Exclusive Premiere: Devika Offers Punchy Punjabi Electro-Rock on ‘Kalli Kalli Raati’
The San Francisco-based, New Delhi-born artist has previously worked with the likes of veteran rapper Bohemia and championed Sufi/folk music
Indian singer and composer Devika Chawla (who goes by her first name as an artist) juxtaposes feelings of anger, loneliness, fear and hope in love on her latest Punjabi song “Kalli Kalli Raati,” which is infused with electro-rock elements.
San Francisco-based, New Delhi-bred artist says, “‘Kalli’ can have two meanings — one is ‘dark,’ like it’s black. But it also means ‘lonely’ in Punjabi.” In the music video directed by filmmaker George Masin in Los Angeles, Devika is dressed in black in a wholly desolate setting, while also seen in a red dress in daylight by the beach. She says of the video, “There’s some possibilities, some brightness, but then there’s also a possibility of it not going away. There is this contrast and juxtaposition, so everybody can have a different interpretation.”
Over tightly wound electronic rock and pop arrangements — with guitar by Simon Jacobsson and “music elements” by Sourabh Kumar — Devika packs in a short but punchy Punjabi song in about two and a half minutes. She says about creating a short song, “People’s attention span has changed a little bit. This is a challenge, to be able to create something interesting, I wanted to challenge myself to create something where you can express the song, build that energy and that emotion in a short amount of time.” Written last year, the artist says she was inspired by singing great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (“It kind of has the same emotional essence,” Devika says) and first wrote the hook to “Kalli Kalli Raati.”
Then came the emotions that drive the song, which Devika says she had to really travel back in time to conjure again. “You have to channel some of your old memories, even though you may not consciously think of it. Subconsciously, there are probably some moments when you were angry and felt like you were left alone and wondering whether you’re going to get to be with this person that you love, right from from the really, really old times,” she says. The artist counts the likes of Bon Jovi as her favorite rock influence, but on “Kalli Kalli Raati,” there’s much more at play. It’s a wholly modern, upbeat electro-rock song with Sufi and Punjabi elements that Devika is known for.
The song follows her earlier 2022 single “Dil Tenu” which was produced by Amravati-based beatsmith Jayhaan. It was in 2007 that Devika made her first breakthrough in the Indian music realm, releasing her self-titled debut album and the lead single “Kehnde Ne Naina.” It caught the attention of veteran hip-hop artist Bohemia, who called on her for songs like “Ek Tera Pyar” in 2009. Devika says about their connection, “He happened to be in the Bay Area in San Francisco and so we just jammed together and it came together. The chemistry and the mood was there.”
She’s also worked with sarod sibling pair Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash on “Holle Holle” in 2014 and recently reunited with the brothers for “Jaaniya” in 2020. “The stars have to align sometimes and other times, I just go with the moment,” she says of collaborations. Often insistent on wanting to take Punjabi music in different, newer musical directions, Devika says she’s turned down her fair share of projects too. She adds, “Sometimes I’ve got stuff from people and I’ve just said, ‘Hey, listen, this is not my thing. I’m not going to do this. You’re looking for something very typical and I’m not going to do that.'”
That said, there’s more music coming up with go-to collaborators like producer Holmes Ives, who worked on her track “Jab Se Piya.” Devika terms it an electronic ballad. She adds, “Then there’s another collaboration with Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash. Bohemia and I have been in talks, you know, back and forth, so we may pick up something again. Jayhaan and I have been sharing ideas. I performed with [Pakistani singer-songwriter] Ali Zafar in the U.S., we did a duet, which was super fun. So we may record something. It could be another interesting project.”
Watch the video for “Kalli Kalli Raati” below.