Born in London, raised in Australia and now settled in renowned singer Susheela Raman is an artist who has staunchly charted her own musical path. Always exploring and experimenting with sounds, from diverse musical genres like, Baul folk to Sufi to Gamelan and especially the Indian devotional and Carnatic music of her Tamil roots, Susheela has gone where the music took her.
She started her musical journey in Sydney with her own band, playing popular rock-pop songs, before venturing into blues and jazz. By then she was experiencing the limitations of pop-rock and travelled to India to learn from India’s rich musical heritage.
Her critically acclaimed debut album Salt Rain was nominated for the Mercury Prize, becoming the first World Music artist to receive that honour. She also received the Best Newcomer Award from BBC Radio 3. Susheela has since released five more albums and in 2006 she again received a nomination for the BBC World Music Awards. Currently she is working on her seventh album, Ghost Gamelan, featuring Gamelan artists from Indonesia, which is set to be released in January 2018.
With a head full of frizzy hair, her intense stage presence and exuberant yet soulful singing style, Susheela Raman has received accolades from audiences around the world, confirming her reputation as among the foremost world music artists in the world.
Here RagatoRock speaks to Susheela Raman about her musical jouney and her perspective as a female musician in the world of music:
What do you think of this years Paddy Fields being dedicated to women?
It's a great idea, especially if it reminds people that no two female artists are alike and women don't need to be patronised.
What are your views on Women empowerment?
Culture change towards female equality is good thing. Many men are scared of women and feel and need the control or belittle them ignored to reassure themselves. Women's empowerment will help such men to be free from that conditioning and fear and enjoy being with women as equals and fellow humans. Its also good at omen can participate fully in public life on the basis of merit. It makes for a more fair and balanced environment. .
What is your repertoire about or what can we expect at the Paddy Fields on the theme of women?
I am there to play music, be myself. I am not singing slogans from stage. By playing and being confident and free onstage i think it sends a positive signal that women can and should express themselves without fear.
What would you like see a change in Women Rights?
I want women and girls to have equal rights and opportunites at work, in public and at home. I want women to feel safe whoever they are. The culture that says men have right to censure women for failing to conform to arbitrary, absurd and historically backward values is morally bankrupt.
Name some songs that you like are Women Enpowering or Women oriented ?
How about RESPECT by Aretha Franklin.
You are a multi-lingual Singer, but you haven't done any original music album in English ? Any particular reason.
I have performed and written many songs in English but my albums tend to have a mix of languages.
In fact my next album 'Ghost Gamelan' is all in English.
Tell us about your forthcoming album Ghost Gamelan releasing in 2018?
Its a record i am very excited to have made with incredible musicians from Indonesia. The songs are in English and therea re some intoning vocal arrangements. The record has a really unique sound and am looking forward to sharing with everyone in 2018.
How did you manage that since your 2014 album "Queen Between" was supported by your fans ?
I signed a reocrd contract with a French record company called Naive which is owned by Believe Digital and can distribute music worldwide.
As an artiste what title would you give yourself? Queen of World Music ?
No i would NEVER say that! it doesn't mea anything. And Kings and Queens belong in the dustbin of history along with fake religious leaders!
-Stanley Paul Memury and Pradeep Joseph
ShubhaMudgal is a thinking musician: Singer, composer, activist and a lovely human being whose smile brightens up the stage as does her robust mellifluous voice. In a free-wheeling chat, she discusses her upcoming show at the Paddy field festival and much more with Shamali Gupta.
What are your views about this year’s Paddy Fields being dedicated to women? Do you think this kind of effort will really make a difference?
I appreciate the gesture of saluting the voices of women artistes in this year’s edition of Paddy Fields. Whether or not it will make a difference to the status of women in general is impossible for me to predict, but surely it cannot have a negative impact in any way. Besides, folk songs often speak of the plight of women, their dreams and aspirations, their pain and longing, so to hear these songs in the voices of women would not be detrimental in any way. Having said that, I would not be able to claim that deep rooted gender biases that have existed in society for centuries will be wiped away in the course of a music festival just because the festival featured women artistes. But from a curatorial point of view, a showcase of women’s voices is creditable.
What are your views on Women empowerment?
Can you please clarify what exactly you want to ask, because otherwise, the obvious answer is that women must be empowered and attempt to empower themselves, no two ways about it.
Your powerful song “Man kemanjeere” struck a chord in many women’s hearts across the country. How did it happen?
The song Mann KeManjeere was part of an album of the same name, which was produced by Breakthrough, an organisation founded by MallikaDutt. Breakthrough’s mission is to use popular culture for powerful messaging on important social issues, and Mann KeManjeere was the organisation’s very first project. The album contained ten songs on the dreams and aspirations of women, and the title track, Mann keManjeere was a powerful one with lyrics by Prasoon Joshi and music by ShantanuMoitra. It was recorded in my voice and the accompanying music video featuring actor MitaVashisht was based on the true life story of ShameemPathan, a lady from Ahmedabad who overcame several odds including domestic violence, and drove a taxi for a livelihood. The song and the music video were imaginatively used by Breakthrough to create a curriculum for discussion on gender related issues in schools and colleges.
What songs can we expect to hear from you at the Paddy Fields on the theme of women?
Paddy Fields aims at presenting folk repertoire from different parts of the country with fusion music. I was born and grew up in Uttar Pradesh and my mother was from Kumaon, therefore my association is with folk music from these two regions primarily. I have therefore worked on a repertoire of folk songs from these two regions. The songs I will present include references to women as Mother Earth, and others in which women feature in seasonal songs and life cycle songs.
Please tell us about your experimentations with different forms of folk?
I cannot claim to have experimented with folk music in any way, so my involvement with folk music has been more that of a student of music trying to learn. One of the forms I have been studying for a long time is thumri-dadra which includes elements of folk music, as thumri-dadra repertoire includes seasonal songs forms like kajri, hori, chaiti, baramasa etc. I have been referring to several old collections of such songs and compositions to enhance and extend my own repertoire and study.
From classical to folk to fusion you have done it all. What has been the experience like?
Well, I haven’t done it all because for a student there is always more to do and more to learn. But the journey continues to be exciting and challenging and fulfilling, and I continue to be an eager student.
No Stranger Here, a modern take on Kabir’sdohas by you, Ursula Rucker and Business Class Refugees, your listeners would like to know more about this.
No Strangers Here is an album produced and distributed by Earthsync, an independent music label that has been working quietly but resolutely for several years. Yotam and Patrick, who produce music under the stage name of Business Class Refugees had invited me to collaborate with them and we met at the Earthsync Studio in Chennai to work on the collaboration. Yotam and Patrick created grooves over which I composed and sang Kabir verses, and then they arranged the songs meticulously
Raincoat, HazaaronKhwahishenAisi…and you - in short your presence in Bollywood.
My presence in film music is virtually non-existent. Very occasionally I have been invited to record a song or two for films and my experience there has largely been enriching.
.Any unfulfilled dreams as a musician?
I dream all the time, even sing in my dreams. (she smiles) But seriously, I have little to be discontented about
Aneesh and I are working on a most delightful and exciting project called The Bridge of Dreams. Our collaborators in this project are some wonderful musicians from Australia. There is the leading saxophonist and composer Sandy Evans, with whom Aneesh and I are composing for the project. Sandy has also arranged the compositions all three of us have created for the project. The compositions will be performed by all three of us, the Sirens Big Band, an all women big band from Australia, Bobby Singh who is an Australia based tabla player and also Aneesh’s student, and our dear friend and ace harmonium artiste SudhirNayak. An album of the tracks is also in the making and should be launched sometime next year. And we also hope to get opportunities to perform live with our collaborators.
Located in a former mill, the Mumbai outpost of the US chain of resto-bars has a mixed reputation among the city's musicians. In the first couple of years after opening, in 2006, indie rock acts were often asked to include a stipulated number of cover songs in their set lists. These days, Hard Rock Café, which hosts gigs every Tuesday and Thursday night, sticks mostly to cover bands, with a couple of dates a month spared for indie groups. Skip these gigs, and come here only for the ticketed events, when one of the seating areas is cleared to make room for a larger stage, for performances by Indian indie icons (folk-fusion veterans Indian Ocean, electro-rock superstars Pentagram), international chart toppers (Wyclef Jean, Jay Sean) or club-packing DJs (Bob Sinclair, Paul van Dyk). Be warned, though: the waiters break into a synchronised jig every time the Village People's "YMCA" comes on.
Bombay Dyeing Mill Compound, Pandurang Budhkar Marg, Worli, + 91 22 2438 2888, Hardrockindiablog.com. Open daily noon-1.30am. Performance times and entrance fees vary