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. He is a graduate from University of Southern California (USC) with a bachelor’s in history. 

Sankara Eye Foundation presents “Klose To My Life”

A  fundraiser concert to eradicate curable blindness in India

Sankara Eye Foundation is bringing the Magnificent Musical Extravaganza of the year.  Legendary singers Sonu Nigam & Neha Kakkar with Live Symphony Orchestra of 45 Musicians at the beautiful Oracle Arena on June 15th. All this is for a magical cause of brightening this world. Your entertainment will help someone’s dreams come true as they get their eyesight restored.

Sonu Nigam & Neha Kakkar Concert

June 15, 2019 

7:30 pm

Oracle Arena, Oakland

Tickets starting at $39

Tickets available at www.giftofvision.org/events

For more information, visit www.giftofvision.org or call 1 (866) Sankara.

Established in the Bay Area, SEF is a non-profit organization that has been working for the past twenty years for the cause of eradicating curable blindness in India. Driven by the truly inspirational cause, SEF has currently established 9 community hospitals and soon embarking on three new hospital projects. By far the most unique and remarkable characteristic of SEF is that they provide free eye care for those unable to afford it, those members of the rural poor, and this accounts for 80 percent—which is approximately 200,000 people per year—of the surgeries performed at their hospitals. The tireless efforts by the SEF team since inception, has enabled 1.95 million eyes to receive the gift of vision, utterly free of cost.  Also, it has maintained the top rating from Charity Navigator for sound fiscal management for seven years

SEF will focus its fundraising activities for 3 new projects, Focus Mumbai, Focus Hyderabad and Focus Indore.  Become a Founding Donor and leave a legacy – get your name on the Wall of Founders. Double the impact of your gift with company matching. Join our cause, volunteer and share in the joy of bringing light to someone’s eyes. Please visit our website at www.giftofvision.org for more details.

 

This article was provided to India Currents by Sankara Eye Foundation

The Call of Qawwali–Fannah-fi-Allah

At the age of 15, Geoffrey Lyons left his Nova Scotia home with a one-way ticket in hand to find his spiritual home in the mountains of North India. He had heard Indian raga music and it called out to him. What he did not know at that time was that music would be his calling; that the world would know him as Tahir Qawwal.

“I was looking for a guru. I studied the Upanishads, practiced yoga, visited temples, got schooled in classical and spiritual music—bhajans, kirtans, even Baul music from Bengal.

But I could not connect with any of the gurus I met; somehow, something was missing,” reminisces Qawwal. “About when I was 18, I happened to walk into a Qawwali mehfil in Benaras. It was a thoroughly disappointing experience! I could not believe that the music of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whom I idolized, could be so misrepresented. That was when I decided to perform this music. I finished transliterating “Allah Hu” that very night.”

With him that evening, more than a decade ago, were Oregon based tabla player Jessica Ripper and Florida based singer Devanand (“he’s from a spiritual family”), both non Indians, non Asians; non desis, as Qawwal puts it.

The three of them decided to stage an experiment, to perform Qawwali as it should be and this is how Fanna-fi-Allah, their “band” was formed.

Ripper was transformed into Aminah Chishti and Anand, Laali Qalandar. By then, Qawwal had already put in months into studying the various Sufi poems, learning pronunciations and meanings.

This devotion shows in their rendition of “Allah Hu.” They are deliberate in their exploration of the lyrics, specific tones, and the experience. It is a journey in all senses.

Their first “experimental” concert was in Hawaii. “We continue to present Qawwali to unconventional audiences!” says Qawwal. They perform over 100 times a year, in all continents, including Australia and Africa. When asked which audience has been most appreciative, he says, “We play often in San Francisco, which is always great; the audience is part desi and part gora (white) like me. Half our shows are for the Pakistani community—we’re like a local American qawwali group. The other half is comprised of Indian and Sufi/bhakti/ yoga/spiritual events.”

In 2003, Fanna-fi-Allah created history in the Sufi world by being the first all-white group to be invited to perform at the Urs, the annual Qawwali festival in Pakistan. The festival, which was aired worldwide, attracts Sufi practitioners and performers and gained them immense popularity and more importantly, acceptance.

Chishti created a revolutionary milestone and is “indirectly the spearhead of a freedom movement for women in Pakistan” when she became the first woman to be admitted into a Sufi shrine to perform. Chishti’s playing is certainly bold and at the forefront of all their performances, especially so in a rendition of “Ya Mustafa.” This song is evocative of the spirit behind the name—Fanna-fi-Allah means annihilation into the infinite, into Allah.

Also part of the group, which is now based in Grass Valley, California, is son of tabla maestro Ustad Dildar Hussain, Abrar Hussain.

The group has released ten CDs thus far. The record label they created, called Tabaruq Records, recently published an album by the popular Qawwali group Rizwan Muazzam, called Amad. There is also a film expected to be out later this year, called Qawwali–Music of the Mystics. The project can be found on kickstarter.com.nevada_theatre_2014

In the last two years, Fanna-fi-Allah has been funded by the United States government to tour Pakistan in order to foster a peaceful relationship between the two peoples, leading to many high-profile and in-the-public-eye philanthropic events.

As Qawwal says, “We are really famous in Pakistan, people love us there.”

Fanna-fi-Allah will be performing in California in October, more details and music at fanna-fi-allah.com

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.