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From a YouTube sensation to a Bolly playback, Toronto girl Jonita Gandhi sings to t2

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MATHURES PAUL   |   Published 27.02.14, 12:00 AM

She has opened for Sunidhi Chauhan and Sonu Niigaam. She has a strong following on YouTube (through pianist-composer Aakash Gandhi’s channel 88keystoeuphoria). It’s her voice that keeps S.P. Balasubrahmanyam company on the title track of Chennai Express. And she makes two appearances on A.R. Rahman’s latest offering –– the soundtrack of Imtiaz Ali’s Highway. Toronto girl Jonita Gandhi, 24, shares her journey over e-mail.

A girl from Toronto first sings for Chennai Express (title track) and now two tracks in Highway –– Kahaan hoon main and Implosive Silence. How did all this happen?

That’s quite a loaded question! Lots have happened over the past few years, and I believe all my experiences have contributed to bringing me where I am. I had done a lot of preparation before delving into the Indian film music scene. I had been performing and singing for several years, and putting up a lot of material online before I actually got on a flight to India to meet people within the industry. With my success on the 88keystoeuphoria YouTube channel, I had built a presence online, and credibility among professionals within the industry. Our videos were getting a lot of views and were being circulated worldwide. This was a great start, as it gave me a solid portfolio of work to showcase to music directors as a sample of my voice. Ultimately this led to my breaking into the film music industry.

At what point did you decide to visit India to pursue a career?

I decided to pursue singing full-time right after I graduated from university. Until then I was focused on completing my studies. Right after I graduated, I toured with Sonu Niigaam for his ‘Klose To My Heart’ tour across North America. Shortly after that I visited India to explore.

You sing as brilliantly in Hindi as in English. Does that help?

I take pride in both my Indian heritage and Canadian upbringing, and I bring that out in my music. I combine western and Indian styles when I sing. I think it makes me unique, and being different can help propel you in the Hindi film industry.

Vishal-Shekhar (Chennai Express) and now A.R. Rahman (Highway). They have very different approaches to making music…

I can share the experience I had working with each of them. With Chennai Express, the song was already produced. I simply had to learn my lines and deliver them and it was amazing to have Vishal guide me throughout. For Highway, the songs were being created as I sang them. It was a dynamic process and the song kept changing as we recorded it. This was the major difference.

You are trying to make it as a singer in Canada and in India. What are the challenges?

There is limited scope for a Hindi-language singer in Canada. I never really pursued singing as a full-time career in Canada. In terms of live performances, events there only happen on weekends, and there are fewer opportunities to perform than there are in India. Most singers in Canada have a day job and only sing part-time. Similarly, I only sang part-time while I completed my studies. Once I started putting material online, I realised most of my fan following was in India, and so that’s where I should be exploring musical opportunities. Naturally, I came to India and took it up full-time. Despite there being much more competition here in Mumbai, there is also a lot of work to go around.

You are a Delhi-born girl who moved to Canada when you were less than a year old. What made your family move?

There were a few different reasons why my family decided to migrate to Canada. I guess it was a combination of public healthcare, the education system, and exploring new business opportunities. Despite moving to Canada, however, we’ve stayed pretty close to our roots and culture.

How much of a support has your family been about your music? My family has been my pillar throughout my music career. Without their support I wouldn’t have been able to make the progress I’ve made till date.

Did your parents ever feel that you needed to have a second career option?

Yes. My parents were quite insistent that I complete my education before pursuing music full-time. I obtained two undergraduate degrees — one in business and one in health sciences. I also did an internship at CIBC World Markets during my undergrad, so I have a solid resume in place to apply for jobs in these fields if need be.

Your dad (Deepak Gandhi) is a musician. Tell us about him and how he guides you....

My father is the biggest driving force behind my singing. An engineer by profession, he is extremely passionate about music. He played the guitar and sang in his college band in Russia, and in Canada picked up playing keyboard for popular Bollywood songs. He performs at local events across North America. Growing up hearing him rehearse and perform had a huge influence on me. He encouraged me to practice and train myself, and gave me a chance to sing at his shows. He is also a self-taught recording engineer, and he started a studio called Sargam Studio. It is a professional set-up where several musicians and singers in the Greater Toronto area come to record and produce music. Sargam Studio is also where I’ve recorded my vocals for almost all the covers, which are online. I recorded my first album (in 2005) in our studio as well. :)

How did you meet Aakash Gandhi (with whom she has worked on several tracks on YouTube)?

I reached out to him on Facebook after discovering his channel. I worked with him on a few covers before actually meeting him a few months later when he visited Toronto.

What has been the coolest thing you have done in Mumbai?

All my musical experiences have been pretty cool! Getting to meet SRK and Deepika Padukone at the Chennai Express launch, shooting for Coke Studio, recording for films –– all these things are huge highlights. Outside the music space, my coolest experience was when I went trekking in Karjat (in Maharashtra) with some friends. It’s a beautiful hike and despite being eaten alive by mosquitoes, we had a lot of fun :).

India has a vibrant independent music scene. Have you given it a thought?

I have only recently been seeing and hearing artistes on the independent scene. It is definitely a space that interests me. I have a lot of respect for Indian artistes who are keeping the non-film category alive.

Finally, any plans to move permanently to India?

Although I’ve been spending the majority of my days here over the past year, it’s too soon to say.

Who’s that girl?

  • Name: Jonita Gandhi
  • Age: 24
  • Born: New Delhi but her family left India when she was a few months old. She grew up in Toronto.
  • YouTube outing: Listen to her songs on the YouTube channel 88keystoeuphoria. Most of her recordings are with Aakash Gandhi.
  • YouTube hits: Yeh honsla (917,291 views), Pani da rang (acoustic cover, 2,746,821 views), Tum hi ho (acoustic cover, 2,205,422 views), Tujhko jo paaya (519,002 views), Someone Like You (545,480 views).
  • Bollywood moment: The title song of Chennai Express with S.P. Balasubrahmanyam and two songs in Highway –– Kahaan hoon main and Implosive Silence.

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