By Pratishtha Dobhal
While it’s difficult to curate a list of women in music without exhausting the length of the blog post, celebrating women’s day by listening to five emerging artists could be a start. The Indian musical landscape is full of revolutionary musicians who carved a space for themselves despite the challenges women have faced in performing arts.
Mallika-e-Ghazal Begum Akhtar turned hardships into harmonies, enrapturing everyone with her “taseer” (soulful sound), in turn, subverting narrow patriarchal practices to subliminally transform pain into performance. As a true artist, she believed in the power of her craft. She is often quoted for saying, “People don’t want to listen to an imitation. If they want to listen to my style, they will go and buy my records”.
A trailblazer who inspired generations to embrace the sound of their own voice, regardless of perception or persecution, she set the standard for ghazal singing.
In a new millennium where everything is changing and evolving, Indian women in music are shaping up a new musical order that is indigenous and all-encompassing. They are challenging stereotypes to emerge as masters of their domain, one note after the other.
Even as the list of female game-changers in the Indian music scene keeps growing, here are five you should know who are pushing the envelope with every sound check.
1. Mohini Dey
Hailed as a bass guitar prodigy whose fans include legendary musicians like A.R. Rahman and Zakir Hussain, the 21-year-old’s inherent musicality and genius on the Bass has made a difficult instrument to make a living come alive in the spotlight. She cuts across the gender divide for being one-of-a-kind. She performed at the 2018 National Association of Music Merchants show in Anaheim, California last year and was also part of the line-up at the 2018 Bass Bash with Australian guitarist Plini and German drummer Marco Minnemann in the same month.
2. Rasika Shekhar
Trained in Carnatic and Hindustani classical music, Dubai-born Rasika made a foray into a male dominated citadel of flutists when she was just 13-years-old. Defying the strength denominator considered to be a pre-requisite to being a flute player, Rasika is cementing a place for herself performance after performance. She rose to fame when a video of her playing the flute went viral with Shankar Mahadevan even though she had already toured with ghazal legend Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan by then.
3. Swarupa Ananth-Sawkar
Swarupa was turned down for being underage and a girl at Tabla maestro Ustad Allah Rakha Khan’s music institute when she was twelve-years-old. Her classically trained mother insisted for her to be given a chance to play. On hearing her perform, Abbaji (Ustad Allah Rakha Khan) decided to take her under his wing until his demise in 2000. Ranked as one of the 30 under 30 most innovative young musicians in Forbes in 2015, she is also the founder of India’s first ‘ethnotronic’ band, Filter Coffee. A versatile percussionist and Tabla player she is globally recognized for her innovative style that blends fiery TablaBols and Konnakol.
4. Kavya Ajit
27-year-old Kavya learnt the basics of Carnatic music from her grandmother Kamala Subhramaniam (a former All India Radio artiste) at an early age while she was enrolled in Western Violin classes. Brilliant at both, she continues to diversify having sung for Tamil, Malayalam and Telegu cinema. She has already collaborated on stage with musical supremoes like A.R. Rahman, Karthik, Vijay Prakash, Naresh Iyer, Vineeth Sreenivasan, Stephen Devassy, Shaan Rahman and Gopi Sundar.
5. Kaushiki Chakraborty
Born into a family of outstanding musicians, Kaushiki grew up inside ITC Sangeet Research Academy. Already compared to legends like Kishori-Tai it should come as no wonder that she started singing tarana and bhajan when she was just two-years-old.
She is responsible for creating an exclusive women’s musical group called ‘Sakhi’- a frontrunner in classical music dedicated to celebrating womanhood.
Hope you enjoyed the sound of music here. For suggestions and artist recommendations we must listen to, drop a line in the comments section.