Bawari Basanti on Defying Hypocrisy and Making Honest Music

How can music be a tool for social change and personal development? Popular folk-singer and social-media star Bawari Basanti tells us.

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 second of a three-part series (part one here).


Mahima Dayal Mathur, professionally known as Bawari Basanti, is a Delhi-based Hindustani classical and folk singer, recording artist and songwriter. Basanti is best known for her collaboration with notable Indian artists as well as her French band, Spicy Frog.

Music, according to Basanti, “is more therapeutic than we give it credit for. As a recording artist, you are constantly fixing your emotions with every delivery. So, you have to blindly feel your way between the obvious emotions and then produce a feeling sonically,” she says.

“Music has the power to take something from your inner world and make it shareable and perceptible. For me, it is like a power that soaks up all my joy, pain, aggression and suffering and converts it into something that I can palpably feel long after the emotion has left me,” she explains.

The independent music industry is largely unorganised, observes Basanti. “It takes time, patience and very thick skin till you are finally taken seriously. The only way is to keep pushing such invisible boundaries defined by society and make honest music,” she says.

Though Basanti has never felt underpaid by virtue of being a female singer, that doesn’t mean that musicians in general are not underpaid, she says. “Many venues, festivals and film events underpay lesser known musicians to cut costs. That is rarely because of their sex, instead more because independent art is yet to get its due importance in our country,” she says.

Bawari Basanti

She goes on, “It’s funny how, sometimes, event companies look for ‘bands with female singer’ and reach out to me. This is just how warped the entertainment space has always been. We constantly confuse being commercial with selling out. I know that my music is my property and only I get to decide my brand’s identity. So, it’s more to do with how much your reach is as an artist – how many people wish to come to your shows and buy your music – that ultimately defines your worth and gives credibility to any sound creator.”

Basanti believes that as long as women continue to truly voice themselves with their music, and keep creating independently in this digital world, they will not be denied payment for their intellectual property.

Yet, she has had to face her share of challenges. “From being thrown money at during a festival gig, to being told to not sing songs about female deities in bars, it’s been an ongoing battle with an overbearing society that wants to portray itself as women-friendly but is simply entrenched in hypocrisy,” she says.

Basanti manages her act on her own, which means encountering people who comment on her lifestyle habits and ask her to settle for less. “It’s about time we oust such elements from society and not perpetuate bigotry by quitting on our dreams and desires in this dystopian world,” she affirms.

Photography by Saurav Nanda

This is part two of a three-part series ‘Siren Song’ first published in eShe’s August 2019 issue

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