In Conversation with the US-based Indian singer Devika

 The San Francisco based contemporary Indian singer Devika who gave us the memorable songs such as ‘Kehnde Ne Naina’, ‘Barkhaa Bahaar’ & ‘Ek Tera Pyaar’(with Bohemia) returns with a soulful lo-fi Punjabi single ‘Dil TenuThe Grammy Submitted singer  is one of the few artists in today’s landscape to traverse intensely expressive songwriting, alongside chill, contemporary sounds; much like her cross-genre palette of Punjabi, Sufi, Ghazal and Folk music presented with western, contemporary production éléments.

Excerpts from her interview with Seema Dhawan

 Can you tell me the process and making of ‘Dil Tainu’?

It came from a deep sort of inspiration and feeling. I had met a lot of people who had lost somebody whom they loved and I was deeply affected, inspired by that sadness and the emotions. It was on my mind. And so one day when I was in my music room playing with some notes on the keyboard, the song revealed itself in the form of a dialogue with the one you loved, the one who left you..

A Melody came to me and lyrics came to me- instantly and then I got my laptop and started sort of humming and recording, whatever was coming to mind. I think that was the start of it. And then I built it over the next few weeks, I worked with a producer in Mumbai Jayhaan of Desi Jersey Club, and collaborated remotely to produce it.

Tell us about your journey and evolution in this industry, how did you get into singing? Was there someone else in the family who loved singing?

I  just wanted to sing when I was a kid. I came back from school one day and I told my mom I wanted to sing. I just had this inner desire to learn music. So she would take me for Hindustani music lessons. And this is how I got into Music and that’s always been a part of my life. And then when I came to the US, I decided to record, and I recorded my first album, the song ‘Kehnde Ne Naina’ was a really successful song — it aired on MTV India for over a year and was subsequently licensed by Song Music for their top selling compilation- titled ‘Teri Deewani’  featuring a large list of some of the best names in the Sufi/folk realm such as Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rekha Bharadwaj, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Kailash Kher, Sona Mohapatra..And then, you know, that took me into my second album, which was released by SAREGAMA, and then a lot of other collaborations happened-I collaborated with Punjabi Rapper Bohemia on many of his Hip-Hop tracks. I also worked with US Based producer Holmes. My other collaborations include music with Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash and Mike Klooster of Smash Mouth.  

And I think I inherited this singing talent from my grand Massi, my daddy’s sister, she was a great singer. My dad too loved to sing.

If you can tell us about your early childhood?

 I grew up in Delhi and I was there till I was 18 and studied in Modern School.

 I was a very studious child to be honest I was always kind of competing to come first in school, but, at the same time I always wanted to do  Hindustani music. I used to perform in school on stage and sometimes I would sing Bhajan or some Raga- nobody else really understood.  People would kind of fall asleep. So it was a little bit, not so inspiring, but then one day I tried to sing the song ‘Chhoti Si Asha’, which was created by AR Rehman ji.

That changed how people thought of my music and now I was able to sort of connect with the audience a little bit more. I always remember that as a learning moment, how can you connect with people through your music, through presenting it in a way they like, and can follow along.

 Your favorite genre?

 I don’t have a favorite genre. Every genre is so different, there’s a mood for every genre .But my personal music has been kind of more chill  and softer, contemporary Sufi or contemporary Indian. That’s the best way I describe my genre.  I try to present the classical melody or a folk melody in a way that is more contemporary.

That has become sort of my sort of unique style, but I’ve also worked with Bohemia. And, he works on Punjabi rap. And so that was a really nice sort of exploration for me to sing some of those songs ‘Dil’,’Ek Tera Pyar’ with him.

I worked with Amaan and Ayaan Ali  who play Sarod and bringing those elements  of classical music together has been fun as well. Every genre is beautiful.

 Fusion seems to be very close to you?
Yeah, part of me is very Indian.I grew up there, but then I’ve been here in the US for so long. It’s a mix that music is sort of a reflection of my own who I am. And that’s  how I like to do it because I want my music to be an expression of my journey and how I’m feeling.

What do you think is the state of music these days?

The world has become more global, and a lot more influences and a lot more fusion is happening. Previously, Bollywood may have been the only sound that had a very sort of strong presence. And I think that is still the case, but I think now there are so many new styles of music that have been heard and being listened to and people now want to hear different music.
Music has evolved, and artists are doing some really interesting stuff.  While sitting in the US, I’m able to collaborate with people all over the world because of technology. That’s really changed.

  If the sound is unique and something different, it might just pop. but then, you  know when  something gets popular and then the trends change. Trends change really fast.

 You mean to say that the life span of the current music is very short?

Very short. Couple of day’s maybe, then something new comes along. It changes It’s really quick;

When we used to record 10 years ago, the scenario was altogether different. It used to take a lot more effort just to get good sound and quality.  Now it’s easier to make music with the technology.

Whose singing is the closest to your heart from the old veterans as well as the younger singers?

From the old veterans I like Asha ji because I think she’s really a versatile singer.. I like Farida Khanum ji Her ghazal ‘Aaj Jane Ki Zid Na Karo’ .It’s beautiful and it’s lovely. And if you listen to even the newer Coke studio version, it is just amazing. There’s so many great singers and great artists. Neha Bhasin has a good voice.
 There are some US artists who are kind of doing different genres, Gale  is a new artist who has a lot of power in a vocal presentation and delivery.

I have a really diverse sort of taste I have loved to listen to.

Night Song is And I’ve liked, an album called Night Song, its is a collaborative studio album by Pakistani qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Canadian ambient musician, guitarist and producer Michael Brook.Its mixing of classical music with a really modern sound and has some amazing presentation. I think that fusion speaks to me a lot. Yeah.

What about your other interests?
Traveling. I love to  explore new places, and would also visit India pretty often until Pandemic. But looking forward to starting again it’s always nice to see a new place, how people live, see the music, the culture, the food. It’s always inspiring. And then you learn something new everywhere. So I certainly hope I can continue to do that. I hope the world heals fast.

       What  message would you like to give to the upcoming artist?

It’s about just keep doing, keep doing it. Don’t give up because this is a long term thing. It’s a journey. It’s not like one song and you’re done. Continue to learn and evolve and change and experiment.  Don’t, don’t sort of hold back, and do what you want to do.The audiences will come and go. People’s taste will change. But be authentic because that’s how you can probably differentiate yourself.

About the Song

The music video was shot in the US San Francisco Bay Area and brings back memories of Devika’s original Barkha Bahaar from her second solo album Saari Raat. As stirring guitar chords set the tone for the pondering hook of Devika’s sweet lament, the simple groove fused with rustic instrumentation makes Dil Tenu a quintessential contemporary Indian summer song… like a cool breeze on a summer day.

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