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Jonita Gandhi: ‘You’re Not Going to Appeal to Everyone with Every Song You Do’

The Indo-Canadian singer talks about stagnation in current Bollywood music, being part of this year’s ‘Royal Stag Barrel Select MTV Unplugged’ and more

David Britto Jan 22, 2019

Indo-Canadian singer Jonita Gandhi will be part of this year's 'Royal Stag Barrel Select MTV Unplugged’ Season 8. Photo: Courtesy of Avian WE

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For singer Jonita Gandhi, music has always been part of her life for as long as she can remember. Growing up in Canada she recalls how her father, a musician, ensured music was always around her. She says, “Slowly my dad started making me sing at all these events and Bollywood became a big part of my life.”

After initially getting noticed for her cover videos on YouTube, Gandhi has gone on to become a sought after singer in Bollywood and has worked with likes of composers A.R. Rahman, Clinton Cerejo, Pritam, Salim-Sulaiman and more. Ahead of her appearance on Season 8 of Royal Stag Barrel Select MTV Unplugged, Gandhi spoke to us about stagnation in Bollywood music currently, the country’s independent music scene, her future plans and more. Excerpts:

This year’s MTV Unplugged has Bollywood biggies Sonu Nigam, Guru Randhawa and the likes featured, how do you feel being part of the same lineup?

I grew up being the biggest Sonu Nigam fan, like I am still a fan obviously. But growing up it was like next level because I have always aspired to be a versatile singer and I felt he is the epitome of versatility ”“ he can sing anything.

I remember during IIFA 2009, it happened in Toronto and that was when I was in between my university of course, I was interning at a bank and he had come for that to perform. There was this whole music panel and I remember I was dying to see him and I’m just like emailing his team saying ”˜Hi I’m a fan can I please meet him’ and finally he was not well so I wasn’t able to meet him that time ”“ I was so upset. And now I’m like literally sharing the stage with him. He was my introduction to Bollywood and I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction. A lot of the credit I get now for singing well live comes from him.

Do you have any standout MTV Unplugged performance that was your favorite?

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I remember really liking Benny’s episode ”“ shout out to Benny Dayal, you’re the best!

Coming from Canada and moving to India ”“ have you faced any obstacles over the years?

Of course it’s always tough ”“ even now there are struggles and ups and downs. But I feel I’ve been really positive and really focused ”“ so I’ve never had an extreme low, touch wood. I’m sure I might because it happens to everybody but it’s been a big roller coaster ride I would say.

Of late Bollywood music seems to sound quite repetitive and stagnant, what do you have to say about that?

I think it is stagnant now, over the last five years that I’ve been here it hasn’t been. At least for me because I was still learning the ropes ”“ luckily I’ve worked with a lot of different people and I’ve sung a lot of different types of songs and that’s always been my goal. Plus I’m touring with a lot of different artists and I’m learning so much being in different bands ”“ but I feel now in the last year or two it has become quite stagnant because it’s all been remixes, right? Which is hilarious because I started out as a cover artist.

The country’s independent scene is as talented as those in Bollywood, but don’t seem to get the same recognition, do you think that gap will ever be bridged?

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When I first came I did a collaboration with [electronica/rap act] ViceVersa ”“ and I was so happy to do it because then my eyes opened to this whole other scene. Everybody is so multi-faceted and to bridge that gap is not necessary. I feel you can do things in parallel ”“ especially in India, the audience is so vast and there is so much variety and diversity ”“ you’re not going to appeal to everyone with every song you do. There are people who like me for my unplugged stuff and there are people who will still talk about that song I did with P-Man called “Lose Control” where I’m signing like really low and full English. I just want to explore, It’s exciting now in our atmosphere, in our music scene.

What else do you have in store for the rest of the year?

I want to do more for my YouTube channel and I want to do more independent music. Songwriting is something I really want to get better at because I feel I suck at it (laughs).

Royal Stag Barrel Select MTV Unplugged premieres on January 26th.

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