With hits like “Ishq Karenge”, “Naina”, “Ambarsariya”, “Jiya Lage Na”, “Bedardi Raja”, and “Daav Laga” among others, Sona Mohapatra has become a celebrated name in Bollywood. Her energy on stage is infectious and she can easily make you groove to her tunes. She speaks to Guardian 20 and shares her insights on how an outsider can enter the music industry in Bollywood and about the importance of training as a professional singer.
Q: You came into Bollywood from a non-musical background and still made a name for yourself in the industry. Can you tell us how a newcomer should pave one’s way in the Bollywood music industry?
A. It is required that an interested person should make a great demo which should clearly demonstrate the abilities of the person in the vocals. One can also meet up with people you want to collaborate with. Having said that, I am of the opinion that music can’t be restricted to get that so called big break in Bollywood. I think having the internet has been the boon for an artist like me. I have counted a lot on the internet as an ally where I constantly kept on putting on stuff with or without a big release plan. So my audience has been always in touch with me via my music on a daily basis.
Q. Talking about riyaz, how important is riyaz for a singer?
A. Riyaz is very critical; even if a singer gets an hour to practice it should not be missed. You owe a wonderful rendition to your audience.
Q. At what age did you start training?
A: I remember going to a music class at seven. My parents are both aficionadas of music. While they didn’t sing or perform there was still a great environment of music at home. My mother believed that we should train in music so I, along with my two sisters, was trained in Hindustani classical music. Later on you develop your own style and taste but my initial cultural foundation was established early on. And I never planned to become a classical singer.
Q. Which singers do you admire the most?
A. I admire singers with soul, singers who have the ability to tell you a story. Girija Devi, Nina Simone, Sting and now have grown to appreciate Lata ji. She is an encyclopedia of fine singing. You can’t have a list without Lata Mangeshkar. She used to do 90% of the work for the actors. I also admire performers who add many layers to a song.
“I remember going to a music class at seven. My parents are both aficionadas of music. While they didn’t sing or perform there was still a great environment of music at home. My mother believed that we should train in music so I, along with my two sisters, was trained in Hindustani classical music. Later on you develop your own style and taste but my initial cultural foundation was established early on. And I never planned to become a classical singer.”
Q. Which songs are there on your playlist nowadays?
A.I listen to the desi music but of late I am listening to a lot of jazz. I have always heard appreciation about jazz and blues from other sources particularly blues due to the storytelling it includes. So nowadays I am tuning in to a lot of jazz.
Q. You experiment a lot with clothing and jewellery on your stage performances. How important do you thing is the experimentation with the same?
A. I think it is very important to bring out your own sense of style to the stage performances. I have recently read a profile on late eminent Kathak dancer Sitara Devi who never used to give a miss to her red lips even at the age of 97. She didn’t follow the old convention that if you have grown old you should stop dressing up in a certain way or expressing yourself in a vital manner or you should get an austere or monk-like state. I believe, especially for a performing artist it is critical to hold the attention of the audience. I think apart from the stage-craft, actual performance on state it is imperative to give equal weightage on the choice of your attire. It is like a part of the entire package. I find just as creative to put together an interesting garment, sometimes it works sometimes it fails but it is totally an expression of me. I owe it to my audience to come up with an interesting attire to hold their attention.
Q. You once said that you enjoy being more as a performer than a playback singer. We would like to know that from your where you gather so much energy required for the stage shows?
A. I am most alive on the stage. I am 20 times more the person I am on the stage. I really love what I do. I can say that the audience gives me that sort of energy.
Q. When was your first concert?
A. It was in 2006.
Q. India is a volatile country and you have openly spoken against Adhyayan Suman and Salman Khan in the recent past. How do you deal with the threats and negativity coming your way when something like this happens?
A. There is no special mantra to that. All you have to do is to speak your mind. An artist has to do more than just expressing the creativity. They should have an opinion. They should engage with the social political environment they live in and with the lot of hate you also get a lot of love. People who are connected to you see you as a person who likes to speak their mind and who is consistent in doing that. Threats and negativity are part of the life. It is no big deal.
Q. You work for OmGrown music your own production house with your husband Ram Sampath. Can you shed some light on the highs and lows of working with someone so close?
A. To be honest, it is mostly the highs. We really get along. I am very lucky to have found somebody like him who is extremely mature. He is other worldly. He has an understanding on things which goes beyond just ordinary day to day matters. I learn from him every day. We have a great rapport.
Q. Can you give us some leads on your future works?
A. I am working on a big project right now which will combine music, poetry and also a travel music documentary, so it will be a visual journey. It will tell the story of the music which I want to capture. The core of it will be music. There will be both local and international collaboration on this project which will launch in the end of this year or early next year.