A deep conversation/QnA session with Vasundhara Vee (Singer//Author//Educator) as The Showrunners exclusive pick of the week
I had an opportunity to catch Vasu’s performance live at The Pianoman Jazz Club before even knowing anything about her at all. Right after that moment, I started seeing a huge difference each time I'm attending a live gig. Vasundhara can show you the hidden emotions of any song or tune in a way that hits you each time and when it hits, you get to experience an emotional and meaningful musical journey and that's the beauty of Vasu. Today it’s my pleasure and an opportunity to host one of my favorites. We’ll be taking a deep look into her life and musical journey. I hope you will enjoy this conversation.
Q1. Tell us about your early days of music? How did you start getting into music? Also a little bit about your school life?
Music started for me when I was about 3. My family figured out that I could sing and they got me a teacher who would just make me sing and enjoy it. This was before school. Then school happened when I was 4 and I was always in the choir. I took music for granted back then coz I did it all the time. Only around the age of 13 did I realize how much it defined me. When that flip happened, I became a bit of a practice maniac. My mentor, Mr. Brown, would
send me for every competition possible and I started thinking about singing in a more serious way.
Eventually, of course, the competitiveness and calculation had to be weeded out. We had to start thinking like an artist rather than only singing coz a certain combination of skills won us points and awards.
Q2. Tell us about your experience and the hustle of being an established part of the local music scene? What’s the difference b/w that time and the current music scene according to you?
What I know for sure is that the hustle has a different rate of translation for everyone. The way you debut your career makes a big difference. The correct debut can minimize the ‘hustle’…while a weak debut can keep one struggling for a much longer time. I’ve written about this in a lot of detail in the book.
I started working in 2004 and got busy full time in 2009. If I compare that time to 2020, I feel the basic opportunities now are much bigger and better than they were back then.
My sector didn’t exist in Delhi (Soul, RnB, Jazz, Jazz-Rock Fusion). Except for Drift who was doing it at a high level, there was no other active band playing this stuff in clubs. There were hotel bands of course, but that’s a totally different role from a touring club project.
Nowadays we have full-on televised platforms to make a debut on. We have a million festivals everywhere. Indie music, no matter how unorganized, is regarded as a proper sector today. The sheer number of bands and albums coming out is mind-boggling. This wasn’t the case 15 years ago at all.
Q3. How did you learn music? Did you attempt any formal music education? What’s your take on the importance of music education and how it helps?
My main mentors encouraged listening — not listening casually, or listening to album after album, but listening to one thing in great detail. In general too, since childhood, a melody was never a set of pitches to me — tone, rhythm, inflection, time feel — these were the melody too. Pitch alone leaves the story incomplete. My instincts as a singer were all shaped by being in choirs all my life, most of all AU. Later, I kept picking my bandmates’ brains, especially drummers and guitar players, to learn things from them.
My formal training is in Voice and I have trained with Mark Baxter. I didn’t vibe with the idea of going to music school when I was starting out. Music education is a ‘process of instruction’. You get info and musical tools in a standardized way. Any good instruction process has a METHOD. This differs from school to school and from mentor to mentor. I feel an institute can either work like magic for you, or be the biggest waste of time, depending on who you are and why you joined it. That’s why selecting the right kind of school or mentor at the right time is very important.
I haven’t studied music in an institution. I got offered a scholarship to study but chose to grow and study on stage instead. But this was possible only because I had the opportunity to work with people who were a lot better than me. Again, coaching on-ground is a different ‘process of instruction’. Online instruction now is also going to develop into a different educational process. You need to choose the right combination of mentor and process.
Q4. Since you’re one of the most brilliant and supportive educators and mentors, Can you describe your teaching style? What are those important aspects of music education that you feel are missing nowadays?
First of all, thank you for saying that. I never really planned to teach but after I trained with Mark, I realized that a whole realm of information is missing and isn’t shared with professional singers. So, I decided to start sharing the way I processed his teachings for my own voice. Music education is fine. Musicians are the ones who are forgetting that music education is simply an instruction process. It’s just a user’s manual. We need to put in our own work to actually develop our musicality. We need to develop aesthetic and musical language.
We need to play for real people and learn how to be skilled and vulnerable and real all at once. In the absence of all this, one may graduate with lots of info, but be completely ineffective as a performer. This is when we say shitty, unrelated things like a jazz player plays to a crowd of 3. Or musicians spend five thousand dollars for gear to play a fifty-dollar gig. That’s all crap. Why
is Esperanza big now? Why is Michael Mayo killing it?
Q5. You have the magical ability to connect with the audience on a deeper level. Describe your onstage persona? What is the secret behind those emotional yet powerful performances you do?
I don’t have a thought-out onstage persona. In fact, the thing I prefer is to drop whatever I am in life and try to be absolutely nobody when I’m trying to sing. This is not always possible. I’m human and sometimes I’m nervous around collaborators whom I look up to. But even in those situations, a moment comes during the show when I can forget my own identity, my baggage, etc. and can just be in the music. For me, that’s the only time that a true connection can be made. It’s first made between the bandmates where everyone feels emotionally charged and they feel responsive to each other. Once that happens, any human in the room can pick up on it and join in.
The audience is simply a set of humans who are asking for an emotional experience.
Q6. What do you generally promote through your craft? How did music affect your life and what’s your definition of living a life with music?
Recently I learned a big lesson. I learned that Music is a part of Life. All this while I had made Music bigger than life, and tied my identity to it. Your ego or narrative or “self-definition” gets tied to your playing and I see that it actually limits a musician. Life is vast. We need to get sensitive to Life. Music is a complex language. But it’s still a tool to communicate Life. If I have nothing to say and if my depth of experience is zero, what will I do knowing a lot of
English? What story will I write? What meaning will it carry? And if I tie my whole identity just to English Grammar, which is essentially what we do when we get obsessed with musical tools, then it comes in the way of telling good immersive stories. The two need to work together.
My craft is simple, it’s voice and lyric. I’m not smart enough to do everything — compose, produce, mix, etc. I need people for that so that I can focus on my core offering. About what I promote…. My goal is simple too. If after a gig someone chooses to make a phone call that they were afraid to make, I consider my work done. If someone got the courage to open their café, or take a holiday, or even feel a brief moment of relief, I’m done. I like to plant seeds and when people message me with these stories later, I feel I am on track. This is enough for me.
Q7. Are you writing any new music? Tell us about your favorite collaborations in the past?
We have been making Merkaba’s album for the last 3 years. A song will be out in a few days. Merkaba is Sanjay Divecha, Gino Banks, Sheldon D’Silva, Rohan Rajadhyaksha and me. I’ve also written a song that I really love with Dhruv Ghanekar and we are working on more. He is an absolute beast. Not sure when exactly we will release, but it’s happening. The creative process is on.
Q8. What’s on your playlist these days? Tell us about your current influences or artists you would like to recommend?
Mohan, I’m mostly listening to podcasts. It’s a little weird to write this but it’s 90% of what I am listening to. Everything from Physiology, Business, Marketing, Design, Home Gardening… everything. As far as musicians who are absolutely crushing my heart right now, it’s Lianne La Havas
and Chris Stapleton. I’ve been bawling listening to their voices.
Q9. If you have a chance to change or improve a few things about musicians in India, what would you like to improve/change?
I would like the community to have more clarity and method in how we all grow our careers. I have also lost out on a lot of time going round in circles. We have subscribed to many bits of half-information and that’s why many amazing people are not experiencing the kind of growth they deserve. That’s why I’ve spent more than a year writing the book “Big Dreams, Bold Choices” for the Indie community. It’s for all emerging professional musicians and for
kids who want to turn pro soon. It’s about making the right decisions, creating a career graph we can track, and finding work templates that actually work for us. And most of all, it's about not making the mistakes I made and save some time that way.
Q10. Any message would you like to give to the musicians before signing off on this interview?
My only message is that I love you guys. I owe everything to this community. And younger ones, I love you simply coz you are here, putting in the work and dreaming the same dreams as me.
Vasundhara Vidalur is a bankable name in the Western space in our country. She is seen in the finest Soul, RnB and Jazz ensembles in the capacity of both Collaborator and Curator You have seen her perform at every premier venue in India and on diverse stages in France, Turkey, Bulgaria, Malasia, Dubai, Singapore collaborating with artists from across the globe.
She has performed live with Etienne Mbappe, Ranjit Barot, Dhruv Ghanekar, Louiz Banks, Loy Mendonsa, Mahalaxmi Iyer, Purbayan Chatterjee, Mohini Dey, Osam Ezzeldin, Sean Freeman, Marc Guillermont and also with mentors of the young independent circuit such as Pranai Gurung, Tarun Balani, Aditya Balani, etc.
It was my pleasure to do a round of such an informative and insightful QnA session. I hope it helps and inspires every musician in any aspect of music.
Website — https://www.vasundharavee.com
That’s it for today. See you soon with another amazing musician in our next edition of The Showrunners exclusive pick of the week.