Indian born, Michigan raised, singer/songwriter Anita Aysola has just released her new EP entitled “Beyond Our Dreams”.
Produced by Samrat Chakrabarti, the Atlanta-based artist creates a very unique record combining her Indian classical music influences with the blues and jazz sounds.
“For a long time, I felt I had to be one or the other, Indian or American, in both my music and my life. Once I broke through that assumption, I realized the power of being both, of creating my own personal hybrid,” says Aysola.
“Beyond Our Dreams” is now available on all major streaming platforms.
Introduce yourself. Where are you from?
I was born in India but grew up in Michigan. Since leaving Michigan, I’ve lived in Chicago, Boston, DC, Houston and now Atlanta.
What’s your story?
My parents are Indian immigrants who settled down in Michigan. I spent most of my childhood in Michigan. Being first generation Indian American was difficult in many ways-a common thread among many of us. At that time there were not a lot of us and it took me many years to realize I was not alone in my struggles to understand who I was. I became very passionate about living my life with purpose and somehow kept pursuing careers that were not quite on the typical path in the Indian community. It’s tough to make atypical choices that are met with a lot of resistance, but I’m thrilled that I’ve chosen to live a life of passion. Now I live in Atlanta with my husband, two children and my dog :) I am a professional musician, high school teacher, and a mom and wife!
Tell us a little about your childhood. Do you come from a musical family?
My parents started me on piano lessons from the age of 5 and Indian vocals around 6 – 7. Both my parents love music and sing but don’t have very much formal training. My sister also studied piano, Indian vocals and tabla.
When did you start writing/recording songs?
I started writing songs after finishing my undergraduate degree. I knew I had wanted to do it for so long and finally had to make myself start! After writing my first few songs I recorded my first CD as a demo so I could book gigs.
Tell us about your first experiences in the music industry. What did you from these experiences?
When I first entered the industry I started playing keyboards and doing backup and lead vocals for other bands and projects. I hadn’t written any songs yet. I enjoyed working with other people and admired the level of passion and effort they put in their projects, and also noticed how challenging it is to find the right chemistry within a band. Most importantly, I realized that in order to truly be fulfilled I needed to start writing and creating my own project.
As far as the industry is concerned, it’s somewhat of an enigma. It is not always all about the art, and the industry is complex. However, my experiences taught me to develop patience and the importance of building relationships slowly. It also taught me the importance of focusing on my craft. If I keep getting better and better at what I bring to the table, then the rest of the pieces will fall into place.
When did you know you wanted to become an artist? What did your family and friends think about this decision?
When I was in high school I remember seriously entertaining the idea for the first time. I was interested in being a concert pianist. It was not very well received by my parents as it was a completely foreign concept to them-probably still is! At first I recall putting it aside during college-I loved math and thought I might enjoy engineering but soon discovered that it was not my passion. Towards the end of college I realized I wanted to become an artist, but didn’t quite know where to begin. I began a career as a high school math teacher and also started playing with several bands. I also still love math and love working with kids.
My parents are Indian immigrants, and naturally had concerns about practicality and what the industry would hold for me. Fortunately, my career as a math teacher supported me financially. Many of my friends were very supportive and kept encouraging me to move forward. I continued to write and then recorded my first album. My husband has been my biggest support in pursuing my career as an artist. He has a tremendous amount of belief in me and always gives me the courage to move forward, even at times when I didn’t feel I could. As I moved forward, I began focusing more and more time on writing and recording and developing myself as an artist.
What gave you the confidence to make the music you are making today?
I remember the first song I wrote that was a fusion of musical elements. I grew up studying Indian classical music, but also studied classical piano and fell in love with jazz and blues. I used to separate all of these components when writing or playing music. Then I wrote “Long Way Home”. It was the first song that incorporated many styles together. I thought people would find it strange but people often commented that it was their favorite song of mine. I knew I had to move more in that direction. Writing that way also made me feel much more honest and authentic to who I am as a person. When I was younger I felt like I had to be two different people depending on where I was. As I grew older I realized I could be the same person everywhere and could embrace my Indian and American qualities simultaneously. When this emerged in music it felt great.
You have different influences in your record. Who helped you craft your music?
The wonderful teachers I have had along the way helped introduce me to the many artists who I admire who have had influences on my music. Over the years, I started listening to a large range of musical genres and artists like James Booker, Otis Spann, Nina Simone, Radiohead, Norah Jones, and Avishai Cohen. I also appreciate the artists that were pioneers in Indian fusion, like Talvin Singh, Karsh Kale and A.R. Rahman. As I delved deeper into songwriting, I started listening more to Randy Newman. I love the way he captures emotion and storytelling in his songs through both his lyric crafting and musical elements. He incorporates beautiful influences of jazz and New Orleans blues in his piano lines.
I also frequently co-write with my jazz piano instructor, Gary Norian. We collaborate both musically and lyrically. I bring a lot of crazy ideas to the table, and he helps me flesh them out and edit them.
My producer Samrat Chakrabarti played a big role in crafting the music on this album. He had a lot of interesting ideas and also played a key role in having these songs realize their full potential. What impresses me about Samrat is that he specializes in Indian fusion, but takes the time to understand what that looks like for each artist. My take on Indian fusion is different from others-and I think Samrat did a great job figuring out who I am as an artist and then taking it to another level.
What’s the story behind “Beyond Our Dreams”?
I wrote “Beyond Our Dreams” for my son. I have two beautiful children, a daughter and son. I was always apprehensive about having kids, because I thought I had to accomplish everything I wanted to in life before having children. I then realized that our journey never really ends. And I wanted to convey the message to myself and my children that I’ll always keep trying and moving forward in my journey no matter what. I want my children to do the same- to never stop dreaming, to never stop trying. And we’ll travel on this journey together. I had the musical idea for the song years before-I love the Rag Jog, and I played around with that rag over a piano chord progression. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my son that I realized what this song was going to be about.
What message do you want to deliver through your art?
Unity in diversity. No matter how different things can be, in art and in life, it can intertwine and coexist in harmony.
For those who don’t know about Hindustani classical music, how would you define it?
Hindustani classical music is based in the concept of ragas. Ragas means “that which colors the mind”. Each raga provides the mood and foundation of a musical piece by having a defined ascending and descending scale, and also combinations of notes that are characteristic of the raga. I utilize “Sargam” a lot in my songs-this is like Indian solfege. Instead of Do Re Mi, etc., we have Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ne Sa.
In raag Jog for example, the scale utilizes both the major and the minor third, but the major 3rdis only used in ascending lines and the minor 3rdonly on descending lines. There’s a lot of structure but then there’s a lot of freedom within that structure. When you stay within the structure of the raga you will retain the same mood throughout the song.
How would you describe your sound?
As a mix of jazz, blues, and Indian classical music all within a singer/songwriter form.
What inspires you?
What doesn’t? Ha.
Life, love, passion, music, motherhood, my children, my husband, the human spirit.
What can you tell us about India?
It’s a beautiful country; A sensory explosion of color, smell, sounds, everything. It’s a vibrant place and there is so much diversity in the country. There are many different styles of music, dance, food; many different cultures and languages, and many different religions and traditions.
You are based in Atlanta. What can you tell us about the music scene in this city?
I’ve been here for almost 5 years. This city has been very welcoming. I feel like I’m slowly starting to get to know people in the music scene here and it feels good. I know my music is different from a lot of what’s here in Atlanta, but I think that’s what people here also appreciate. I think there’s a place for me in this town, and that feels wonderful.
What are you currently working on?
I’m focusing on this tour, but I’ve also started recording more tunes.
I’m excited to share this album and to share my next songs. I just wrote a song in response to the border crisis and I’m recording that as we speak.
In your opinion, what would make the world a better place?
As simple as it is-love, tolerance and acceptance of one another.
What’s your purpose?
To live my life mindfully, to use my life to benefit the world, to love and to be happy.
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