Aditi Ramesh: ‘People Look at You as Just Another ‘Girl Singer’
The budding Mumbai vocalist calls out male domination in the music scene, discusses her debut EP ‘Autocorrect’
To paraphrase that canonical movie, Ratatouille, the world is often unkind to new talent from entirely unexpected sources, but the fact of the matter is that while not everyone can become a great artist, a great artist can come from anywhere. Thankfully, the music world has been pretty kind to budding Mumbai vocalist Aditi Ramesh, whose career has witnessed a remarkable rise since she began making music seriously just this March–even despite the fact that no one expects her to have a voice as arresting and powerful as hers.
“Everyone is surprised by my voice,” says Ramesh, with some annoyance. I have to admit: had I not heard her sing before I met her, I would have been no different. Ramesh is unpretentious and soft-spoken in person; not someone you’d necessarily expect to have such a bold, showstopping singing voice–in fact, I have to ask her a few times during our interview to speak a little louder so that she’s picked up on the recording. “I’m very low-key, and I don’t come across as–I dress like this [gestures]–people underestimate me,” she says. “People are always like, super shocked when they hear my voice. I like that.”
Ramesh is scheduled to perform at this year’s Bacardi NH7 Weekender. When Ramesh tells me, she’s bubbling over with excitement. A few people from the festival happened to attend the Generation WHY gig she performed at a few months ago, she explains. “Everything that’s happened till now has been really, really, really fast, and it’s been a lot of work, obviously, but I didn’t expect a lot of the things [that have happened],” she says.
Before she started to make music, 27-year-old Ramesh was a lawyer for three years. She still works a day job as a legal consultant, in order to make rent on her upper suburbs apartment, which she shares with two flatmates. “I knew that if I wasn’t doing something with music, I wasn’t happy,” she says. “My plan was that I’ll have more free time and I should practice as much as possible and try to play more gigs and stuff, but I didn’t know it would take off like this.”
Thankfully, the time constraints of a full-time job haven’t held Ramesh back from recording an entire EP, Autocorrect, which is scheduled to release on new label nrtya this month. While her live shows may have gotten Ramesh on the festival circuit, it’s her recorded tracks that demonstrate her true caliber as a vocalist and composer. Ramesh grew up in Bengaluru, and studied both Carnatic vocals and Western classical piano throughout her childhood–and both her classical training and her strong musical sensibilities make themselves evident on several of the songs.
The EP’s strongest track, “Efflux of Time,” is a masterful exercise in looping, and contains one of the most deliciously unexpected vocal transitions of the year. It was also a literal exercise in looping for Ramesh, who’d never picked up a looper before she came up with the song. “I’m really bad with tech, but my friend had a guitar looper, and I just sat down with it for the first time,” says Ramesh. The track serves as the EP opener, and also as an excellent introduction to Ramesh’s unique vocal fusion.
“What tends to be done in fusion is that the parts are distinct, but I try to make them one, so that it isn’t like, this is the Indian part, this is the Western part,” says Ramesh. “The point is that the notes and the music systems and styles have so many correlations, so it’s exploring those and [finding] the points where they can merge most organically.”
The rest of the EP, which was recorded and mixed by Keenan Thomas, brings on more instrumentals and samples, and also hops across genres. The second track, “Stuff On Our Minds,” shows off Ramesh’s chops as a jazz vocalist, but occasionally flat in keeping the listener’s attention after captivating them so entirely with the first. The third, “Marriageable Age,” features rapper Dee MC and was produced by Thomas, veers into hip-hop territory, while the EP closer, “Small Fish In A Big Pond,” returns to jazz-Carnatic fusion. “It’s as far away from popular music as can be,” says Ramesh of the final track. “People might not even get it.”
Though Ramesh has come miles ahead of where she was when she formally began her music career in March, she’s still been thrown a few curveballs. “[The music scene] is very male-dominated, which I found after I started doing music,” says Ramesh. “I never realized that. It really is, and people just look at you as just another ‘girl singer.’” In order to counter the industry’s rampant misogyny and celebrate female musicianship, Ramesh is in the process of setting up Ladies Compartment, an all-women project with a rolling line-up, with a few other musicians.
As things pick up for Ramesh, she’s constantly refining her craft. Aside from re-teaching herself how to play the piano, she also has an eye on improving her Carnatic-jazz vocals. “If you take the classical forms in isolation from my music, I would say that I’m out of touch with it, because those forms are so much more difficult than the music we create,” says Ramesh. “It’s a constant learning process, every time, because you’re never where you want to be, obviously.”