Women's Day special: Five crooners from Kolkata talk about breaking into the Indie-pop circuit
Five crooners from Kolkata take us through their personal journeys off-stage — from breaking into the circuit, bending gender stereotypes, raking in the moolah and even mental health
Growing up listening to everything from Kishore Kumar to classical rock,Anushree Gupta doesn’t want to pigeonhole her music into a genre. “I’ve been a part of the folk fusion duo Sukanti & Anushree for about six years now, and I also have a solo career as a singer-songwriter. I always strive to be genre-free in my approach to music, since I grew up with a lot of mixed influences. But my focus started developing with Baul, and then it expanded to cover the folk sounds of the entire subcontinent,” shares Anushree, who performed at the launch of Coke Studio 4.
She feels a lot of good stuff is happening in the indie scene, but finds it unfortunate that non-film music still cannot acquire a wider reach organically. “At times, it boils down to the banner and the disparity between the money flowing in,” rues the singer, who is inspired by her mother and Amy Winehouse. When asked about her struggles, she observes, “It’s hard to detect struggle, when you love what you do, but a lack of money should never stop someone from making music, especially now, when one can release music in so many ways and reach out globally.”
One of the most versatile young voices in the music circuit, singer-songwriter Paloma Majumder tells us that genre does not matter to her, as much as words. One half of the popular music duo Paloma and Adil, she mostly makes electronic music, which does not adhere to any particular genre. “We’re coming up with a single called Linger,” says the ebullient youngster, who has been making music since 2016. “From the very beginning, I was out in a really public space as an artiste. The first thing I wrote was immediately spotted and turned into a song. So, I’ve struggled with living up to expectations,” she adds. Paloma tells she has seen a lot of peers who crib about the lack of good content, or how people don’t show up. But she feels that, “You just have to mould it the way you want to.” Some of the women who inspire her include Beyoncé, Fiona Apple, Sudha Chandran and Chitra Banerjee Divakurni.
She was invited to Goethe Institut’s Border Movement project in Berlin last year, and her debut album Songs About Lovers is winning big — both literally and figuratively. Plastic Parvati aka Suyasha Sengupta is the voice that’s keeping it real and calling out for more inclusiveness and honesty. “My music has always been deeply personal. I have a history as a songwriter with a number of bands, and now I’m making lo-fi electronic pop,” she says. Suyasha would like to see more inclusiveness in the music scene as she feels the narrative is still very male-dominated when it comes to indie music.
“I’d like to hear other perspectives, more queer voices, more women,” says the musician, who loves the work of Australian songwriter Courtney Barnett, and St Vincent. But she feels that money in the music industry is not exactly dictated by gender. “I don’t think the problem lies in the wage gap, per se, but the bookings we get. For instance, as a female solo artiste, I would probably not be asked to headline a stage at a festival. So, it’s not always about the monetary aspect,” she points out. Her recent album has a fresh take on mental health. “I’ve been very open about my journey, and my mental health is something I’ve always acknowledged. Now, I’m just streamlining it more into my music. As an artiste, I feel we need to be somewhat honest about where we are,” she avers. Besides making new music, she will be playing at Control ALT Delete, a crowdfunded music festival happening this March in Mumbai.
Tanya Sen is easily one of the most prolific indie names from the city, and this year, she has formed a brand new band, Popcult, whose music mainly revolves around favourite pop songs that youngsters grew up with. “We are also incorporating Latin elements, along with funk & disco,” says Tanya, who has been featured in international articles, alongside greats like Mrinal Sen, Rituparno Ghosh and Raima Sen, to name a few. “The greatest struggle has been breaking through to larger audiences, the lack of venues and poor pay structures. With original music, it’s a hundred times harder, because the investment physically, financially and emotionally is way more than the return. But the satisfaction is beyond compare,” she says.
Tanya wishes there were more opportunities for musicians or bands, in terms of record labels taking the responsibility of recording, mixing, mastering and helping bands to put their music out there. “Also, there should be a support system for musicians, so they can concentrate more on creating music,” she reflects. She points out that thankfully there is no gender wage gap in the music scene in Kolkata. “It’s about the credibility and musicianship that matters.”
The lead vocalist of one of the city’s oldest pop/dance bands, Barefoot, Mantasha Das has been serenading audiences for the past five years now. She tells us that her biggest struggle was to discover herself as an artiste.
“I’ve been singing since I could talk. My mom is a singer,so living with her is a learning experience every day. Barefoot and Birdie (the band’s founder) actually have been a great influence,” shares the bubbly crooner, who wishes she could spread the horizons of the indie scene and strengthen its audience in numbers. Currently working on a few original singles that are set to release soon, Mantasha feels women fight against all odds and create magic and she draws inspiration from Joan Of Arc, Queen of Jhansi, Hillary