Susheela Raman, a musician who transcends genres, talks to Maxim about her music.
Do you feel that your Indian roots and Western upbringing contribute to the manner in which you connect with your audience?
I try to approach all music on my terms, perhaps because I didn’t grow up India, I had to find a way of relating to that heritage that worked for me. For some people what they call ‘fusion’ is some kind of intellectual game but I think it was the reality that I was living and that’s what my music reflects. I'm trying to be true to myself and not conform to a template; I think people respond to that either positively or negatively.
Many of your songs are in Hindi/Tamil, so do you ever have to tweak your songs depending on what country you are performing in?
Yes there are a few tweaks because its nice to connect with an audience in a distinct way. In general I do the songs that I feel are working for me in the present and don’t go back to older stuff. You have to keep moving otherwise you get stuck. It’s a balance between being an artist and an entertainer. Sometimes people in the south are more responsive to Tamil songs and less interested in ‘Ye Mera Divanapaan Hai’, which I never really played anyway as it became popular several years after we recorded it. And when we perform in Europe there are some other songs people ask for.
What do you continuously draw inspiration from?
From certain kinds of music that don’t get old: it could be Fela Kuti, or James Brown, or MS Subolakshmi.
Are you a spiritual person? Is music your form of meditation?
I am lucky to have music and performing as an emotional outlet. Its extremely therapeutic but it can be stressful too! I think getting absorbed is something is very necessary. I like the unification of oppositions in music.
How do you infuse so many different cultures in your music without losing out on audiences?
Maybe I do lose out on audiences. I don’t know. I think about the music but not really on this or that audience. I don’t really know how to follow any kind of trend or fit in with any kind of genre. If people like the music and all its references, then great. if they don’t, then I’m sure they can find something else to make them happy.
You’re a captivating stage performer. How do you manage to exude such magnificence on stage?
Thank you, that’s flattering. I have been playing onstage for a long time since my teens so I’m not afraid to express myself. I have also had amazing support from some wonderful musicians who know how to go with my energy and enhance it with their own.
Who are some artistes that are on your radar in the growing Indian music industry?
I think Jivraj and Amrit in Kolkata are up to something very interesting.
What’s your general thought on the kind of music being produced these days? Do you feel that the sheer number of emerging artistes has led to good experimentations in different genres of music or that good music is now hard to come by?
Music exists in many spaces and dimensions and its really a function of our perception so it will always be there. Maybe it gets hard for music to mean something because we are all suffering from information overload. But then again, it’s upto the artist to make something that connects because people need music. I do applaud anybody who tries to do their own thing and doesn’t go down the conventional, soul-bartering routes, but also I don’t think that looking ‘alternative’ and cool in a clichéd way means the music will be any good.
The younger generation is more interested in listening to EDM than jazz, blues, folk or instrumental music. How does one, then, draw them to the latter mentioned genres of sound?
Electricity and recorded music are obviously inseparable, so the whole concept of ‘electronic’ music is a bit weird. Also the ‘dance’ category is mostly made up of music that is good for Nazi goose-stepping but not really dancing. It’s a very diminished concept of dance. We all use computers to record music now and they are fantastic, but I personally crave the emotional intensity of played music because, for me, there is a nuance and randomness that comes from making music with an instrument, your body and your voice and with other people which doesn’t necessarily come across when you use a computer mouse which is a solitary operation. But then again, people want music for many different reasons and partying is a pretty important one! I suppose the answer is to have more outlets and avenues for more imaginative music. Maybe people who run festivals could consider putting more emphasis on live performances instead of blowing their budgets paying overhyped travelling salesmen to press play.