Music has always been an integral part of her life. She has worked with many artists. She loves experimenting with her work. While talking to The News Tribe (TNT), she was like:
TNT: How would you define yourself as an artist?
Devika: I see myself as a contemporary Indian/South Asian musician who fuses South Asian classical and classic melodies, lyrics and styles with modern instrumentation, production and sound. I am a vocalist who loves to experiment with presentation of vocals in a contemporary framework, and over time I have developed a characteristic and identifiable style that is a natural confluence of all my learning, influences & experimentation.
TNT: When you started music, what were the biggest obstacles in your way and how did you manage them?
Devika: I started recording my first solo album in the US while managing a very demanding career in the Silicon Valley. I remember spending nights and weekends in the studio, and working around time zone differences to be able to brainstorm and jam on the phone with Shahi Hasan who was in Pakistan. Thanks to great teamwork with Shahi and producers Noor Lodhi, Manesh Judge and Anshuman Chandra (in the San Francisco bay area), the album was completed in 2005.I spent almost two years after that trying to co-ordinate the video shoot and release logistics with labels in India. I had to make special trips to India to negotiate the agreements and shoot the video for “Kehnde Ne Naina” with Phat Phish Films (producers of Rabbi’s video “Bulla Ki Jaana Main Kaun”). It took a lot of passion, persistence and patience to get through the delay — it was extremely frustrating to wait for such a long time after finishing the album. Finally, in June 2007, “Devika” was released featuring the main track “Kehnde Ne Naina” and shortly thereafter Sony Music licensed the track for their top selling Sufi compilation “Teri Deewani” that featured tracks by other artists such as Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Kailash Kher, Rabbi Shergill and others. The struggle was completely worth it.
TNT: What is your inspiration?
Devika: Many things inspire me in many different ways – watching U2 perform or listening to a beautiful album like Night Song produced through an amazing collaboration between Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brook. However, the most inspiring thing in the world is actually the pleasure and emotional rush I derive from doing music myself. The fun I have jamming with my band or collaborating with another artist and seeing some amazing music takes shape.
TNT: Share your experience of working with different musicians.
Devika: I’m really happy to have collaborated with so many different artists and producers. Collaborations present unique opportunities for musicians with their respective unique styles to come together and create music that crosses norms and boundaries. A very interesting collaboration was the one with Punjabi Rapper Bohemia. I met Bohemia in a studio in San Francisco – we had heard & enjoyed each other’s work. We discussed the possibility of collaboration for Bohemia’s upcoming album and he gave me a rough hip-hop beat track with his rap verse to see if I would like to write and record some rough vocals. Immersed in the rap, I wrote my verse and response to his rap, and the next day we were in the studio together recording my parts and that was the creation of the song “Dil”. We had such great musical chemistry that we were both doing the things we did best, but fusing them to create a great sound and feel, and enjoying every minute of it. We worked on “Ek Tera Pyar” next which was the main track on his album “Da Rap Star” released by Universal Music India in 2009, and it rocked the Pop music charts in India for more than six months in a row.
Another cool collaboration was the track “Bijuri” with Zohaib Kazi from Coke Studio Pakistan. We connected over email. He had heard my track “Barkha Bahaar” and seen the video play on TV in Pakistan after Fire Records released my second album “Saari Raat”, and he reached out to me to congratulate me. We started sharing music and concepts and had a few jam sessions on Skype since I was in San Francisco and he was in Pakistan. I recorded rough vocals on my laptop and sent them to him, and he sent me music recorded around vocals.
TNT: Say a few lines on local music scene. What are some of the few things Indian music industry need to get rid of? Compare Indian music industry with Pakistani one.
Devika: Bollywood dominates music in India because producers and distributors invest significant budgets into promoting their movies. While there is a specific typical Bollywood format, recently a few newer music producers and artists are getting opportunities to create music that goes outside the typical Bollywood format stereotype– Rock, Jazz, Hip-Hop are all getting integrated into Bollywood movies, which is really great. In fact, my track “Kothay Uttay” was remixed and included in the movie “Spanish Beauty” starring Barbara Mori, released in India in late 2010. Independent Artists not affiliated with Bollywood however still have a tough time getting their music heard and there are hardly any Independent Pop Musicians who are recognized nationally or globally given the lack of promotion and artist management support from any of the labels or Radio/TV programming managers. I wish labels or other organizations would build frameworks to support Independent Artists outside of Bollywood.
I’m not an expert on the Pakistani music industry since I have never been to Pakistan, but my impression from reading and talking to friends in Karachi that the absence of a dominant in-house movie industry results in more support to Independent musicians. Coke Studio Pakistan has emerged as a major content production house that creates some very unique music that is amazing and inspiring to listen to, but I believe Bollywood is quite popular with the masses in Pakistan as well given the general promotional propaganda around Bollywood movie releases.
TNT: Tell us something about your music training.
Devika: I started learning vocal music when I was seven years old. I started with the fundamentals of notes and terminology and then graduating to Hindustani Classical Music. My teachers of Hindustani Classical vocal music include Mr. Chandra Rao (student of renowned violinist Dr. Rajam) and Ustad Shafqat and Sukhawat Ali Khan (sons of the great Ustad Salamat Ali Khan). More recently I have also been learning about Western music scales, modes, chords and song writing to help me bridge and fuse Eastern and Western Music. My recent project of working with the Apple team to create a Bollywood style trailer for the iMovie App for iPhone and iPad was a fantastic learning experience since I was able to understand requirements and concepts expressed in a Western music framework by the Apple team and apply them towards making a traditional Bollywood style track.
TNT: What is your biggest wish as an artist?
Devika: A high quality worldwide tour spanning all the continents in the world.
TNT: What was the most memorable moment of your life?
Devika: It was watching the first airing of “Kehnde Ne Naina” on MTV India with my husband – we were both jumping up and down in excitement.
TNT: Also talk about your instrument and what’s the best thing about it?
Devika: I am primarily a vocalist, but I play the Harmonium – it is the instrument I started learning music on. At that stage, it helped me create an identity for each of the notes and reference points for my vocals. The best thing about it is that it is a fantastic tool when I am working on a new melody or doing my Riyaaz.
TNT: With whom do you wish to perform and why?
Devika: I would love to perform with Vital Signs if they get back on stage again. I played at an exclusive private concert in the US with Shahi Hasan and it was amazing. The energy and musical chemistry were fantastic, and we created some musical magic. Having worked with Shahi and having seen performances by Vital Signs and Rohail Hyatt’s Coke Studio Sessions, I can only imagine how awesome the experience will be. I hope I will get the opportunity one day.
TNT: Lastly what is your message?
Devika: Follow your passion, don’t have regrets, never ask “What If”.