Monday, June 2, 2014

New-age Nightingale: In conversation with Jonita Gandhi

Attempting legendary composer Naushad ji's tune comes with a beefy responsibility but the 24-year old Jonita Gandhi lives up and how! The Toronto-based singer first came to limelight with her YouTube covers of hindi films songs. I stumbled across her suhaani raat cover (from the 1949-hit Dulari), a few days ago. It was out of the ordinary. I wanted more. I looked her up until I discovered a whole passel of covers she’d recorded with her home band 88 Keys To Euphoria. Her acoustic cover Tum Hi Ho with Sanam Puri (remember Ishq Bulaava from Hasee Toh Phasee?) has topped three million views on YouTube! 

Jonita shares her journey into the music world with us:
How old were you when you started getting involved in music?

Today, Jonita Gandhi's musical repertoire includes some of Bollywood's most sought after composers. She's embellished A.R. Rahman's various compositions from Kaha Hoon Main (Highway) to Dil Chaspiya (Kochadaiiyaan), while Vishal-Shekhar landed her, her first break in Chennai Express. Rahman, in one of his recent interviews commended her as an “emerging talent with a voice, fresh and adaptable to any kind of music.”

I've been singing since I was very young. I gave my first stage performance at 7. I always knew music is my passion. However, because of school, I didn't give it my full focus and attention until I graduated from university in the summer of 2012.

How did Bollywood happen?
My dad has been fond of music since childhood. He used to play and sing in his college band in Russia. When we migrated to Canada, he ran his business, but managed to create a name for himself in the local Indian music scene as a keyboardist in Toronto. Based purely on interest and passion, he took up studio recording and built a studio in our home. This was an extremely useful tool for me, and thanks to him, I started recording my voice from a young age at home. When I started collaborating with musician Aakash Gandhi (founder of 88KeysToEuphoria), I would record my vocals at home and send them over the internet. These collaborations became very popular and led to a lot of people hearing and seeing them. Vishal-Shekhar's engineer at the time showed them a couple of my links which led me to get the chance to meet and record for them. I am very grateful to both of them, who gave me my first Bollywood break (Chennai Express). There was much to learn while the whole experience being so much fun. 

You've also sung for A.R. Rahman. How did you meet him? How was your experience working with him? 
He discovered me in a YouTube cover video I had made of the Christmas Carol "Silent Night" with Aakash Gandhi. He tweeted it, and about a month later, I flew to Chennai to record for him. Working with him was a very unique experience. I learned a lot from the very free flowing nature of his recording process. He encouraged me to try different things and helped me get into the mood of each song. I am extremely thankful to him for giving me this opportunity. 

An artist/musician that inspires?Sonu Nigam is a huge inspiration to me. His dedication and hard work is unparalleled. He is an amazing live singer and performer. In the West, it's Beyonce. I think she is the ultimate diva and an incredible mix of different talents.

You recently performed with Sonu Nigam. What was it like to be sharing stage with someone you admire?It is an awesome feeling to be touring with someone I've listened to growing up. I feel honored that he considers me a part of his team. I'm really excited to have this platform to showcase my talent and travel the world.

How long have you been doing concerts now? Do you still get nervous? Any fond memories or fan stories of a live event?
After a performance I did in Kerala in 2012, I remember a fan approach me. He was a medical student from Punjab and was really fond of my YouTube cover of Pani Da Rang. He came up to me for an autograph and said "I can't believe you came out of YouTube and are standing in front of me". That's the power of the internet! I thought it was adorable.
I've been performing since I was a kid. I've opened for the likes of Sunidhi Chauhan and Sonu Nigam. I, recently, also headlined my own concert in Toronto. But yes, I still do get nervous. I think it's good though, as it keeps me focused on performing to the best of my ability.

A musician you'd like to work with?There are many great musicians out there. Not only the established ones but many upcoming talents yet to be discovered. I enjoy collaborating with creative musicians who are willing to try something new and passionate about music. Right now I am mainly working with a few people outside of India, as well as with my YouTube-collaborator Aakash Gandhi. I hope to be back in Mumbai soon, where there are lots of people I hope to work with.

What's more exciting? Indian or western music?
That's like asking a parent which one of their children they love more. Both are extremely exciting for me!

Of all your covers, which one is your favourite?

If I were to turn on your iPod right now, 5 songs I'd find in your 'recently played'?
I don't listen to music that much for leisure. You'll probably find songs I've had to prepare for recent concerts. A couple songs I've been YouTube-ing lately though are by Pharell, John Legend, Labrinth, Bruno Mars, and film songs by Shankar Ehsaan Loy.

What does Jonita do when she's not singing/performing?
She hangs out with friends. Loves cracking jokes and having a laugh in great company.

10 years from now, you'll be... ?
Singing, performing, and spreading my love for various kinds of music with the world. I'm excited to see what the future holds!

For all Jonita Gandhi fans out there, her next cover (out this week) will be an unplugged version of her very own song dil chaspiya (Kochadaiyaan)! 

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