The band of divas
Indiva, an all-woman world folk fusion band, launched their first album last week. The supergroup, comprising four established musicians, has a strong message to convey and they're making sure the world listens
With a mix of jazz, Carnatic, Hindustani, electronic, and folk music, Indiva’s self-titled album is an interesting medley of genres. But what makes the band even more diverse is their insistence on singing in eight different languages, including Swahili, Kannada, Tamil, English, Hindi and Konkani.
The band comprises Western Jazz vocalist Vivienne Pocha and acclaimed playback singer Hamsika Iyer on vocals, while Carnatic-trained violinist Shruti Bhave and pianist Merlin D’Souza provide the instrumentals. “Together, we’re like the four elements of nature. Hamsika is like the wind, so quick, breathing in and out of studios. Shruti represents water — she’s calm and cool, but also like an iceberg, there’s a lot going on underneath. Vivienne is grounded like the earth, and no points for guessing who adds the fire,” says D’souza with a laugh. “The four elements are a theme for us in our music. It’s earthy and solid; it’s like the Indian Ocean and the monsoon; it’s hot and fiery, like the south Indian summer. All at the same time,” she adds.
“Each of us follows different schools of music, but at the end of the day, all these elements come together in a beautiful way. Our differences are our strength, we never overpower one another,” reveals Iyer. “Also, we’re not teenagers anymore. We’ve all achieved personal successes and aren’t dependent on one another,” adds the playback singer, who is currently enjoying the attention her Chennai Express song 1, 2, 3, 4, get on the dance floor is getting. “Yes, had this been a band of teeny boppers, we might have decided to go our separate ways soon enough,” laughs D’Souza, who also plays the role of producer, composer and music director for the band. “I’ve always wanted an all-woman band and I knew I wanted to work with more established musicians,” says D’Souza, who’s been in the industry since 1996.
For about a month before their album was launched, the girls stayed together, rehearsing back to back. “That was the only way we’d get completely tuned in. We’d share ideas, fight and argue, but it was always for the betterment of the song,” says Iyer. While the result is an album that has an upbeat sound to it, the band’s intention is to convey a message through each song.
“We consider it our responsibility to pass on a message through our music. The very first song we recorded, Suno, was written after the Delhi rape case,” reveals Iyer. The song, with vocals in Hindi and English, talks about women’s empowerment and women’s right to be heard. In Kannada the group sings about labourers and farmers thanking Mother Nature. “But not all the songs have a serious message. We talk about love, about reaching for the stars, about nature. Each has a little theme to it. Even our instrumental song Mela is about India’s riot of colours,” explains D’Souza. Their Bengali song Amar Ma is an ode to the mother, while Uyi Re, written in Tamil by Iyer’s poet-lyricist father, is about flying like a bird. “We even have a Swahili-English number, Hil Le Le, which is a song of optimism, about good happening to anyone. We were slated to perform it at the Celebrate India Festival in May in Rwanda. We couldn’t make it, but they did play a recording of the song,” D’Souza adds. With their first nine songs recorded for the world to devour, Indiva is raring to go. “Indeed. This is just the beginning,” promises Iyer.