Change is a welcome constant in an artiste’s life. While perceiving it as a sign of growth and evolution in their career, musicians also revel in their ability to shift genres, styles and languages. 2022 witnessed significant diversity in independent music — be it jazz and soul singer Vasundhara Vee’s foray into Bollywood playback, singer Devika’s recent deviation of the track Kalli kalli raati from most of her LoFi and slow-tempo tracks, or Rishaad Chaudhry’s switch to desi hip-hop and rap.
“For me, shifting genres constantly is the basic cog of my disruptive global music strategy. My global agent dictated that I do a song every 45 days in a different radio/music genre, which has become a mainstay in my music-creation process. I am never in my comfort zone and that’s the zone I thrive in,” shares singer-songwriter and author Vineet Singh Hukmani who released a book with nine stories and nine songs in 2022. His three singles that followed were in genres of electro-pop ( Dee da da da), country music ( City roads) and R&B Gospel ( Light of the world).
Change without changing
An artiste’s willingness to experiment becomes stronger if there is no demand for a drastic change in the identity that has established them. Vasundhara says singers often feel pressured to suit a trend or modify their singing to a previously established standard. “For me, that is non-negotiable. Instead, I want to offer who I am as a singer and let producers use that as a jumping board for new experiments.”
For her song Kalli Kalli Raati, Devika set her protagonist who is calling out to her estranged lover on a dark night, with emotional and edgy vocals in the electronic pop-rock genre, different from her usual slower tracks. “The video treatment, outfits and styling are also more dramatic compared to my earlier videos — with the dark black backdrops occasionally contrasting with the desolate shots in the desert,” adds Devika.
An element of surprise
After the overnight success of Kheech Meri Photo in 2016, Akasa Singh has steadily been making a mark with her music and her 2019 Naagin became a rage. Subsequently, she created songs like Kamle, Shringaar, and Sanjhana in different genres. “When a song is successful, artistes and producers tend to release songs in similar patterns, whereas I love to explore a completely different genre and surprise my audience,” says Akasa.
For composers OAFF aka Kabeer Kathpalia and his collaborator Savera, the Gehraiyaan album was an overwhelming experience. They admit to being under pressure for time, but were able to push themselves and do things in ways that they would not have usually done. Says Savera, “Pushing the envelope is an integral part of my writing process. I’m blessed to be able to experiment through both, my pop music and independent music. Having said that, I would love to dip my toes into other genres like dream pop.”
Believing that being creative is to not be in one place but constantly moving, QAFF says, “I want to enjoy the process of creating. So, it is important for me to keep trying new things so that I’m excited about what could happen and not knowing where I will end up.”
Expanding the soundscape
Hyderabad-based Kasyap is one of the finds by Day One, a label by Sony Music that supports new and emerging South Asian talent. At 20, he released his first single Khoya sa last year, a fresh and innocent take on love and romance. Though he maintains that he tries to make music that is authentic to his personality, trying something new and making it work is what personally drives him as an artiste. He says, “I’ve always tried to do things that are out of my comfort zone. All my releases are different from each other right from Khoya sa to the recent release Duur. Although they all come under the pop genre, I’ve explored all types of soundscapes.”
Rarely in their comfort zone yet precisely where they are more at ease, are an experimental instrumental duo Yaksha’s acoustic guitarist Aditya Mohanan and the handpan expert Ishaan Zaveri. Says Ishaan, “Yaksha strives to embody the inherently fluid nature of music through improvisation. This means that every time we play a song, it comes out differently. Never is the same song played twice.”
Agreeing with Ishaan, Aditya emphasises the spontaneity of their music. “We draw from a range of musical sources — Hindustani, Carnatic, blues, folk, funk, you name it. So the music happens quite spontaneously and our producers are usually on their toes attempting to capture every bit of nuance and interaction. Since we don’t belong to any established genre or style, packaging and marketing is something we are, and will be, experimenting with for the foreseeable future,” he says.
Early this year, singer-songwriter and composer Aditya A released the single Chaand baaliyan through Sony Music India which appealed to the netizens in a big way. The romantic ballad was widely used by all content creators in their short-form videos. ‘Energised’ with the success of Chaand baaliyan, Aditya says that he’s been experimenting with his music for a while. “I will be trying my hands at different sonic palettes,” he adds.
DJ Producer Sarthak Sardana aka Sartek credits his success to consistent releases over time with a unique combination of his own sound and trending sounds. “My songs progressed from electronic dance music to melodic house remixes and tech house reworks of folk songs,” says Sartek, adding, “The key to staying relevant in the industry is to keep evolving. I had a hard time breaking out of my comfort zone when I produced my Folk House EP, till the audience started responding positively. The days of an artist sticking to their sound are over; now, to reach a new audience, one must find innovative ways to do something different.”