In a country where a new voice promises to be the next big thing every other week, finding a voice that lingers on long after you have switched off the music player is a rarity. And Sona Mohapatra’s voice manages to do just that. Whether it was Ambarsariya from Fukrey or Jiya laage na from Talaash, or more recently, the beautiful numbers she sang for the ‘Devi’ episode of Coke Studio helmed by her husband and composer Ram Sampath -- Mohapatra’s deep, earthy voice did justice to them all. Excerpts from an interview:
Were you expecting such a great response for the Coke Studio episode ‘Devi’ that you featured in?
The response has been overwhelming and it feels great that people have responded positively to the episode. Ram chose the concept of ‘Devi’ because he feels strongly about the growing misogyny and sexism in our country and so do I. The idea was to celebrate different forms of feminine energy from unconditional, all inclusive love in Dum dum andar, that possibly only a feminine form so easily feels, to simple feminine beauty in Sundori komala. Paiyada by Aruna Sairam expressed centuries of pathos and pain of the Devdaasi community and then we also celebrated the ultimate superhero in our mythology -- Durga and her ability to destroy to protect her loved ones in Aai giri Nandini. Kattey brought together two outlaws from completely different universes. Our episode was an ode to the feminine divine and a celebration of different feminine energies --all the boys wore kohl in their eyes as a mark of respect and all the women wore red to signify love, fertility and fire.
Your song Piya Se Naina has received more than a million hits on YouTube. Tell us more about it.
It’s wonderful and humbling. It has been penned by 13th century iconoclast poet Ameer Khusrau and celebrates ‘fearless love’. This is my ode to freedom and devotion. I believe it’s my career best performance especially since we had to deliver the complex arrangement and composition that Ram had created completely live with a band.
As a singer, how much do you contribute to a song in terms of its composition and making?
As a singer, I have the job of interpreting a composition from my life experiences and point of view. I aspire to tell a story with the song given to me, add nuances that come from my musical training and hopefully connect to the hearts of the listener. The biggest gift is to be able to sing from the soul and hopefully be part of a creation that is timeless. Some songs need you to even act out a character while performing it. It helps if you are there from the very beginning of the composition process. A song needs to be cooked well for some time for it to deliver in flavour.
You were recently included in the list of 35 most influential women by a women’s magazine. Do you think songs and music can really influence people in the right way?
I wouldn’t want to speculate on why I was chosen by the magazine, but I do feel that it’s important that women persevere and last in the fields that they’ve chosen. All the women in the list have long careers even before they were in the spotlight and I feel honoured to be there with them. Music can definitely be used as a catalyst for positive change, especially in a society like ours, where music and singing is so integral to our lives. The songs in Satyamev Jayate were created with very serious contexts but my Mujhe kya bechega rupaiya gets more mails and encores than my film songs in concerts and I do believe it has been a milestone in my career as an artiste .
The last few songs that you sung for films like Delhi Belly, Talaash and Fukrey did really well. Do you plan to sing more for Bollywood?
I’ve sung a few more songs for Hindi films recently. Khurafati ankhiyan for a small, sweet film called Bajatey Raho and a couple more with other young new music directors. Hopefully, they will find favour with the audience. I would love to sing more songs. It’s always great to reach out to the country. Having said that, I also hope to be putting out independent music that is outside the context of a film.
How much is Ram responsible for your career? Does he bring out the best in you?
Meeting Ram was surely a turning point in my life. We both complement each other in our skill sets at work and I believe great partnerships propel careers. I do feel blessed for the kind of compositions that he has created for me. It’s custom-made in a sense and brings out my best for sure.
What are some of the future projects you have in hand? Are there any albums in the offing?
I have an album that has been recorded over the last four years, but it’s very disheartening to release it in the current environment. I do hope to release it soon and play it live, which is my first love. Currently I’m looking forward to touring with my band. I have created a brand new three piece live-electronica dance set where the musicians interchange instruments. This sound works for certain venues better than a fully acoustic big band format.