Double-platinum certified artist, Ananya Birla, is India’s leading English-language poster. With 500 million+ streams under her belt, the singer is taking the scene by storm. Ananya’s latest single, “Caught Up” is a superb showcase of her impeccable talents. Incorporating elements of vibrant modern R&B, Afrobeats rhythms and classical Indian instrumentals, the single is an addictive track full of sweet and sensual lyricism, mastered by a true poet.
Taking it back to the early days of Ananya’s sound, music has always been a huge influence in her life. With her first instrument being the Santoor, a trapezoid-shaped hammered dulcimer, and learning to play it at just nine-years-old, it is clear as to why she is destined for musical greatness. Acquiring skill sets in drums, piano and guitar further enrich her talents and shine through still today.
Ananya Birla is a shining star deriving from an exceptionally refreshing sound. We sat down with the artist to discuss early beginnings, Indian musical inspirations, and where she wishes to take her artist.
Stream “Caught Up” now…
Read the interview…
How did you first begin writing and creating?
I wrote a lot of poetry as a child and in general writing has always been an outlet for me. I learnt the Santoor, an Indian classical instrument, when I was eight. That was my introduction to the world of music. When I was at University, I was going through a hard time with my mental health. The guitar became my best friend. I would learn simple chords from videos on YouTube. It was then that it hit me that I if can take my writing, and turn it into song-writing, it would be the best feeling in the world. It was cathartic to write and sing about what I was feeling. That’s when I first began writing and creating.
Where do you find the passion to continue to release music?
I feel like there is a hole in my system if I don’t make music. I feel like there’s something missing within me when I am not writing music. It’s something that I have to do for myself. I think it’s quite selfish, because I prefer writing about my own experiences. It’s very cathartic for me, but I write with the hope that other people can relate with it. I think at the end of the day, human emotion is universal; we just feel it in different contexts, through the lens of varying experiences but the underlying sentiments are common, no matter where you are from. So it is heartening to see the impact music has on people. It makes me want to keep delivering good music. I have a fire in my belly to be a better artist with every song.
How would you define your musical essence?
I think I am an eclectic mix of some Indian sounds, which I have picked up growing up in India, being Indian, and having Indian roots. But also, from Bollywood music that I love. I was also heavily influenced by Pop, R&B and Rap while growing up, whether that was Eminem, ABBA, Elton John, Rihanna, Katy Perry, or Beyoncé. So I think you will hear a confluence of these influences in the production style of the music. During the pandemic, I fell in love again with my culture, and I just realised how many beautiful sounds we have that I really want to integrate in my music for the world to listen to. So in my current sound you will hopefully be able to hear some Indian influences, that come together to create an overall global sound. I think that’s how I would define my musical essence.
We love the way you combine different styles into your sound, how do you blend them so succinctly?
I guess it is a mix of nature and nurture. I have an incredible mentor in my manager in LA, Brandon Riester. He was able to help me craft my vision into a sound of incorporating Indian sounds into my production. It took a couple of years to create the right soundscape. My sound was quite electro-pop before this and I felt like I had evolved from that space. I think it takes work to find what feels good, and now, this just feels right. “Caught Up” is the start of a new sound for me and I am super excited.
Do you think that Western listeners should be paying more attention to the Indian music scene?
I think Western listeners are already paying more attention to the Indian scene. Whether that was an Indian who performed at a huge international platform recently, or whether we see how well Bollywood and Punjabi music is picking up. It is a very exciting time for us in India, and I think, it’s on us Indian artists, to make good music that the world would want to listen to. At the end of the day music goes beyond culture, race, colour and all these societal constructs. That’s what I love about it.
How did you personally manage to break through into the Western scene?
I have a long way to go. I think when you are authentic to who you are as an artist, people can recognize that. Audiences are very intelligent, and they can tell when an artist is being authentic, they relate with it. I try to keep working on my skills, whether it be singing or playing the Santoor or drums.
Who should we be listening to from India?
I mean there are so many, so many talented people….there’s AR Rahman, who, I had the honour of working with. He has created some beautiful, iconic music over the years. You can really hear the Indian ragas, and how he has incorporated the immense knowledge that he has. I would say, just listen to any sort of Bollywood music, and I am sure you will end up humming it, or grooving to it. The indie hip-hop scene in India is something you could explore too!
Who’s been your favourite collaboration in your career to date?
I think I’ve really enjoyed working with everyone I have collaborated with, but my favourite one is the next one that’s going to come. It’s really been a dream and I can’t believe it’s actually happening, You’ll have to wait for that one. I feel blessed to have got the opportunity to work with Afrojack, and Sean Kingston – both were amazing, and some great Nigerian artists, WurlD and Vector, who are super talented. I have learnt a lot from the artists I have collaborated with.
Who’s your dream collab in the future?
The ultimate dream – Rihanna, Beyoncé, Eminem, the list goes on …. I would also love to work with Zayn Malik. I think because he has Eastern roots, as well, it would cool to see what we can come up with. SZA and AJR would be amazing to collaborate with as well.
Talk us through the creation of new single, “Caught Up”?
I have spent the last couple of years really experimenting and honing in on a distinct new sound. When the pandemic hit, I was stuck in the USA due to the flying restrictions for more time than I had planned for. Being away from home and family, made me grow fonder and appreciate home even more. I wanted to find a way to bring that taste of India into my sound in a non-stereotypical, integrated kind of way. After 2 years of iteration, when we finally got it, I just knew it felt right! ‘Caught Up’, is the first song in this new soundscape and I absolutely cannot wait for everything that’s to come.
What are you portraying with the track?
I went through a series of toxic relationships, and Caught Up is the result of the very last one that I had. Having now broken that cycle of toxic relationships, I learnt that I must take ownership for everything, not just in a relationship, but life in general; my career, friendships. It’s easy to say you’ve been bad for me, but here I am saying I was bad too. I am sure I was; after all it takes two to tango, in everything. This song, is me taking ownership for my side of things in life, in general, wanting to be better every single day.
Where do you want to take your artistry?
I want to continue to write authentic music that feels right in my soul. I want to continue to improve my knowledge of Hindustani classical music which I am doing by training more every day with my Santoor (it is classical Indian string instrument that you play on your lap). I think this knowledge really helps to incorporate the Indianness into my music in innovative ways, whether that is in the form of melodies or production, as well. The idea is for my music to reach as many people as possible. It’s about bringing people together, especially those who have felt like misfits from society, because I always felt like misfit while growing up.
What’s to come from you this year?
I am super excited for everything coming out this year. The next couple of songs are already ready. Some super exciting features; some artists that I have looked up to, have become a part of my journey now. I acted in a Bollywood movie, which I thought I would never do; the movie is going to release this year. I have been working on a poetry book that will release soon. I am also a big sneakerhead and I have been working on my own sneaker brand which I cant wait to launch!