A life versed in song

For Maalavika, work is a priority. Photo: R. Ravindran  

None of it came easy. Maalavika Manoj, professionally known as Mali, wasn’t always a successful independent musician. Now, with her affinity for deep house, ability to speak flawless French and brand new album, she brings an intriguing, and uniquely personal sound to the city. It’s not all niche ‘alternative’ work; she has also featured in a music video with Dhanush. And music composer A.R. Rahman has shared her band’s song on his Facebook page. Plot twist? She’s only 21.

Back in the last year of high school, Maalavika decided to celebrate board exam results with her first serious music venture. Forming ‘Bass in Bridge’ with a few of her friends, she ventured into the path of becoming the quirky, genre-fusing, singer-songwriter she is today. Although, much has changed since the first time she took the stage, Maalavika is still adamant about one thing — pursuing music as a career.

Learning to play the piano early in her childhood, she was influenced by singers John Mayer and Alanis Morissette. Very soon, she found herself participating in school competitions and local music events. Her transition from lead singer of her band to solo artist began in 2011. “The synergy we had as a band was amazing,” she says, “But being solo, now when I look back at it, means I have a lot more freedom.”

Today, she’s assertive about where she stands as an independent artist. “I write my own music and I compose my own work.” When her first album, Deceptive, was released in 2013, she made the conscious decision not to approach a major record label. With the help of her producer Ed Degenario, the album took over 15 months to create. “I’m a business major,” she explains. “I decided that taking on a project like this on my own would give me experience that I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d gone to a record label. It definitely was a huge challenge, but having been through it, I feel like I’ve learnt so much.”

Despite being young, Maalavika has already worked with some big names like appearing in a music video with Dhanush singing the ‘Sachin Anthem’. While she’s open to collaborating with other artists, her priority remains her work, despite the inevitable trials and exhaustion that come with it. “You definitely get burnt out. It’s easy to think, ‘music is my life and there’s nothing else I want to do’, but even too much of a good thing is pretty tiring. What’s important is to realise where your music comes from; you should never mass manufacture it. That’s when you lose heart,” she says.

She left Chennai in 2013 to complete a degree in Lille, France, which she describes as a “small, student city, where no one was really a serious musician.” Away from the cultural scenes of Paris, Maalavika then became busy with her classes and she describes her time abroad as a break from music. However, when the withdrawal symptoms began, she knew she had to begin writing songs again.

Making music as a career isn’t easy, and Maalavika is aware that success in this industry is an exception, not the rule. But she’s determined to go after what she wants. “It’s easy to be a has-been. If you’re the singer and the face of your work, it becomes harder.”

“Getting into an artistic career is a huge leap of faith,” she says. “It takes a lot of courage to get into it. But you get recognised for doing something completely different and original. In the end, it’s worth it.”

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 12:34:12 PM |

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