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Nikhita Gandhi construes her journey

by Aarti Singh

November 2, 2022

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In an exclusive interview with L’utopia, the “MAHARANI” of Indian pop, Nikhita Gandhi decodes her journey from learning and working with A R Rahman to Naach Meri Rani and then Maharani.

Talking about the legend, A R Rahman, Nikhita added how creative he is with developing songs right from scratch. “AR sir is probably the most interesting and vastly talented person I’ve ever met. You can never be bored around him! He is constantly trying new things and learning and adapting and moulding his craft. It’s so inspiring! I’ve sat in on some sessions when he was composing a song from scratch, it was pretty incredible to watch his process. He is unbelievably quick with the DAW and production and it’s a treat to see the magic happen!”

It is pretty clear that Nikhita herself is insanely creative when it comes to her songs. Take Maharani for instance. She further explained what this song portrays for her and what was the inspiration behind it. “MAHARANI celebrates women in the most breezy and effortless way. That’s what really resonated for me with this composition. I always wanted to do a song about women that didn’t necessarily have to stand up for women or sound like a “cause” and instead simply uplifts women in a cool casual POP way! That’s probably what I love the most about this record, it’s suave and fun and still can be meaningful.”

There’s so much that goes behind every song. Each and every song is unique and has a distinct thought behind it along with a story. Such was the case with Maharani as well. “I was visiting my friends in LA after my India Tour ended in July this year, and of course these friends happen to be pretty epic musicians. I don’t think they need an introduction but Shankar Tucker and Vidya Vox were hosting us and so of course we got into the studio and they played us some of their music. Ironically this was a song that Shankar wanted to play me because they didn’t want to release the track and felt I might connect with it more. It was instant love for me. I told him it’s a great song and that I’d love to finish it! So, when I got back to India, I rewrote the lyrics in Hindi and changed it to mean what being a Queen to me is. And this song was born! The best thing about completing this whole process was the video shoot, because as it turns out Shankar and Vids were in India in September for a show and so I thought it would be perfect to have them cameo in the video while they were in town! The whole thing sort of just fell into place and that’s what I love about the journey of each song.”

While talking about the direction of the music industry, Nikhita shared how on-screen representation helps an artist become more known and emerge fully. “I’m excited to see the music industry stand on its feet. Where a singer or composer is famous for his/her work and not an unknown entity in a film where the audience only identifies with the actors in it. I would love to see more of that. I think if Badshah can feature in his song, in a film then it’s only a matter of time that we see more and more artists represent their identity on screen as well! This is where the audience will truly identify with their artist and true fans will emerge!”

She previously pointed out how the music scene is in an unsure yet exciting space. Elaborating that she added how we can see a lot of trial and error. “Like I mentioned a little earlier about not knowing what’s working, it definitely puts music investors in a complicated spot but makes the answer really easy for musicians- do what you do best, not what’s working; cause what’s working also may not work for you (lol). That may sound confusing but basically the best formula is no formula and just making music from the heart! Syncing on film artist’s music in films is also happening these days in India like the west which I think is amazing! A lot of credit for that goes to the Punjabi industry who have truly revolutionized certain perceptions of the non-film artist.”

Further talking about the potential for musicians to grow in all the industries, Nikhita disclosed how she thinks that there is so much one can do especially now that the independent scene is also getting its own space and followers. “We see a rise in the hip hop scene and singer-songwriter space and honestly the power is with the people. I think anyone who spends a little time understanding how streaming and music distribution works, can figure out their music career and find their voice. I recently visited the inauguration of the new batch of a music school and interacted with the freshers. I was really delighted to see that a lot of them were not simply enamoured by the well sold image of the frontman but had serious aspirations- some wanted to be producers, some sound engineers and so on. I was happy to see that the youth knows what it wants and is intelligent enough to find its path!”

Music has definitely gotten a boost due to the onslaught of social media. She pointed out how remarkable it really is. “It’s kind of amazing how in the most algorithmic and calculatable phases of humanity with apps and data, music is still so ineffable. A common phrase I’ve been hearing these days is “kuch bhi chal raha hai” (anything/everything is getting famous) or “we don’t know what works” which means no real formula can be applied to music and what really connects with people. One great thing about social media is that you are directly in touch with the world, a person sitting in Iceland can be a fan of a new artist emerging from a small town in Madhya Pradesh. What really blows my mind though is that not knowing what works- it’s sort of a testament to the fact that music will always be a very personal and wonderous experience and each listener will always interpret the same song differently- that is a timeless truth!”

Nikhita feels that not just social media but live shows are also a great way to share creative space with the world, especially her fans and something that she absolutely loves. “What’s there not to love really? Being on stage is so exhilarating! It’s that weirdly gratifying mixture of nervousness and thrill and happiness like being on a rollercoaster, but better! On stage you get to share energies with your audience which I think is a very beautiful experience. It can many times be therapeutic and one of the purest forms of joy! In the India Tour I did early this year, there was a moment when I was singing my original Bura Na Mano Yaara and the audience was singing along, they knew the words that I had written, by creation. It felt so amazing I don’t think I could describe it.”

She feels that her roots and values have been something that helped her grow as a person and as an artist. “I’m blessed with the most incredible parents. I don’t think anyone could ask for a better mother and father. Each day I try to be more like them and that’s what takes me forward. They are so hardworking and caring and giving and I think I could go on and on about them, but the truth is one thing they’ve always told me to stay grounded and humble and not change for anything.”

On a bona fide note, she shared how although there have been challenges along the way, she likes to look at them as learning curves and puzzles that she gets to figure out. “The music industry like most artistic fields can be pretty volatile and some days can have way more clarity than others so it’s important to constantly self-actualise. Though a Bollywood and film music singer I’ve also parallelly been an indie artist trying to release her own songs and having to do everything from producing to shooting my own videos to editing them and it can all be very overwhelming. But I like to look at things in a good light and try to turn the obstacles into fun new things I get to learn. That’s pretty much how I started using music production DAWs and editing softwares, cause as they say, necessity is the mother of invention! It also helps when you genuinely enjoy doing all of it!”

She feels that there’s always going to be conflicting advice and problems- dress glamorously, dress differently; charge more, charge less; be picky about your songs, don’t be picky and be accessible— there’s always all kinds of advice but at the end of the day you listen to that voice inside of you, and always ALWAYS do only what feels right.

The ‘MAHARANI’ singer is also huge on body positivity and inclusiveness. “It really makes me happy to see that such conversations have begun and are normalised topics now. I remember growing up an insecure chubby girl who would always feel the need to overcompensate her size with her personality. I would feel that boys saw me as a friend and not a potential girlfriend because I wasn’t skinny, and would look at my thin friends and want a body like theirs. As I grew older, I realised how unidimensionally I was thinking and that all body types are sexy and beautiful and have their own charm. What were my “thunder thighs” or “fat legs” and how they became the hottest thing about me. It’s strange how far a little bit of self-confidence can take someone and I’m sure a lot of body insecure girls and boys must have had it worse. I’m so glad though that things have changed over the years but I think overall the media and TV still, by large, represents beauty standards in the old school way. We’ve just scratched the surface.  But every step counts and I feel so happy to associate with a magazine that resonates with body positivity and puts a smile on the face of my younger self and hopefully many other kids too!”

Lastly, Nikhita shared how like MAHARANI, she hopes to see more of her singles and self-composed releases also do as well as her film playback music. “That truly is one of my personal goals and visions. I want MAHARANI to be playing next to Naach Meri Rani and all my music to be loved equally! And for now, I have tonnes of more music coming your way that I can’t wait to share with the world”

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