Monday, 30th October 2017

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Meet Nirmika Singh, the ‘sari-wearing rock singer’ with an Avengers: Endgame connect

You may also remember her for working with composer Clinton Cerejo and Arijit Singh in 2016 for the song Drive mein junoon

  • Published 8.05.19, 5:15 PM
  • Updated 9.05.19, 6:11 PM
  • 5 mins read
Singer. Lyricist. Poet. Meet Nirmika Singh Picture: Sukrut Kudalkar

Avengers: Endgame has muscled out competition at the box office globally and as we continue to discuss how the film has been epic at all levels, one person is having the thrill of a lifetime — Mumbai-based Nirmika Singh, who wrote the Hindi lyrics to a Marvel anthem created by A.R. Rahman. You may also remember her for working with composer Clinton Cerejo and Arijit Singh in 2016 for the song Drive mein junoon. And if you follow Rolling Stone (India), you have, of course, read her writings. Here’s what the 31-year-old told t2 before boarding a flight to attend a live taping of American Idol.

What did you have in mind while working on the lyrics for the Hindi theme song for Avengers: Endgame?

The one thing I had in mind was that the lyrics should do justice to Rahman sir’s goosebumps-inducing melody!

What did you learn from working with him?

While I have been fortunate to have met and interviewed Rahman sir a few times in the past, working with him as a lyricist was a wholly new and inspiring experience. From him, I have learnt the true meaning of ‘collaboration’ — how it has to be an open, authentic and organic process between two creative minds. Rahman sir is also a very kind and giving artiste — despite my budding, homespun artistry, he granted me the lyrical freedom to co-envision a song. And my biggest learning from him as an artiste has been to believe in your art and only aim for the best.

What’s taking you to Los Angeles to meet Lionel Richie and Katy Perry?

The invitation is from the American Idol team to attend the live taping (May 5 episode; the interview was conducted a couple of days before the taping) at the ABC studios, featuring the top six finalists. The interaction with the judges and the contestants is part of this visit.

What do the two singers mean to you?

The prospect of meeting the legendary Lionel Richie is giving me the thrills. I mean, we’re talking about a cult figure here! As I was joking about it to my friends — I can’t wait for the moment when I get to meet Lionel, extend my hand and croon a soft Hello (laughs)!

On a serious note, Lionel Richie is one of the most versatile music icons of this generation and his contribution to pop, soul, funk and R&B is matchless. I love his work with Commodores just as much his solo stuff from the Nineties, and I really can’t wait to pick his brains on the changing face of the music industry.

Katy Perry is a very special artiste — I feel she is one of the top five most impactful women music stars that broke out in the past 15 years. Beneath all her pop layering, there’s an unmistakeable, individualistic, feminist strain in her songs that excites me. Also, her eccentric, effervescent onscreen/onstage personality is just so endearing. I couldn’t be luckier to get a chance to meet her.

Do you think American Idol has run its course?

American Idol is what I call a legacy show and the thing about legacy brands is that they never have to try hard to ‘keep up’. I don’t think the show has run its course — now you might want to argue that in today’s Internet-facilitated democracy, budding artistes don’t need to look beyond YouTube and Instagram to get discovered, but I feel nothing compares to the scale and reach of being on prime-time national television. Also, to be mentored and judged by a panel of world-class artistes — that’s an opportunity of a lifetime!

Coming to writing, do you express yourself better on paper than orally? What is it about songwriting that you like most?

If I have to choose between singing and songwriting, I think I express myself better on paper. My calling is writing. But as a poet who also loves to recite, I think I can express myself better orally when I have done my best on paper.

What I love most about songwriting is the process of complete metamorphosis /birth that you get to witness: how mere words when married to a tune become a complete song. It’s also extremely gratifying to see your words, scribbled once in a tattered diary, taking a new life and assuming a new personality when sung in a tune by a great voice. That’s a high — creative drug — I would say!

Do you keep notebooks or just scribble on your phone?

Both, depending on what’s within arm’s reach the moment a thought strikes, which I must immediately write down somewhere. As much as I try hard to maintain a diary, more often than not I find my verses on the backsides of grocery receipts and laundry bills! I also sometimes write real-time on Instagram stories and post, conveniently forgetting that I have no permanent digital record of that poem, let alone physical. But I enjoy this chaotic creative spree all the same.

When you write songs, do you keep any musical instruments in mind? How do you go about it?

Unless I am composing the song myself and writing to a tune that I have worked on myself, I don’t really have to bother with knowing about the exact musical instruments per se. What I do, however, keep in mind is the overall musical arrangement of the song — a rock song commands a different lyrical treatment than, say, a song with a classical melody.

If you can share a bit about your #AurSuno project — how did it evolve and what was the idea behind it?

#AurSuno was born of an urgent need I felt to articulate some of my most vulnerable thoughts in my mother tongue. Since social media was the readily available platform, I first started posting my poems as written word/recitations on Facebook in 2018 and now do it regularly on Instagram. The project has expanded to be being a full performance act now, and I plan to launch my #AurSuno poetry videos very soon.

While on stage, you need to portray an image. What are your wardrobe options for stage vis-a-vis offstage? Any fashion trends you are enjoying?

Given the multiple roles that I have to switch between — I have had to cultivate a different visual identity for each of those parts. When I am performing with my live band, I love being the ‘sari-wearing rock singer’. Is there even a garment more flamboyant than a sari!

When I am speaking at panels or representing my journalistic side, I like to do bright, comfortable suits and blazers. For my #AurSuno gigs, I have started to go the heirloom way. Every now and then, I find myself digging into my mom’s wardrobe and picking out vintage chiffon and crepe saris, which I style with slightly offbeat blouses for my shows. It’s a lot of fun!

Offstage, and for office-wear, I prefer an easy breezy, layered look. At work, you are most likely to catch me in a bomber jacket worn over jeans and tee, with fun sneakers/boots.

Who are the new Indian musicians you are enjoying listening to?

Oh, there are just so many. From the newer lot, I really like Raghav Meattle, Pelenuo Yhome, Amrit Rao & The Madrascals, Prabh Deep, Seedhe Maut and, of course, my all-time favourites Skrat, Parvaaz, TAAQ, and so many more. Currently, I am totally digging The Koniac Net’s new album They Finally Herd Us. Also the new releases by Prabh Deep (Maya), TAAQ’s Leaders of Men.


Name: Nirmika Singh, 31

Based in: Mumbai

Education: Went to school at St. Anthony’s School (New Delhi, class of 2005), BA in Journalism at Lady Shri Ram College (New Delhi, 2005-08) and MA in political science from JNU, New Delhi (2008-10)

Album: Jhoothe (2016)

Write stuff: Drive mein junoon, Marvel Anthem (Hindi)