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The Hot List 2017: Jonita Gandhi (Singer)

Bollywood’s freshest voice is raising new bars for pitch-perfection

Anurag Tagat Dec 18, 2017

Jonita Gandhi strikes a balance between Indian classical and modern music sensibilities. Photo: Courtesy of Kasauli Rhythm & Blues Festival 2017

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When singer Jonita Gandhi thinks ‘Why me?,’ she means it the most positive manner possible. The Brampton, Toronto-bred, Mumbai-based regular in Bollywood first met master composer A.R. Rahman in 2013 in Chennai and thought he was “epic.”

She adds, “We were talking and I told him, ‘I’m really starstruck’ and he started laughing. He’s talking and says, ‘I remember the time I met Michael Jackson’ and he’s matter-of-factly talking about it. And I’m like, ‘Why me?’ in a good way. Normally people say that in a bad way, but I’m like, ‘What makes me so special, why am I here?.’”

As much as she was intimidated by recording for an artist she grew up listening to, Gandhi has become a part of Rahman’s live shows and his various film projects. She’d been previously part of composer-producer Clinton Cerejo’s Coke Studio recording of “Pinjra,” and she says Rahman—who had tweeted her video cover of “Silent Night”—booked her a flight to Chennai within a few days of hearing she was in the country. Prior to all this, she had already been tapped to record the title track to Chennai Express with composer duo Vishal-Shekhar and thus began Gandhi’s ascent from YouTube-popular to world-famous, with a saccharine, sublime voice that can make itself suitable for a nostalgic yesteryear vibe as well as the next trap or dubstep-influenced rager.

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While Gandhi does want to bring back the focus on her YouTube channel (“Even if it’s covers”), since that’s “what satisfies me creatively,” she mentions that she’s always open to working with anyone. One of the things she’s retained as a principle in music is to be as adaptable as possible. “What works is being versatile and trying to keep my mind and ears open. My principle is that I keep listening to different things and let it influence you,” she says. Just as she was gaining a footing in Bollywood, producer and friend Abhishek Ghatak asked if she’d like to sing on “Lose Control,” by Mumbai hip-hop/electronic act ViceVersa, and she agreed. “It was experimental for me,” Gandhi says. She’s only just returned from Cappadocia in Turkey, where she shot for the music video to Goa-based producer Anish Sood’s new single “Castles.” She adds, “I want to work on some originals as well.”

Even when it comes to Bollywood, Gandhi is the go-to choice for several composers and music directors, whether it’s calling on her for live shows or adding a soulful female voice for a film song. She’s worked with everyone from Rahman to Vishal-Shekhar to Pritam, Amit Trivedi and Salim-Sulaiman. She is, admittedly, neutral to all camps and cliques prevalent in Bollywood’s music industry. She says, “Almost all people I’ve worked with are people I genuinely love as human beings. When that’s there, it’s just easy to perform and record. I don’t think I fit into certain camps. I just like meeting new people and working with them. That’s how I stay out of camps.”

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With a packed calendar of concerts (even with her own band) and recording sessions, Gandhi looks like she’s cruising ahead. Ask her which film songs she has coming up and she says, “I have no idea which films, I just record them and wait and see what happens and which ones release.”

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