Her Indian dream

Alisha Shinde
Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Amanda Sodhi, an Indian-American vocal feminist, talks about her recently released song — I don’t write sad songs anymore

Amanda Sodhi was born and brought up in Washington DC but she grew up listening to a lot of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Malkit Singh songs that her father would play on cassettes. Even though she did not understand Hindi for the first few years of her life, she oddly knew that she would pursue a career in music or films when she grows up. 

“My family was apprehensive of my creative streak, but I joined school choir and began writing a lot of poetry,” says Sodhi. She was clear that she wanted to move to India to pursue a creative career, and hence learnt to speak, read and write in Hindi.

Her parents were against her choice of getting into a creative profession, as no one from the family had ventured into it before. And it was this very sheltered upbringing in Washington that made Sodhi turn to reading, writing, listening to music and singing. “Since, my family was immensely strict, I found an escape in these things. Art helped me make sense of the world around me,” Sodhi says.  

Since they had worked so hard to move to the States, her family members didn’t want her to move back to India. And that’s a question she faces in India every now and then — ‘Why did you come back?’

“As an Indian child growing up abroad, I enjoyed listening to Bollywood numbers and the English pop songs that my sister would play. I knew I wanted to make a career in music or films. I moved to Mumbai to pursue my dream,” says Sodhi.   

When she did step into the more chaotic side of the world that India is, she felt she had found herself. On being asked how does she find the inspiration to survive in an industry dominated by men, Sodhi says that she believes that art does not belong to one particular gender. “Men and women, both have the right to pursue any career path that they want to, including music,” she adds.  

Women face a lot of sexual harassment in the industry because it is dominated by men who try to use their position of power in unethical ways, Sodhi points out. But she is determined to carve a niche for herself based on her own terms. “Since music does not pay my bills, I do not feel any compulsion to succumb to shortcuts nor am I in any rush to make it to the top. Hopefully with time, more women will opt to become musicians, music producers, composers and lyricists and the gender ratio and power dynamics will be more balanced,” she says. 

Being an indie artist
Being an independent artist in India is very different when one compares it to the scenario abroad, says Sodhi, adding, that’s because the Indian music scene is strongly dominated by Bollywood. “Bollywood music is India’s “pop music” which is powered by huge marketing budgets, radio and TV time and indie music sadly lacks that,” says Sodhi adding that it takes as less as 6-7 downloads to get an indie song into top charts on certain Indian websites — that’s how sad the state of affairs is for independent music. Most audiences would rather hear English pop music than homegrown independent music. “There are a few independent acts in India that have received a lot of visibility over the past few years, but even they are honest about the increase in their following thanks to songs here and there in Bollywood films or mainstream television show,” she says. 

Sodhi says that her goal is to eventually sing for films so that she can reach a bigger audience, and eventually cross-over to her independent projects. She recently released her new song, I don’t write sad songs anymore. Talking about the inspiration behind the song, she says that the random shift from Mumbai to Kolkata, a year ago did a lot of good for her.  “I now feel at peace. I remember sitting in my balcony, sipping tea and literally thinking to myself, ‘Hey! I don’t write sad songs anymore’,” she says. She points out that the entire melody and lyrics came to her at that very moment. Although she has written happy songs for others, she had never written anything happy for herself, so she wanted to capture this happier phase of her life in a song and video as a reminder to herself. 

Coming up next
Sodhi mentions that her next song is a Hindi ballad, which will release through Drishyam Play. “Manish and Mukta of Drishyam Play are doing a fantastic job of supporting musicians and giving them a lovely platform,” she says, adding that she has written lyrics for a song for Sagar Desai, who is composing for Zoya Akhtar’s upcoming series. And she plans to keep releasing new singles each year, without fail, because it is a nice way to document her own journey.

Sodhi is also a proud founder of Pen Paper Dreams, which she formed after moving to Kolkata. Besides open mics and digital publishing, Pen Paper Dreams conducts poetry, creative writing and postcard writing workshops.  “Most of our workshops end up being a cathartic experience for participants because they are finally able to express things they have bottled up inside,” she says adding that people often write poems or short stories about topics that are very sensitive in nature and make them feel relieved. Some people write letters to loved ones who are no longer alive, to find closure. She has always believed that art has helped her heal, and she wants the others to experience this positive aspect of creative self-expression too.

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