The cover of Charu Suri’s debut album, Lollipops for Breakfast , perhaps says it all. A young girl on a swing, in her floral dress and glittery pink sunglasses. If music could paint a picture, this would be what the Chennai expat’s gently cascading notes show.
The girl on the cover is Charu’s daughter and muse for the pianist’s foray into jazz. As the album name suggests, “My daughter set this whole thing into motion. She once asked me, if she could have lollipops for breakfast, and that made me think how children have absolutely no rules for anything. I love how wide eyed she is, and wanted to translate that sentiment into music,” she says.
The album includes pieces such as the titular cheerful ditty ‘Lollipops for Breakfast’, ‘Swing’, which “I wrote down after watching my daughter play, carefree, on the swing,” and the peaceful ‘Lullaby’. “As adults, we have become jaded, we have lost the ability to look at life without cynicism,” says Charu, “But I want these songs to change that.”
As light and cheerful the music is, it has helped Charu come out of a dark mindspace, that was fuelled by both the political climate and huge upheavals in her personal life. “I moved from Chennai to the US for college and had made a home for myself here,” says Charu, who lives in New Jersey. “But given the political climate, immigrants feel unaccepted . All the “walls” being built, separating communities upset me, and I needed to bring joy back into my life.”
This was the time she had given birth to her daughter, who is now six years old. “A new mother has to face so many preconceived notions about motherhood: you can’t travel so much, you have to stay at home and take care of your child. I did not feel like that was my calling,” she says. It took her a lot of strength to say no to that mould, and continue following her passion.
In fact, she brought her daughter into the folds of her art and turned her into her inspiration. “I started looking at the world through my daughter’s eyes, and it became a bit more joyous,” says Charu, who then set out to prove that women need not stop searching for their identities and careers after they become mothers.
Though she has been composing music and playing the piano since she was five, Charu surprisingly has not released any album until now. “I had learnt classical piano, but never thought of it as something special,” she explains.
After a brief hiatus from composing, a visit to New Orleans, the city of jazz, last year, brought new light. “I was questioning the direction my musical career should take, and I attended concerts by Norah Jones and Imani Winds. Here were strong fearless women making a difference in the world of music. Both of them inspired me to take up the same path.”
Lollipops for Breakfast also contains songs like ‘Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva’, and ‘Raga Tala’, which is inspired by the Bowli raga. Pointing out similarities between Carnatic and jazz, the Carnatic trained singer says even though jazz may seem freestyle, it is rather structured. “You can’t improvise unless you have a solid structure to start with. All great jazz musicians, start with a chord progression and then they improvise on that, which is the same as using a Carnatic raga as a base. It’s only the scales that are different.”
Charu plans to experiment more with these similarities in her next album, The Book of Ragas . But for now, her personal favourite from this album remains ‘Lollipops for Breakfast’, which “says what I need to say.”
Lollipops for Breakfast launches on iTunes on November 15.