Sona Mohapatra: Hoping we take more pride in growing an independent ‘music industry’
Singer-songwriter Sona Mohapatra, in her own words, has been “one of the few artists” who has stayed independent. “I believe I am one of those who have always believed in releasing my own original music regularly outside of film songs.I came to the conclusion long ago that as long as I keep connecting with my audience in an authentic way, keep updating my repertoire and [keep] working on my skills, I’ll be able to stay connected to the artist within and the audiences,” she says.
Her will to stay independent and release music on her own terms, is what probably gave her an edge over other musicians, at a time like this, when live shows dried up and releasing music was the only way for an artiste to stay relevant.
“My releases during the pandemic were even possible because I have set up a team, infrastructure and chain of distribution in place much earlier and don’t count on the music labels to remain relevant,” she says.
“Considering the audiences like to listen to all music for free in India and music royalties are a pipe dream for musicians, the stage is our only means of livelihood.The entire live performance industry has taken a massive hit due to the pandemic and I too was forced to slow down and re-calibrate,” says Mohapatra who has released 11 songs in a span of eight months, ever since Lockdown was implemented in the country by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March.
Her latest release, Heere Heere, composed by her husband and composer Ram Sampath, as she says, is their tribute to Surinder Kaur’s legendary folk song, Mainu Heere Heere Akhe.
“The first two lines are inspired by the legendary Shiv Kumar Batalvi poetry. We’ve introduced a bit of Hindi into the mix to make it more accessible to non-Punjabi listeners,” says Mohapatra, revealing that the “acoustic guitar riff that binds the song together” is a throwback to another popular hit, Ambersariya from the 2013 movie Fukrey.
“ Ambarsariya cut all boundaries including geographies and played out in New York, London and clubs in Japan. I hope this sister offering of contemporary folk music of our land makes the same journey. The forces that divide us are many nowadays and music binds and heals us in the most beautiful ways,” she adds.
Despite Ambersariya’s success, Mohapatra recalls how the song “in the first edition was without a music video” despite “Fukrey [being] primarily remembered for Ambarsariya”. She rues the common trend of promoting just the lead song or the “first song in a big way”, while the rest of the songs “have to hope that the audiences latch onto them and make them popular over time.”
That’s why, she only prefers to work in the commercial space, which is rewarding both financially, and helps her grow as an artist as well. Her single, Re Baawree for Bejoy Nambiar’s Taish is one such example, where Mohapatra, felt comfortable in her space as an artist.
“Nowadays, younger film-makers like to curate soundtracks filled with music by indie artists and I think that’s an interesting trend as it increases the talent pool in the industry and gives us some fresh new voices. My friend, filmmaker Bejoy Nambiar has always created such soundtracks and I am happy to be part of some wonderful artists in his latest album,” she says.
So, while she is happy that listening habits have changed in the favour of indie music, she hopes that India, “takes more pride in growing an independent music industry”.
“Right now, we’re barely an industry. We have a music industry that’s an offshoot or subset of the film industry and our ‘touring’ circuit is playing corporate gigs and weddings with some government Mahotsavs or a rare music festival, which don’t pay artists by the way, thrown in once in a while,” she says.
“I have always counted on the long tail instead of getting into a frenzy of pushing for and then shouting about the multiple ‘million’ views, overnight, on a song. For indie music to flourish we will need even the support of the Government of India in being kinder towards radio stations in their licence fees, so as to be braver in taking some chances while playing music, apart from some media space for music, artists and bands from the land,” she signs off.
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