By Neha Kirpal
Can a career in music also be a source of personal growth? What are the challenges women face in the industry? Noted female musicians take us behind the scenes of their world. This is the first of a three-part series.
FALGUNI SHAH, NEW YORK
New York-based, Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Falguni Shah’s music blends ancient classical Indian melodies with contemporary Western sounds. Music is a huge resource for personal growth and spirituality in her life.
“When I write a song, I think about so many subtle nuances that affect human nature – how people react, how emotions are created and felt by humans universally, which then leads to the bigger question I ask myself – why are we all here? I seek answers to all of this every day as part of my musical and spiritual journey,” she says.
In her younger years in Mumbai, Falguni trained in the Jaipur musical tradition and in the Benaras style of thumri. She moved to the US in 2000, where she was a visiting lecturer at Tufts University.
She was appointed Carnegie Hall’s ambassador of Indian Music in 2006, and has performed for former US president Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House. In 2015, she was named one of the 20 most influential global Indian women by The Economic Times.
Falguni believes achievement in music is strictly merit-based though some luck might also play a role. In her experience, it is mostly an equal playing field for men and women. Sure, there are challenges that women musicians have to face, she believes. “Sometimes people want to take advantage of you; you need to have your guard up,” she says.
PRIYA ANDREWS, MUMBAI
Vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Priya Andrews, 29, known best for her song Mileya mileya (Happy Ending, 2014), comes from a family of musicians. “I feel anything you put your heart into helps you grow as a person. Music isn’t about getting famous for me. The connect I feel with God, when I’m out there singing my heart out on stage, is what music is about,” she says.
Priya has faced her share of disapproval from society for her off-beat profession. “It was sometimes extremely disrespectful and heartbreaking,” she recollects. She believes that the struggle doesn’t apply only to women. “Bollywood is a treacherous industry, especially for newcomers,” she says.
“Thousands move into Mumbai every day to make it big in Bollywood and only a handful make it to the top – a fact that holds true for both genders. During my struggle period, people told me that I wouldn’t make it but I’m lucky to have the family I do – not everybody does,” she adds.
On the question of pay equality, Priya says, “The lead musicians, irrespective of gender, get paid higher than the supporting musicians. So, singers like Neha Kakkar and Arijit Singh must draw similar incomes regardless of gender,” she adds.
“If you’re super talented with a lot of determination and lucky, it takes you places more than you can ever imagine,” she says.
THE VINYL RECORDS, DELHI & ARUNACHAL PRADESH
Delhi-based four-piece all-girl band, The Vinyl Records, consists of Banu, Minam and Mithy who belong to Arunachal Pradesh and Assamese vocalist and keytarist Cheyyrian Bark. The band has performed over 500 shows in eight years. Music is the power that connects them with their divine source.
“Music is what we create from our heart. It resonates within the human spirit,” they say. Looking back at their journey in the Indian indie music scene, they believe there is no glass ceiling in the profession, as men and women are both necessary components of the business.
The foursome contend that while women face the same challenges as men, they also have to sometimes deal with sexual harassment. As regards an equal paycheck, they say that it probably depends on one’s business sense.
“The more tasks you take on, the bigger your payout. To be successful, women need to be aggressive,” they say.
This is part one of a three-part series ‘Siren Song’ first published in eShe’s August 2019 issue