If you want to sing out, sing out in as many ways as you can. Pranita Nair Pandurangi, a Mumbai-based musician and singer, is all set to release her debut album – Rang. A classically trained vocalist, a practiced actor and a patron of the arts – she has been dabbling in different forms of expression and waiting for her work to come to fruition. The six-track album is a coming together of four years of travel and trepidation, its an attempt to bring together two different branches of homespun music with elements of Indian ragas and Persian rhythms.
We spoke to her about her roots, and the reasons she pushes herself to perform:
Your new album has six songs in six different languages. How familiar are you with each of these?
I am most familiar with Urdu and Marathi and can speak both decently enough. I’ve picked up bits and pieces of all of the other languages through my theater background and travels although I can understand all of them fairly well – perhaps I can learn how to speak them as well with a bit of practice. I would like to! Nothing makes people happier than when they hear you speak their language.
Could you take us through the songwriting process?
Four of the songs are traditional melodies – I haven’t written or composed them. One of them is a ghazal written by Shamim Jaipuri, which I have composed. One is a poem by Kabir composed by the stalwart singer Kumar Gandharv ji. I’ve rendered my own version of each of the songs. The process of arranging them was fairly organic – I sat down in a room with all the musicians that I generally perform with and we came up with interesting chords, interludes and fillers for each of the tracks. All the musicians have written all their parts themselves – I just had to facilitate the process and it happened.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
Distinctly Indian, full of emotions and very, very sentimental – just like me! Each of the songs has a distinct story behind it, which is waiting to be discovered and retold.
One of the most humbling moments was meeting a classical musician from West Bengal five years ago – he sat me down and explained that my techniques were incorrect and that I knew nothing about Hindustani classical. I realized he was right.
You’ve been training in Hindustani classical music for most of your life. Do you feel like it’s an integral part of who you are?
Definitely! I don’t know whether it’s a good or a bad thing, but I’ve reached a point where I can’t imagine a single day without my riyaz (practice) session and if I do miss it, I end up feeling lost. Over the years, I’ve trained under a lot of different gurus and accumulated a wealth of techniques and songs. The album is really a culmination of that and a tribute to my teachers and my real muse – Hindustani music. There’s so much within this bracket – in terms of classical, and folk and semi-classical – so much debate, so much history, so many different styles etc. that it’s easy to lose your path. I know people who’ve followed a certain path in Hindustani classical and stuck to it and I really commend them for that. My own personal definition and understanding of it has dramatically changed quite a bit over the years.
One of the most humbling moments was meeting a classical musician from West Bengal five years ago – he sat me down and explained that my techniques were incorrect and that I knew nothing about Hindustani classical. At first my ego was hurt, but eventually I realized he was right and decided to start from scratch all over again after a decade of training. It’s like that – there’s really no end to learning and it’s not so much about “mastery” as being humble and surrendering yourself to the music. I have a lot to learn and I feel I’ve only just begun, which is an overwhelming but also exciting feeling.
You’ve always been a strong supporter of the arts. Could you tell me about your favorite projects over the years?
The one that changed my life was Ishq Aaha, a Hindi-Punjabi play based on the love legends of Punjab. That opened all kinds of doors for me. The sheer discipline of working with a theater group and having a space in which you can explore freely as an artist was priceless. I also volunteered for a month at a school in Ladakh where I worked with a group of 7th-graders on music and drama – despite the language barriers, that was a wonderfully rewarding experience and taught me so much about life. Another one was at the music festival Jodhpur Riff last year – where I worked with acclaimed Australian artists Gene Peterson and Tom Thum and helped facilitate collaboration between them and Rajasthani folk artists. Their energy and drive blew my mind. I wanted to come back and work doubly hard on my music.
What differentiates music as a form of expression from the other mediums you work in?
When it comes to theater or workshops, the experiences and outcome depend on the group you work with as much as it does on you. Music is more solitary in the sense that you have to work on your own craft rigorously just as much as you work with other musicians. The move from theater and music felt isolating – but at the same time, I feel much more in control of the work I’m putting out as a musician. At the end of the day though, you grow from each different art form you practice. I do long to get back to theater someday – maybe also explore dance, and perhaps start writing my own songs too. Everything feeds each other and it’s really important for me to keep discovering myself outside of music.
Rang is a culmination of all your training and travels. What does it feel like to finally have it out in the world?
Feels like a huge milestone! I was 20 when I decided to pursue music professionally and had my first show. From then to now, it has been a very long and meandering path for the last four years – I dabbled in so many different forms, did theater, did a full-time and then a part-time job, finished my Master’s degree and my degree in classical music – it feels like finally coming back to my roots, to who I am. It’s also a statement about the last four years. It all added up to this album.
Do you feel like some of the ideas were too big to fit into a song?
In terms of arrangement ideas, I haven’t left any out – pretty much incorporated everything the team wanted to. The process of deciding which songs to keep in the album was difficult though. I would have liked to include more songs and more languages, maybe one or two from South India. But, perhaps this can happen in the coming projects. I would have also liked to involve other singers and tried asking a few but it didn’t pan out. One of my good friends has sung a duet with me and it’s nice to have a different voice in one of the tracks at least.
How did this particular team come together, what is your connection to them?
I have often performed with Rahul [Gajjan on Melodica] and Yohann [Coutinho on Bass] right from college days. Mrunmay [Chavan on Dholak] is a junior from college and we started performing together about two years ago. Siddharth is a very talented violinist and we’ve been performing as a duo since the last four years – he’s been an anchoring force in my life. I know Barkha and Purav through theater circles, and Naynesh [Pimpale on Cajun] is a childhood friend – we used to perform together in mehfils even as kids.
I used to admire this trio band in college called Unohu – it has Sarthak, Shashwat and Yohann – and I was thrilled when they agreed to be part of this project. Ninad Mulaokar and Raju Dhumal are both acclaimed Hindustani classical artists who are much senior to me in terms of age, as well as music and came on board the project as they’ve seen me grow up and are close family friends. I am very lucky to have this varied team of talented musicians and each of them means a lot to me, having been part of my journey for years now.
The album is about love - for people, for stories, for poetry, for Indian music and culture. When people listen to the album, I hope they find it honest enough to take them back to their own joys and sorrows, and their own stories.
The album is about love – for people, for stories, for poetry, for Indian music and culture. When people listen to the album, I hope they find it honest enough to take them back to their own joys and sorrows, and their own stories.
It feels like you put a lot of yourself into this album, it was a struggle to bring it to life. Do you feel like it was worth it?
As you might have gathered, I’m the kind of person who loves to explore different art forms and dabble in a hundred different things at once. This album was the first decisive step I’ve taken in my life and the first time I’ve committed to something I’ve started on my own. Even though it got extremely stressful at times and there were moments when I wanted to abandon the project, I’m glad that I could see it through to completion and that it’s finally coming out. Here I am, expressing who I am so definitely and fully for the very first time. I’ve bared my soul in this project – it’s worth it to have that coming through. I cried when I heard the mixes for the first time! So, yes, it is totally worth it.
What do you want people to feel when they listen to the album?
Primarily, the album is about love – for people, for stories, for poetry, for Indian music and culture. When people listen to the album, I hope they find it honest enough to take them back to their own joys and sorrows, and their own stories. I’m particularly excited to see what the response would be like, especially from the older generations – people like my mum and dad who’ve grown up listening to classical music and ghazals. I hope it takes them back to those roots. And well, for people my age – I hope they think it's cool enough for their playlists.
Featured image by Shreya Shetty.
Album art by Felix Jackson.