Ahead of her gig in Mahalaxmi, Shillong girl Meba Ofilia, who put Indian rap on the map at an award ceremony in Spain, on what inspires her tangible lyrics and the difficult decision to become a full-time musician
She is 25 and she has already made a mark on the global music scene. Her single Done Talking with Big-Ri of rap ensemble Khasi Bloodz won them the Best India Act at the Europe Music Awards in Spain in November. Now Mumbaikars can catch Meba Ofilia's award-winning track, and popular numbers like Lady Bizz in her all-original set this Saturday.
While the combination of her hauntingly melodic vocals and powerful lyrics laced with sarcasm made Ofilia stand out among fellow nominees Raja Kumari, Skyharbor and Divine last year, it wasn't the only big event in her life in 2018, she tell us over the phone from Shillong between rehearsals, braving patchy network.
The English literature graduate, who had been pursuing her law degree till November, chose to drop out and dedicate her life to music. A decision she didn't think she would ever make. "I loved listening to music but I didn't find the right people to express it with. It was only after I met the Khasi Bloodz four years ago that I started pursuing music professionally. They encouraged me to rap and guided me," says Ofelia.
The rapper with Big-Ri
Though she grew up in a family of musicians — her grandfather and uncle are both well-known folk singer-songwriters — her decision didn't go down well with her family. "I was interested in law but couldn't see it as my profession. And Shillong is a difficult place to be in if you want to pursue music seriously. Our community is very conservative and children base their dreams on what their parents want. I don't blame them because I know they are looking out for me.
People don't take you seriously if you say you want to do music full time, which was also their argument," she says. In her upcoming single, she tries to convince parents to not be skeptical of alternative career options. Quoting her lyrics "Mother taught me how to fly/But I wanted to go in my own direction/Made my decision", she says, "I want to encourage parents from Shillong with this song because a lot of musicians go through this. And it's important to put out something people can relate to."
Would it have been different if she had been a boy? Pat comes the reply, "Society would have been more lenient." Though Meghalaya is known to treat its women fairly. But not when it comes to brave career choices, perhaps.
A thriving community
However, there's not much gender bias in the genre, contrary to what people believe, Ofilia says, having always been treated with respect by male rappers. "Besides, we have a big hip-hop fan base in the North East. And it's a community that's only growing, striving to break barriers, especially given the number of female rappers from the region. I'm glad rappers are coming up with good content, moving beyond just drugs, and writing [lyrics that are] respected," she shares.
Talk about her upcoming work and she says she's inspired by 17-year-old Bangladeshi-Irish pop RnB artiste Joy Crookes. She is quick to add, though, that she will always adore Lauryn Hill. So, fans can expect lyrics that will make them feel like they belong, along with a compulsive hook, and a dash of nostalgic folk. "I love my Khasi community and it's important to remember your roots," she concludes.
On May 18, 5 pm
At Famous Studios, 23, Dr E Moses Road, Gandhi Nagar, Mahalakshmi.
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A walk through Mohammed Ali Road's Khau Galli