‘Vaada Karo’: Indipop Star Suneeta Rao Releases Climate Change Anthem
The singer-composer appeals her listeners to be mindful of their actions
If you were a Nineties kid, there is a good chance that you have grooved to “Paree Hoon Main” and whispered its sweet nothings affectionately to a mirror. The ‘paree of the masses,’ Suneeta Rao, is back in the news with her latest track, “Vaada Karo.” With an aim to campaign against climate crises, the song is a collaboration between Rao and the junk percussion band Dharavi Rocks and is helmed by composer Dhruv Ghanekar. This motivating track — which is also a reality check — could not have come at a better time.
Her new release, which premiered on May 20th, is an appeal from Rao to the world to do their bit and save the planet from destruction due to the environmental impact of human activities. The singer says, “The essence of the song is that this is actually our own individual problem but ultimately affects somebody or someone in some corner of the earth. Someone will be affected by a small action that you commit today.” Her opinion on climate change goes back 50 years to her childhood. Her brother, who is now an active part of building clean energy in India, instilled the idea of conservation and mindfulness in her, and thus the wisdom grew. However, the thrust to make this song came to her when the organization Planet Alert asked her to make an anthem for them. A half-abandoned project and several years later, her version of “Vaada Karo” was born.
Tracking the evolution of the song, she says, “At that time, Dhruv (Ghanekar) had done a very different track for it. It was just produced electronically in the studio, and the orchestration was very different from what you hear today… We practically recorded everything again.” When asked about the new sound of the revamp, she adds, “It always had the anthem feel and the same driving rhythm… We completely did away with an orchestrated musical interlude. It is a lot more contemporary, a lot more relevant, and a lot more hard-hitting as compared to the original arrangement.”
Rao’s association with the eco-friendly band Dharavi Rocks can be traced back to their inception. In her words, she had “christened them” because of her long-lasting connection with the non-profit, Acorn Foundation. She exclaims, “On June 5th, the World Environment Day, five years ago… I did a soft launch [of “Vaada Karo”] with Hungama ArtistAloud… So when they [Dharavi Rocks] came to the show, I said, ‘Why don’t you just come impromptu on stage and back me for this new song?’ When I heard them perform with me on that track, I said, ‘This is it!’ They gave it [the song] relevance because they themselves are the epitome of recycling and reusing and remaking — that’s how they live their life.”
On her choice to incorporate rap in the track, Rao says, “The first lyric that came to my mind was that rap. When Dharavi Rocks came into the project, I asked them to do a Hindi rap for this. Balaji (Crazy B), who sang it, wrote it himself… They write very organically, so we put it into the track. Dhruv and I helped syncopate it.”
The crowdfunding call for “Vaada Karo” first came in 2019, when the world was free from the cages of lockdowns and viruses. Although Rao has earlier created for a cause with projects like “Laadli,” a girl-child initiative for which she raised ₹1.5 lakhs, when asked about her experience of crowdfunding for her latest song, she shares, “Every album of mine has some or the other historical struggle that I can describe to you… Everything has been a struggle up till now, but this one in particular has probably been the toughest one. Fundraising, as an individual artist, is the toughest thing that I have ever done… It was 60 days of nightmare!”
The onset of the pandemic ruined extravagant plans for the anthem, and Rao had to sought special permissions from the World Wildlife Fund to cherry-pick shots from their archives. She also borrowed extra footage from documentary filmmakers who shot her recording sessions with the Mumbai-based band and incorporated old recordings of her performances. With her heart heavy with compromise, Rao says, “It was really emotionally difficult for me to accept certain things that I could not do and make the most of the resources that I could get. But in the end, I am really thrilled about the way it turned out.”
Rao admittedly does not fit into labels. Her sound evolved from completely westernized productions supporting Hindi lyrics in her debut album Senorita to a gradual shift to her Carnatic Classical roots with a Western-Carnatic fusion in her 1991 album Dhuan to a potpourri of Rajasthani folk, mixed with rock and pop in Talaash (1996). She has extensively worked with composers Louiz Banks and Lesle Lewis and accredits her fusion sound to them as she experimented with jazz, hip-hop, rock, and Latin pop. She comments, “I think the common trend through all of it is my conviction and a certain level of authenticity without which I don’t think I would have been able to do anything. I can’t pretend to be something I am not, so maybe I didn’t fit into any kind of a mould. That is also why it is very difficult to label my music and put it into any kind of a category. My sound depends on the producers I work with.” Circling back to “Vaada Karo,” she says, “ It was completely Dhruv’s composition with completely my lyrics and of course the Hindi rap by Balaji — it was not musically influenced by me in any way… But I suppose your own voice is what comes up in anything you do. It was an anthem, but for me, it was more [of] an appeal to everyone to make a pledge.”
Why she did not choose the Bollywood path is an interesting anecdote in itself. “In the earlier days, they wanted a particular type of singing, and I did not fit in. Either I was like Usha Uthup, or I was like Asha Bhonsle, there was no in-between. So I was kind of left in-between… I did a song with the stalwart A.R. Rahman for a movie called May Madham (1994), and I couldn’t believe I had an opportunity to sing with him! He called me for a second song, but I had a huge show happening in Sharjah, and I had no other option.” The Indipop singer imputes her path to destiny and adds, “I did get a lot more freedom doing my own albums. So one obviously goes in the direction where one can have more control. My own concepts and my voice, I could exploit my full potential much better.”
After spending more than three decades in the Indian music industry, Rao is still a force to reckon with. Talking about her current engagements and future plans, she lists out acting workshops, Indian classical dance practice, diving back into musical theater performances and “work in progress” music. Understandably, “Vaada Karo” took up a lot of her focus and energy, but she’s started doing things for herself. Rao adds, “I sing music that I don’t necessarily want to release. I just want to sing it for myself. There is something that I do want to bring out but only when I am completely convinced that it is the right thing… The world is your stage, and you never know what can come up.”
Listen to “Vaada Karo” on more platforms here.