The Kaleidoscopic Universe of Monica Dogra
A new solo album, the fourth Shaa’ir+Func album, a film release plus a spanking new studio. A rollercoaster ride with Indian electronica’s busiest artist
Four years ago, Monica Dogra, the yin who completes the yang in the Mumbai-based electronica group Shaa’ir+Func, wrote a song called “All My Colours” that was nothing like you’d heard from S+F. Minus the flash and synth tricks, “All My Colours” from their second album Light Tribe is a strikingly spare arrangement from the group’s guitarist and producer Randolph Correia. When Dogra says that her debut solo album will sound much gentler than S+F, this is the first track that comes to mind. But there’s one dominant color for this album. “Most of the songs are about love or the lack of it,” says the 30-year-old singer when we meet at her modest Mumbai home.
The solo album is slated to release in 2013, a year that seems to be more packed than the current one. The singer has just wrapped up a boisterous show with old friends from London, the drum and bass project Shiva Sound System and is making a pit stop in Mumbai before she takes off to shoot the next episode of The Dewarists with Karsh Kale and Papon in Scotland. She has also signed on two films, Fireflies, and David, which she describes as her “first commercial Hindi speaking” film with Neil Nitin Mukesh as her costar. “It’s hard to keep up,” she says, settling down to dust the coffee table as she apologizes for the state of disarray that her living room is in.
Dogra’s turn to TV as the host of The Dewarists has meant being on the road longer. It’s at one of these shoots in Shimla earlier this year that Dogra wrote four songs for her solo album. “There’s a song called “Pockets” that’s about having nothing to offer anyone but having these expectations,” says Dogra, “Of wanting them to want you.” With the solo album, Dogra also wants to take on production duties. “I now understand what Gaurav [Raina] and Randolph go through as producers,” she says, “It’s like they stop feeling time.” The singer, who collaborated with Midival Punditz’s Gaurav Raina earlierÂ this year on his solo project, Grain, is confident that the producer will guide her solo album into a new direction. “Shaa’ir is my Shakti-stick-your-tongue-out avatar, but for this one I want the sound to be quieter, more stripped down,” says Dogra, “I want the stories to sit up on this album and I know that Gaurav is extremely sensitive both sonically and in personality. He allows for my voice to be stronger.”
Alongside love, Dogra’s also tackling some inner demons on the album. “There’s a lot of fear since I’ve never done all of this on my own,” she says, “I feel so massively inferior but I’m also so in love with the idea [of releasing a solo album].” But Dogra will not allow any of these fears to get in the way of her other ambitious plans for the year ahead.
The first is to set up a studio below her first floor home inside a narrow bylane in suburban Mumbai. “I also have to continue acting,” she says, “I know the schedules are crazy [she shot 18 hours a day, every day for two months, for David that releases next year] but acting compliments my singing. It’s what I do.” The hotly anticipated fourth release from Shaa’ir+Func is also on its way next year. “We’ve got six tracks down and it’s shaping up really nicely.”
During the final round of goodbyes at her door, she adds that she wants to restart Grime Riot Disco ”“ the series of DJ nights and performances that also revived some of Mumbai’s oldest venues. The powerhouse performer has never been known for half measures, but if you’re wondering if she’s bitten off more than she can chew, she reassures you: “I’ve never felt more ready. Now feels like the time.”Â
Dogra lists three of her favorite upcoming electronica acts:
Sandunes, Mumbai:Â Sanaya (Ardeshir) makes beautiful, meditative music that you can play on repeat.
Mode7, Mumbai:Â Raffael (Kably, formerly with Bay Beat Collective) is unafraid to be minimalistic and uncomplicated. He put a lot of heart into his music without wanting to prove anything
ViceVersa, Mumbai:Â They’ve got good songwriting, clean production and high energy. I hear Chase & Status and some Shaa’ir+Func influences in them too.
The story originally appeared in the December 2012 edition of Rolling Stone IndiaÂ