Anushka Manchanda: “I was a Pop Star by Accident”
The singer shows off her production chops on “Don’t Be Afraid,” her debut single as Nuka
Through the course of a 45-minute conversation, Mumbai-based singer Anushka Manchanda inevitably begins talking about how “The Universe was hitting me in the head” with signs to name her solo project Nuka. The singer who has flittered from pop group Viva to Bollywood to rock & roll says, “You are right where you’re meant to be.”
But this is no spiel, because Manchanda almost immediately adds, “I know that sounds like some super hippy-dippy shit, but that’s just the way I feel about things. I have to be real.” She may have turned to a more production-centric approach on “Don’t Be Afraid,” her first single as Nuka, but that’s not to say the message doesn’t come through. With the spectral electronic pop song, Manchanda offers a voice of comfort. She says, “I want to make art that lifts you out of this shit.”
Manchanda always identified as a rock & roll diehard. “Growing up, it was always rock & roll. I was a pop star by accident. If anyone asked who [from Viva] would be the least likeliest to be a playback singer, it would be me. But then I did that,” she says. Then, in her teens, she came across high-energy live electronic acts such as Apollo 440 and The Prodigy. “Some of that stuff sounds fresh as fuck to me even today. And then when I was 22, I discovered trance after going to Goa – I always enjoyed psychedelic music,” she says. In 2013, she and her brother Shikhar Yuvraj Manchanda (from hardcore/metal band Reverrse Polarity) studied diploma courses at the erstwhile New York DJ and music production school Dubspot. She recalls that after classes, the siblings – along with New Delhi-based producer Ashish Jose aka Tarqeeb – would jam in their East Village apartment, recording ideas and samples.
The stint spurred her on to think about solo production, but Nuka is now much more. She describes it as a platform to create content as a music producer and visual artist. “Don’t Be Afraid” was prefaced by a photo story called Mute, shot by Pretika Menon and conceptualized by Manchanda and her filmmaker friend Navzar Eranee (also director for the song’s music video), which called for action around wildlife protection and eco-awareness. After nearly two years of working on the music and the identity, Nuka aims to be her attempt of separating all her previous projects. She says, “I imagine if I heard this track and then went to look for more music, I’d find ‘Dum Maaro Dum’ (her 2011 rework of the Seventies R.D. Burman hit) and it would make me go, ‘What the fuck?’”
Since the course in New York, Manchanda has several songs ready to be released as Nuka, but presentation is important. The slickly-produced video for “Don’t Be Afraid” aptly shows a life-cycle, emphasizing on rebirth. The plan is to follow up with two more videos this year – in September and December – but also to release an EP. Outside of rock band Shkabang (who called it a day after being too tied up in other projects) and her Bollywood work, Nuka’s music is her first independent release. Despite hitting over a million views within weeks of the song release, Manchanda says it’s been a learning experience. “There were a lot of things about releasing music that I didn’t know, so I haven’t reached everyone I feel who would like this [music]. When someone gets your music, it’s an amazing thing,” she adds.
Watch the video for “Don’t Be Afraid”