With a funky hairdo, stylish studs on her ears, and casual, relaxed outfits (mostly black), she may appear as a rapper. But interestingly, 21-year-old Bidisha Mohanta has a deep understanding of Indian classical music and is a trained Hindustani vocalist.
The young singer, who has just released her first Hindi single Hazaaron Mannate on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, CDBaby and other leading music sharing sites, breaks conventions in every way. Mohanta, who wants her voice to be heard, without being judged, talks about her music and her journey.
Mohanta, who is currently living in Singapore and is pursing a course in music at Lasalle College of The Arts Singapore, says that she wrote Hazaaron Mannate three years ago when she was in high school.
“The track is very longing-laden, but shouldn’t be mistaken for unrequited love. It talks about a person who you really love, but who, in a way, is unattainable, and hence never completely yours,” she says. The instruments used in the composition are mainly the sitar, a lead electric guitar, two acoustic rhythm guitars, a bass guitar, the piano and the drums.
Harping on social media
She chose CDBaby to publish her new single which helped her put it out on iTunes and other music sharing platforms, instead of releasing on YouTube or recording an album. Says she, “I wanted my song to be copyrighted under my name. With that being done, works to record the video is soon going to be underway along with very talented dancers and that will be put up on YouTube.”
The switch of genre
The young singer, who originally hails from Kolkata, has great regards for her guru — the late Ustaad Abdul Rashid Khan — as she began training under him as a Hindustani classical singer at the age of 12. “I called him Baba — he was not just a musical genius, but also an extremely kind and generous human being. My mom and I would go over to his house to feast on delicious Dum Biryani during Eid with musical legends present all around us,”she reminisces.
Music came quite naturally to Mohanta as she used to write poetry from a very young age and turned them into songs. Despite having a strong classical base, she never restricted herself to a genre, hence she ventured into other genres too.
“During my high school days, I used to listen to a lot of rock ‘n’ roll. Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, The Doors, The Beatles, Bon Jovi started becoming my go to artists. After commencing my course at Lasalle College of The Arts Singapore, I realised that the roots of rock ‘n’ roll are deeply seated in the blues. This made me learn more about the origin and evolution of blues into modern-day rock ‘n’ roll. What started as a cathartic form of spiritual music sung by the enslaved African Americans, metamorphosed into an integral component of the pop culture as we know it today,” quips Mohanta who had earlier released an English track titled Speechless For Real.
She also listened to Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Ray Charles and progressed to Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and many other founding figures of rock ‘n’ roll.
When asked about the switch, she promptly replies, “Music is music — it transcends language, race and boundaries. So in that sense, there wasn’t much of a ‘switch’ that I had to make. My training in Indian classical music gives me the flexibility to sing a lot of different genres and styles. I want to use my knowledge in Western music and infuse flavours of Indian ethnic instrumentation and vocal elements such as ‘alap’ within my future compositions.”
Not a smooth ride
For any musician, the biggest challenge is to get the music out and get an audience who is willing to listen amidst all the heavy influx of music from all over the world. “But the advent of technology has made it all possible. Anyone with a software as basic as GarageBand can now start recording their own music,” she explains.
But Mohanta faces a different set of challenges. “I get stared at a lot since I don’t really look like a conventional Indian woman. To which I have just one simple thing to say, ‘I am a musician, focus on the music I make and not on my outward appearance’. Growing up as an unconventional Indian woman, I’ve had to face a lot of undue judgment. However, thankfully I have amazing parents who always have my back no matter what.”
Mohanta is currently working on her EP (extended play) which is scheduled to release later this year. The songs on this are mostly women-empowering and pro-love which will be either be in English or bilingual (Hindi and English).
“I would describe these songs as ‘love bullets’ or ‘truth pills’ speaking about very real and prevalent issues in our society but with a message of love and a sense of oneness to hold it all together,” says Mohanta adding, “Apart from this, my dream is to sing in one of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movies and also for Shankar Ehsaan Loy. I have been a huge fan of their music since I was a kid.”