Priya Saraiya: ‘We Need Better Payouts and Credit for Lyricists’
The popular Bollywood singer-composer-lyricist discusses the need for more democracy and fair chance in the music industry
Never ask a multi-hyphenate to pick their primary identity. When I ask Priya Saraiya to choose which one of the many arts defines her best, she offers me some much-needed inspiration. She says, “I want to go beyond merely singing, composing, or writing. I’d like to learn sound production, learn to play different instruments, and also explore more genres of music.”
Saraiya’s music career has been remarkable in more ways than one, gracefully shape-shifting along the worlds of composing, lyric-writing and singing for almost a decade now. As a poet, her earthy rootedness is hard to miss – her best-loved works are “Saibo” (Shor In The City, 2012) and “Jeena Jeena” (Badlapur, 2015). As a performer, Saraiya is known to be a natural on stage. From the age of six, she was mentored by the composer duo Kalyanji-Anandji and travelled across the world performing shows as part of their group Little Wonders/ Little Stars. There might not be many like her in the Hindi film industry but Saraiya is not one to make loud proclamations. “As an artist one is restricted only by one’s thinking and imagination,” she says. “Once you’ve identified what you want and need to work on, the sky is truly the limit. So, I look forward to expanding my body of work and showcasing my versatility to a broader audience in the future.”
We’ve seen you singing and performing a lot more on social media during the lockdown, especially with the uke. How has that process been?
My husband Jigar [Saraiya, composer] had gifted me a ukelele last year on my birthday but somehow I never got the chance to learn playing it. Thanks to the lockdown, I started learning by watching YouTube tutorials. And, before I knew it, I was having a blast. Learning has become easy due to various online platforms. It is a beautiful feeling when you can play an instrument and sing along with it. It’s also important to follow up the initiative with a lot of practice and hard work. To make something look effortless you still have to put in the effort behind the scenes. So, all in all, it continues to be a lovely and enriching experience.
Your multi-faceted identities as singer, lyricist, and composer are rare in the industry — which one of those do you consider as your primary identity and why?
Well I don’t know how to explain this but I have a constant thirst for learning more aspects of music. And, just like everything in life – learning can never stop. So, I want to go beyond merely singing, composing, or writing. I’d like to learn sound production, learn to play different instruments, and also explore more genres of music.
I want to identify myself as a musician rather than just being a singer or a lyricist. And, as a musician one has to learn all aspects of music. Honing one’s craft is an eternal journey. And, I’m thoroughly enjoying every minute of my musical journey.
What are the current projects you are working on?
I’m currently writing and signing for two untitled films. I’m also focusing more on my independent music, so I’ll be releasing some original tracks in the upcoming months.
As a woman lyricist, how was the experience of writing songs for a feminist film like Shakuntala Devi?
I’m so proud to be associated with a film like Shakuntala Devi that features a team of very inspiring women at the top of their game- Vidya Balan, Anu Menon, and Shikha Sharma. The song “Paheli” was a very challenging one to write because it revolves around the eternal ‘mother-daughter’ relationship. Or, in this case, it’s actually a ‘daughter-mother’ equation that talks about the ownership and never-let-you-go emotion of a child towards her mother.
Working on all these projects has taught me a lot and helped me grow as a musician. This will only help me go from strength to strength in the future.
What are the three things that you wish change for the better in the music industry?
While our music industry has expanded across markets, evolved over the years, and come a long way, there’s still a long way to go. We have so many immensely talented artists in the industry. So, we definitely need to make and promote new, original music across genres. Especially as there’s a market for everything now.
We also need better payouts and credit for all the lyricists. Most of the time the digital platforms don’t give credits to the lyricists. This needs to change. Lyricists are the backbone for any track and they need to be given their due.
And, finally many good songs go unnoticed due to fewer views or not enough airtime due to pre-booked slots across TV and radio by big music labels. I think everybody should get a fair chance to showcase their work and promote their songs.
While everyone is competing for the same mindshare and market share, there’s definitely scope for all kinds of artists and musical styles to co-exist. So, a lot more can be done on this front. Monopolizing audiences isn’t the solution, but democratizing and opening up new opportunities for emerging talent is.
As a creative person, what have been the best bits during this lockdown?
This lockdown has actually given me the time to focus my energies on learning again. From learning to cook various cuisines to picking up new instruments – I’ve actually enjoyed this “me” time. For any artist or professional, growth is always both horizontal and lateral. And, constantly discovering and exploring new sides of oneself is key to that. So, while the lockdown has left a lot of us physically indoors – for me it has given me the time and freedom to introspect, think clearly, and re-energize. It has helped me hone my creative roots and given me the chance to work on independent songs.
Also, I’ve been able to spend more time with family and ended up cleaning and dusting almost everything around me. We also were able to devote time to set up a separate music room and now Jigar, our three-year-old son Mahit and I are creating our own sounds.
What is the one thing you are looking forward to doing as soon as the lockdown is over?
That’s a no-brainer, especially for any artist. I would love to be back on stage performing for live audiences and travel extensively again! The raw emotion and thrill of engaging with audiences in a live setting can’t be compared to anything. In a moment like that, you aren’t just a singer. You’re an entertainer looking to uplift the moods of so many people together. It’s a responsibility. It’s a privilege. It’s what we live for!
While it looks like wishful thinking for now, I sincerely hope things get back to some sort of normalcy soon. It’s what all of us need.
Looking back at the year so far, how has 2020 been for you professionally?
Despite all that has happened in 2020, I’d say it has been a slow but steady and decent year for me so far. My songs from Angrezi Medium such as “Kudi nu Nachne De”, also Ladki” and “Paheli” from Shakuntala Devi gathered lots of love from the audiences.
Nobody could have foreseen what would happen this year. So, in many ways I’m grateful for the work I’ve been able to put out as well as the audience’s response to it. There’s a lot more still to come this year and I’m confident that it’ll find resonance with listeners again.
Tell us more about “Kudi Nu Nachne De” and “Valam” – both songs are stylistically and lyrically very unique.Both the songs are from my favorite composers, Sachin and Jigar. The way “Kudi Nu Nachne De” has turned out — it talks about many important things, but still has an upbeat breezy and danceable vibe. It packages an important message with a peppy and memorable tune. And, I hope that it does help change the opinion of the society towards women.
Homi Adajania, the director of the film and Dinesh Vijan, the producer are such cool people. They gave me complete confidence and freedom to say what I wanted to in this song. Vishal Dadlani has sung the song and it celebrates womanhood.
“Valam” from Made in China was a track that I wrote and also sang. This was a special song on multiple levels. First, it gave me a chance to express myself in my mother tongue, Gujarati. And, to be singing a duet with Arijit Singh was another lovely high altogether. It was almost like all the stars aligned to help me do justice to this one.