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The Home Stretch: Zoya Mohan

Indian-American singersongwriter Zoya Mohan is returning home for an ongoing social project to provide electricity to rural schools and to collaborate with local musicians

Nabeela Shaikh Dec 02, 2015
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Zoya Mohan. Photo: Nick Surette

On her first day of sitting in for her songwriting course at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Zoya Mohan’s professor proclaimed to the class that he would “teach them how to write a hit song.” Instantly put off by the fact that they were trying to transform students into “little robot hit-song-makers,” Mohan changed courses and eventually graduated with a degree in music business. The Indian-American folk/fusion artist has since been managing her music, American tours and most recently, a fundraising campaign that aims to bring electricity to schools in Udaipur, Rajasthan.

Dubbed ”˜Power for Power,’ the collaborative project has Zoya teaming up with nine different electronic music producers. Each will rework nine of her acoustic tracks from her previous releases ”” the 2013 EP Letters To Toska [EP] and the latest album The Girl Who Used To Live In My Room. The campaign, which kicked off on October 20th, aims to raise $5000 for underprivileged schools in Udaipur, Rajasthan through digital sales and donations.

“Initially my friend remixed one of my tracks and I was blown away by it. I decided I had to do more of those remixes and the idea just grew from there. The campaign angle came in later. Indie artists don’t make a lot of money off records, so we decided that we’d rather do something useful with the money rather than spending it all on beer in one night,” explains Mohan. Her father’s contribution to schools in the past inspired Mohan to start her own initiative.

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Born in India and raised in California, the 22-year-old singer-songwriter has recently moved to Mumbai to manage the ”˜Power for Power’ campaign and explore the local independent music circuit. Within a month of reaching Mumbai on a oneway ticketm Zoya was meeting and jamming with city-based independent musicians, including singer [and her fellow Berklee graduate] Vasuda Sharma and multi-instrumentalist Jose Neil Gomes. Mohan has also put together her own three-city maiden tour. Says she, “I’ve been meeting with a lot of musicians, some from even the Bollywood industry, but I’d like to stick to the indie scene, because that’s the kind of sound I want to maintain.” The singer will also collaborate with Raj Verma of Mumbai-based a cappela group Voctronica and guitarist Randolph Coreia of electro-pop outfit Shaair + Func.

Mohan is known for incorporating sounds that range from jazz to Hindustani vocal to dreamy pop, all while maintaining a signature Indian folk sound. Is her music a conscious attempt at proving her Indian roots? Not really. “I think what set me apart in America was the fact that I was Indian and currently there aren’t too many Indian singer/songwriters who are recognized outside of India. When I put out my first EP, people began tagging it as fusion and that got us thinking. I think it was all these nuances in my voice and the instruments that made it sound like that, so we thought of doing something on those lines for the [next] album with instruments like the tabla.”

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Mohan also manages her schedule on her own, an ability she owes in part to her Berklee training. Although the singer admits that she was approached in the past by record labels and PR companies, she prefers to remain independent. “I think they [commercial labels] try to control the kind of sound you’re putting out,” says Mohan. “Sometimes it all gets very tiring and I would really rather not send emails and spend more time on my music I prefer it that way.”

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