Meet India's Music Makers

Meet some of the country’s most talented maestros—singers, songwriters, musicians, and more—front lining a new era for the Indian music industry. 

Spanning across genres, this young lot is making the world dance to their tunes!

Vidya Vox

“Sometimes, it can be hard to be a woman in the music industry—there’s a lot of inequality and double standards. I am hoping that with more women speaking up, we will also see more women headlining festivals, getting the same opportunities, and being paid the same amount as men for the same jobs. We have a long way to go! I classify my music as Electro World Dream Pop—it has a bit of all of those elements. Being able to write songs based on my life and experiences, and having an audience sing them or dance to them, is hugely fulfilling! It’s amazing to see people transported to another world for the duration of that song or concert. Every performance has an insane story to it, and when the audience requests me for my original songs, it’s the best feeling ever!”

Akriti Kakar

“I’m told I was three years old when I volunteered to sing at my uncle’s wedding. I had made up my own gibberish lyrics and sang a Punjabi folk song. Everyone was rather impressed actually, and my mother noticed my inclination towards music. She has taught music all her life, and became my first guru, too. Being a musician gives you the license to zone out in the middle of a conversation, without a reason...musicians are legit dreamers, after all! Even as a kid, it used to be very hard for me to study in silence. The slightest sound—a vehicle honking, or the buzzing noise that the tube light on the wall makes—would make me catch the ‘sur’ and break into a song! Initially, when I started out, there was no social media and it was extremely difficult to get in touch with the right people or get a break. But now, with the evolution of the Internet, the access has become easy. But that also means more people to compete with. I’ve realised that with the ever-growing competition in the music industry, you are only as good as your last song. So, it’s important to keep reinventing yourself. And you should never forget that it is music that you love, not the by-products of it, like fame, followers, money, etc.”

Armaan Malik

“My parents recognised my musical talent when I was about three and enrolled me for music lessons immediately. And I was a fast learner. My professional journey began when I was nine—singing advertisement jingles and dubbing for feature films. Today, I am mostly known for romantic and emotional ballads in the Bollywood music industry, but the work I naturally create is in the Pop/R&B space—groovy, vocal-led, with lush, chordal arrangements. I will never forget my debut show in the UK—I played at SSE Arena in London in 2016. To receive that amount of love and appreciation from the audience there was just unreal! I also reached the fourth place on the top 10 acts of the SSE Live Awards that year...that was unbelievable, too. And I don’t remember anything from the show! It’s all a blur—I was so engrossed in singing—but it was all so magical. I feel the Indian music industry hasn’t been fair to the actual creators (music composers and songwriters) of the songs we all enjoy so much. Royalties weren’t adequate, credits weren’t given where due. But all this is slowly changing, and I am hopeful for a brighter, fairer industry.”

Josh Fernandez, The F16s

“I grew up in a melodious home—my folks played in a jazz band together, and records were always spinning in the background. One of my earliest memories is of my dad telling me to stop playing the shaker during his practice session because I wasn’t keeping tempo (I haven’t touched a percussion instrument since!). I remember playing in Nagaland with The F16s, and was gifted a shawl with my name stitched on it with six rice beers...that was wonderful! But post our show, this lovely woman invited us back to her immense mansion, where she had an emu farm in the basement! We drank coffee with her family (with a side of some hard boiled emu eggs!), and then her father gave us a military escort with a dozen armed men, down the hill to the railway station! The thing I enjoy the most about being a musician is not having to sit in front of a desk counting other people’s money! The music industry can tend to celebrate mediocrity, and there’s instability in income...that’s the not-so-good part of the parcel, for me.”

Hari Singh

“I think, when you’re a musician, nobody understands what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. And that’s the best part about it for me. Also, I have great admiration for any musician who knows more than me—because that means they have worked harder than me, which inspires me. The only pitfall of the music industry, according to me, is that it is an industry! My earliest memory of music is from kindergarten—Mrs Indu Malhotra playing the piano and the whole class singing, ‘She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain when she comes’. When it comes to our performances, I have some fond memories from a lot of them, for various reasons. One I distinctly remember is when we played in a houseboat on the Dal Lake in Srinagar, to some 30-40 people. It was in the middle of the night, and everything was so beautifully lit up.”

Sukhmani Malik

“The music we create for Hari & Sukhmani is basically Punjabi folk X Electronic. My love for Sufi poetry also inspires me to work on songs with poetry, from legends like Bulleh Shah, Baba Farid, Kabir, etc. I’ve never been anything other than a musician, so I can’t really say what I like most about it! But getting a chance to pour your heart out to an audience is quite something to experience, and is probably one of my favourite things about being here. (And to be told that we were able to connect with someone’s soul through our performance is the best compliment!) Then, there is the freedom of travel—performing in wonderful locations. So, yeah we’ve been fortunate! I just wish there were better acoustic venues and more skilled professionals as far as lighting and sound are concerned. I look up to quite a few musicians, but to start with, I’d say Michael Jackson, Madonna, Fink, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Anisa Parveen, and Surinder Kaur.”

Sukriti and Prakriti Kakar

“The music we’ve been part of has essentially been for films. But since 2019, we’ve been creating independent music, too. Our work is usually inspired by Punjabi and R&B tones as, growing up, we were heavily inspired by the ’90s and 2000s indie scene. Our mother was a music teacher, and elder sister a playback singer, so there was always enough music playing around, to be absorbed! People tell us that despite being twins we have our own strengths, and that we sound different from each other, bolstering one another. That feels nice. Each time we perform, there is some takeaway for us. We get to travel, hold concerts, meet people who have been following our musical journey, be inspired—the tour life, and the memories you make while on the road with your band, adds so much to your life! But you have to be prepared for the odds, too. Most industries tend to breed favouritism to some extent. This one is no different. Also, although people are now consuming original music almost as much as Bollywood music, if musicians could get the same importance as actors, it would be ideal. Times are surely changing, though.”

Ananya Birla

“As a musician, I like experimenting with beats, sounds, and melodies, and you’ll see a lot of that in the work I will be putting out over the next year. But the common thread that brings it all together is the authenticity in the experiences that I share through my music. I grew up watching my mother playing the santoor. I started learning it myself at the age of nine, and play it to date—I find it so calming, and it has helped train my ear. The best thing about being a musician is that the whole world knows everything about you, but still knows nothing about you! But, like many competitive industries, we find instances of power being abused here as well, and that is perhaps an aspect I’d like to wish away. As for the artists I enjoy listening to and seek inspiration from, there are many, but Eminem and Kurt Cobain top the list. Last year, I went on an EP tour across India, and it will always be closest to my heart! Performing in each city was special, and the fans were absolutely amazing—I could not have asked for more.”

THEMXXNLIGHT

“Nothing compares to the joy of recording and letting your emotions out with passion, then being able to hear the final songs and realising it is really us who made that music! We have an amazing producer, Sledgren, who is a genius! It is such an honour to work with some great musicians like him and Wiz Khalifa, Megan Thee Stallion, Roy Woods, and others. But it’s not all glamour—it takes an immense amount of hard work, focus, and determination. The business aspect of the music industry is 70 percent of the battle, but we are blessed to have the education to be able to handle a lot of it ourselves. Our music, typically, is smooth, unique, multicultural, euphoric, and melodic. In our most recent performance, Wiz Khalifa brought us out in India at the Sunburn Festival last year, in front of 50,000 fans, to perform G.O.A.T. Flow with him. It was a dream-come-true moment! Our mom was there backstage with us, and Wiz and his team treated her like a queen...it was indescribable in every way!”

Imaad Shah, Mad Boy Mink and Saba Azad, Madboy Mink

“I think my music is a schizophrenic collection of thoughts that are tied together by what turns me on musically! Also, I make Punk-Disco, Electro-Funk, Experimental, Acoustic, and other things that are not any of these things! For the ‘independent’, non-film music industry, the biggest drawback, according to me, would have to be the lack of support from even the slightest variety of support structures. And the reliance on one kind of sponsor (for example, alcohol companies) gives rise to the fear that all this may just be a house of cards. As a musician, it’s hugely encouraging when someone tells you that your music moved them and they really mean it.” Saba Azad, Madboy Mink “My parents are really into music, and there was always lots of great music available at home. One afternoon, when I was three or four-years old, my father played a Tchaikovsky LP. I still remember the LP cover, and I remember the sun coming through the window as I played on the floor! That is one of my fondest remembrances of music. It’s great that as a musician you get to travel a whole lot, see corners of the country you’d otherwise never end up going to, and relish food that comes with it! But living out of suitcases and hotel rooms makes you miss home so bad! I loved performing at the Ziro festival in 2015; you have to see that stunning valley to know why! It was raining on the day, but the audience stood their ground and danced and sang along through the gig.”

Jonita Gandhi

“When I was about five, my parents tried to get me to sing in front of some guests. I was so shy that I made everyone leave the room and listen to me through the wall! Performing now is a different story, of course, and I’ve had a tonne of memorable gigs...some good, and some bad. One of the most epic moments I’ve had was performing alongside Carlos Santana and AR Rahman in San Francisco in 2016. It was such a surreal feeling to be amongst such legends, belting out classic songs that I’ve grown up admiring. Once, I overheard AR Rahman telling someone from our band, ‘Let’s ask Jonita to sing this song—she can sing anything’. I think the fact that it was said somewhat ‘behind my back’ made it even more special...I felt immense pride and responsibility! While it has its perks, the music industry can be quite volatile, too, and style often trumps skill. So far as my music is concerned, I try to dabble in lots of different moods and styles, but if I had to sum it all up into a word, I’d say my work tends to be soulful.”

Shraddha Sharma

“I feel I create my best music when I am going through some sort of personal experience and finding it difficult to express it or deal with it. So most of my work is an ode to the situation I am in at the time. And that often turns into a beautiful advantage of being a musician—to make another person feel an emotion they perhaps didn’t even know existed in them until then. When I was young, my mother would sing along to old Hindi songs playing on the radio while making breakfast for us. That was the time I recognised music as a field of interest! When I get appreciated for my music, I do find it very kind of people to say so, but I also believe that if the compliment is not coming from an honest source, it can be pretty misleading... So I don’t really take all this too seriously.”

Sanah Moidutty

“I’m a reserved person, but I have a different personality in my videos or when I’m on stage—I feel this sense of freedom when I’m in my element. That’s what I love about being a musician—you can be what you want to be! My mother, Razia, introduced me to music. She was a singer, and used to take me for her show rehearsals. I started learning music at the age of five, and began performing by the time I was seven. My style is simple—whatever I create is generally chill and relaxed; even if it’s an upbeat song, I like retaining the element of a strong melody. I’ve started producing a bit for my songs, and it usually goes into an ambient, spacey vibe... And the lyrics I write tend to have a hint of nostalgia, or speak in a matter-of-fact way, of the things I find difficult to accept around me. In 2017, I got to perform at the Star of Asia event in Almaty, Kazakhstan. It featured many bands from different Asian countries, and we were the only one from India. That was a proud moment! And the location was one of a kind: a skating rink in a mountain valley. I performed a couple of Mithun Chakraborty songs there, on special requests, along with other Bollywood songs...the locals were huge fans of him. It was a great experience.”