Meet Ananya, the singing-songwriting talent rising to the musical big leagues.
Verbalising our feelings, whether bad or good, can always be hard. Instead of bottling up or letting them fester and weigh heavy on our souls, multi-platinum selling artist Ananya is putting her’s at the forefront of her irresistibly catchy pop music.
Becoming the first artist to go platinum with an English language song in India, Ananya is a talent well on her way to global stardom, dropping banger after electro-pop banger on the way. Having collaborated with THE Sean Kingston last year, a feat that’s already racked up well over 11 million views on Youtube, the self-taught santoor and guitar player finally returned to the scene at the end of July, dropping the EDM-fused “Let There Be Love” in what we hope is the start of an exciting new era for the artist.
“All my music is driven by an urge to connect with people, to share with them in the experience of being human – the good, the bad, and the ugly! I don’t think that big questions and big feelings are incompatible with catchy pop – I want to explore them all in my music,” 25-year-old Ananya exclaims. “I feel like we are all going through this collective trauma right now (maybe we have been for a long time and it’s just erupting right now…) and I wanted to give a voice to that, but also to the sparks of hope and truth are being born right in the middle of it.”
We caught up with Ananya below, and chatted about leaving Oxford University, opening for Wiz Khalifa and staying true to her sound.
Hey Ananya! We heard you dropped out of Oxford University to pursue music, tell us about that choice and what followed?
I knew for as long as I can remember that music was all I wanted to do, but it took me ages to build up the courage to tell other people, let alone put my plans into action. Music had always been my best friend; through good times and bad I’d always turn to it – whether it was playing instruments as a kid or just blasting my favourite songs in my room. I’ve always been pretty shy too, and music was the perfect way to express myself.
When I got to Oxford, I had a tough time adjusting. Music was a lifeline for me and every weekend I would head to London and perform at whatever sketchy bar would have me. A few of those places might have put some people off, but it just made me realise that wherever I was, and whoever I was playing to, this was what I loved more than anything and what I wanted to devote myself to. It made me feel complete.
I dropped out in my second year. I think a college education is an amazing thing to have, it just wasn’t right for me at that time. I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew if I had any chance of succeeding then I had to commit every part of myself to it. It was scary to turn my back on a traditional career path and that kind of security, but it wouldn’t have made me happy. I have no regrets. I also promised my mom I’d finish that degree one day…so maybe I’ll head back when I’m 50.
You are the first Indian artist to team up with Maverick Management who also work with Lil Nas X, The Weeknd, U2 and more, what was that like to get signed with such an influential company?
I met Greg, the President of Maverick, when I went to the Grammy’s earlier in February – god, that feels a world away now! The moment we started chatting, we just clicked, and I knew he was the mentor that I’d been looking for, we were totally on the same page. I went to their offices a few days later to discuss what we could do together, and I was so drawn to their experience, vision and passion. They truly get what I’m about. They’ve also worked with some of my heroes like The Weeknd and G-Eazy so I feel really blessed to have them in my corner. I was with a label in India before and found it pretty restrictive at times, but with Maverick I get amazing guidance combined with a lot of autonomy.
You’ve just released your first single of the year, which you worked with producer Aaron Pearce in Los Angeles on, what is the music about and what do you hope fans will experience with it?
It’s been heart-breaking to see the pain and suffering across the world because of the pandemic, we have all been going through this collective trauma that has affected every single one of us in different ways. But it’s also been really inspiring to see the way that people have come together. With ‘Let There Be Love’, I want to remind people that beautiful things can blossom out of challenging moments, and to make love and connection a priority. All my music is really personal to me and my own experiences, and this last few months was a reminder to me that at the end of the day, love is what it is all about.
Back in 2017 you broke records by being the first homegrown artist to go platinum with an English single in India, racking up 300 million global streams and even performing at some of Asia’s biggest music events; why do you think your music touched so many?
People appreciate music that is authentic and comes from the heart, and that is what I strive for in each of my songs. As well, back when I was starting out, if people wanted to listen to pop in India, they turned to western artists. Maybe it was also refreshing hearing someone they might be able to identify with a bit more.
Where were you when you first heard your own song on the radio?
Driving my car to pick up some groceries… I almost ran off the road! I used to listen to Sirius Hits all the time when I came over to visit the US, and to hear myself playing on there was totally surreal. There is something really strange about listening to your own music – knowing everything that goes into it, you still listen with a really critical ear. It’s even stranger when it’s on national radio!
“Day Goes By’ featuring Sean Kingston marked one of the first collaborations between major artists from India and the US, the song’s video garnered over 11 million views on YouTube, and this was just the start of your music career, congratulations!
Thank you, Sean and I had so much fun making the track, he was born in Jamaica so we are both from places where dance is a big deal and we knew we wanted to make something people could move to. The minute I got more involved in the music scene out here, it became so important to me to try and challenge the perception that people have of musicians from India. When people hear Indian musician, so many just think of music from our films and the bright colours and big dances that go with that. But we have such a rich musical diversity in India, and since all the streaming platforms went out there, we can see it even more clearly. There is amazing stuff in all genres – rap, folk, even heavy metal. It’s such an exciting time.
Tell us about opening for Wiz Khalifa? What did you learn?
I have been such a big fan of Wiz since way back in the day and it is was really special to get to perform alongside him on his tour. Wiz has got a great vibe and he is amazingly humble for someone who’s achieved so much. It was so valuable to spend that time with him. I think the hardest thing about it was knowing that he was coming on stage straight after me, and that the audience would experience the juxtaposition between our acts. His set was epic. Watching him from backstage was such a thrill, his stage presence is amazing.
What advice do you have for other artists? Specifically Indian artists too?
When I was starting out, there weren’t that many brown people making the kind of music that I wanted to make. It was tough not having anyone I could identify with to look up to and follow in the footsteps of, but at the same time that gave me an amazing freedom to chart my own course. I really hope to pave the way for other artists from South Asia to think more globally when they are creating. There is so much talent back home that deserves to be heard on a global stage.
Growing up which artists did you most look up to? Without many Indian artists with global recognition, what made you believe you should pursue art?
I grew up on a pretty diverse musical diet. My family had eclectic tastes, which embraced folk, jazz and Indian classical so there was a lot of that when I was young. In my teens I built on that with my own heroes. I was drawn to artists who wear their heart on their sleeve and authentically challenge love, pain and vulnerability – people like Kurt Cobain and Eminem, which surprises people – and also Amy Winehouse and Adele. Music that really comes from the heart just hits on a totally different level, people can connect with it no matter who they are or where they are from because at the end of the day, we are all human and we all share the same emotions. I knew that was the kind of music I wanted to make, too, and it’s something I aspire to every day. The fact that there were few Indian precedents was daunting for sure, but it didn’t bother me too much – I knew I just had to be me.
Mental health is more important than ever right now, we understand you launched an initiative Mpower to help after your own struggles, can you share with us about this?
With Mpower, I wanted to ensure that people in India were able to get the same support that I was so lucky to have when I struggled with anxiety and depression. Mental illness is a topic that’s still taboo around the world, but especially in India. The terrible stigma means people are scared to reach out for help. Our rates of suicide and depression are some of the worst in the world and things are only getting worse in the face of this terrible pandemic. We campaign to stamp out the stigma around mental illness and provide care for people living with mental health issues who have been ignored or discriminated against.
In a hundred years, we’ll look back totally flabbergasted that people were still being blamed for their own mental illness. I want everyone who is struggling to know that it is OK not to be OK sometimes. There is no shame in it, and it doesn’t reflect on your value as a person. The most important thing you can do is reach out for help, talk to a friend, family member or professional. It is often the hardest thing to do, but it can make a world of difference.