“Followers on Instagram, the pay cheque and the fame/I admit, I got carried away enough to stain my own name/ …. Well, f**k the pay cheque, I’ve been a train wreck/ I can’t wait, wait to reclaim my own red.”
These lyrics by Delhi-based jazz vocalist Sanjeeta Bhattacharya for her first international collaboration and her rap debut in October-end are a call for awareness. The 25-year-old singer and daughter of painter Sanjay Bhattacharya, wrote Red to highlight the frustration artists feel when they have to mould themselves to please everybody just to make a living.
“There are certain expectations from audiences and parents and you put yourself in a position where you lose perspective of what truly matters,” says the Berklee College of Music graduate over a call.
The spoken word
Claim your own red! says the song. It’s almost a call to action. “Red is a colour that signifies passion, integrity and love. You don’t truly understand what losing these things means till it hits you. It’s like when you’re in a toxic relationship – it’s only when you look back that you realise it was toxic,” Sanjeeta explains.
This topic can’t really be sung – and so it needs rap, says Sanjeeta. “Rap is a huge space waiting to be explored because there is so much to be spoken about today. It’s also a scene that had been bereft of women for a long time. We only had Missy Elliott! It’s only today that we have Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Rajakumari and the likes,” she says. No wonder, rap has often been overtly sexualised. “You want to talk about female energy? That’s there even in your brain and feet, not just in your sexual organs,” she shakes her head.
“There are certain expectations from you [as an artist] and you tend to lose perspective of what truly matters”
The track also features musician Niu Raza from Madagascar, whose Malagasy verse translates to ‘music binds you firmly to the ground even when you lose your feet’. Popular in her home country, Niu is a fellow musician Sanjeeta had breakfast with once in Berklee because she was fascinated with Madagascar. During the lockdown, Sanjeeta found her on Instagram and Red was born.
The song is not all just happenstance. It’s a conscious step by Sanjeeta to tackle a problem she sees in the country’s indie scene today: “We aren’t thinking of creating on a global scale. Think about it – we listen to music from the West and not much of ours is reaching them. So something must be lacking, na? We need to evolve from the ‘as long as people in India can listen to my songs, it’s great!’ mentality,” she says.
It’s important because music goes beyond lingual barriers and is a culturally educating experience.
Leading by example, the video of Red features fellow female indie musicians Vasudha Sharma, Anjali Sankaran, Zoe Siddharth, Pratika Gopinath, Kamakshi Khanna, Tyesha Kohli, Felice and Halover. The aim? To bring together musicians you can relate to even if it’s just for a split second.
“It’s more than beyond time for musicians to stand up for each other – male or female. And also dispel the notion that there’s never camaraderie between women. We need to move forward from mediocrity by giving each other constructive feedback,” she adds, giving the examples of peers such as Paridhi, Komorebi and Noni-mouse, who are producing their own music in a male-dominated space.
It’s almost taken for granted that social media platforms host trolls, but Sanjeeta gets more messages of love than of hate. “That’s because I’m practical and aware of the audience. You can’t change the mindsets of people who are viewing you and with social media being completely public, you don’t know what people are viewing your profile for! It could even be soft porn,” she squirms.
While it’s best to ignore trolls, sometimes Sanjeeta reaches out to them. “No matter how trashy or bitchy someone is on social media, if you speak to them on a human-to-human level, the truth comes through. People post rubbish spontaneously and 70 per cent of the time the person needs help because in Indian families, mental health is still not taken seriously,” she explains.
“Rap is a huge space waiting to be explored but it’s been bereft of women for a long time”
How much do social media followers matter? “I’ll never say followers don’t matter because you do need to make an impact for which people need to hear my music! But, if I don’t agree with a person’s aesthetic, I won’t be able to make music with them,” says Sanjeeta.
You also need to stay strong in the face of likes and views in case you begin depending on them for validation and self-worth. “I know motivational speakers on IG who are completely unravelled in real life! So use social media to share the life you’re living, sure, but live your life. You won’t find that inside your gadget,” says the musician who joined Twitter just last week, after she woke up to AR Rahman tweeting Watercolor, her song with Dhruv Visvanath.
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