This is a new chapter. Old doors are closing and new ones are opening,” wrote Aaradhna about her next album in an email to The Telegraph. The 35-year-old New Zealander of Samoan and Indian descent comes across as a straight-talker in her songs, which have enough intensity to make you dance through happiness and tears. With four successful albums to her credit and glowing reviews around the world, the award-winning singer was recently on a tour of India (she was hosted by New Zealand High Commission and she performed at the multi-embassy cultural event, Namaste Pacific — co-hosted by the High Commissions of New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea — on August 30, besides performances at India International Centre and The Piano Man, Gurugram). Here’s what the Brown Girl singer told t2oS over email.
What are you most looking forward to during your stay in India?
I guess for me it will be reconnecting with my roots and reigniting childhood memories of when I came to India in the ’80s. I’m really looking forward to engaging with the public and community and I hope to form new friendships and gain more knowledge while I’m in India. I just want to take my shoes off, sit under a mango tree, take it all in and just be.
Porirua is a beautiful city you grew up in. How has that city and New Zealand in general fired your imagination?
This is where my foundation was built for me as a child. We came from a humble neighbourhood that didn’t have much but just enough. We made the most of everything, turning to creativity to boost what we had. Therefore the craft was already in motion. The memories I created with my best friends and family are something that resonates with me through life. These same memories and stories continue to inspire and motivate me. I appreciate what was, for it makes me what I am now and has helped shape my craft today.
How did you arrive on the sound and feel of your latest album, Brown Girl?
It was a chapter in my life that I was going through at the time. The music I make is always personal, I can’t sing something that is not relevant in my life. So every song you hear from me will always hold some truth and experience to it. Straight from the soul music.
Have you ever hesitated while putting yourself and experiences out there?
There were times when I was younger that I had small thoughts about being judged. But with time comes maturity and experience. You go through those thoughts when you’re younger because all you want to do is exceed expectation. Where I stand today in my career, those thoughts aren’t the same. I believe if I create with the goal being ‘I am happy with it and it feels good to my soul,’ then the thought of being judged won’t even enter your mind. You have to be happy with your own work in order to feel confident and when you’re confident in what you do, then nothing else will matter to you.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced while trying to stand up for your artistic rights?
I think the biggest challenge for me would be understanding all the ins and outs of the music business. It’s very easy to make music, but the business side of the industry is a whole different ball game. The music business has always been set up to leave the artiste with the smallest piece of the pie when it comes to being able to make money from the music you create. I mean, we’re artistes, we just want to focus on making music and singing our hearts out and that was my motto since the beginning. But I have come to realise it is very important to make sure you are not being taken advantage of when it comes to your music. Take some time to read up on how the industry works and protect the music you make. It may seem like an endless maze but give it some time and it will be rewarding to understand it all.
Your dad is from Navsari in Gujarat. What kind of music did he introduce you to and how much of India resides in you?
My dad introduced me and my siblings to a lot of Bollywood movies and obviously these movies involved a lot of singing. My fave Bollywood movie would be Darr and the whole soundtrack. My dad used to play a lot of Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan and so on. My dad is an amazing singer himself, I think if I were to say, it would be him. I was introduced to his voice first. And yes my family still has connections with India for sure.
And who were the musicians you grew up on?
The musicians I grew up on were pretty mixed. I did get a good dose of Bollywood music in my younger days and also Samoan church music, and country music thanks to my mum, but I would say I was heavily influenced by R&B music in the ’90s — Boyz II Men, SWV, Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Musiq Soulchild, Brandy, Lauryn Hill and others. Then as I got older, I started getting into a lot of old soul music such as Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Ruth Brown, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye and the likes. I am constantly evolving and am inspired on a daily basis. Lately, I have been listening to a lot of Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Shuggie Otis, Sade, Bill Withers, Prince and just a lot of instrumentals, like flute- and sitar-driven music, and guitar-driven stuff like Santo & Johnny.
With each of your four albums, the reception improved greatly. How much is it a pressure to come up with the fifth or sixth or seventh album?
To be honest, I am at a stage where I am very comfortable with where and who I am when it comes to my craft. I feel I’ve grown to understand that I am in control of what I want to give and I want to take my time in making sure I am content with each song I make for this album. I take it day by day and never rush these things. I’m trusting in the process and believe it will come out the way it is supposed to. Therefore the pressure doesn’t exist in my world.
Stories behind the songs
Lorena Bobbitt: A song I wrote about a crime story I read that I thought was very interesting. It was about a lady named Lorena Bobbitt. You might need to Google her and find out what happened — I won’t spoil it for you. I mixed the topic of infidelities with Lorena Bobbitt’s story.
Down Time: This is a song I wrote when I was 18, about a guy I was crushing on at the time. I was too shy to say anything, so I wrote everything I would say in this song.
Brown Girl: It’s a song about empowerment. Being proud of who you are and where you come from. I wrote this song in response to the racism I have experienced while growing up. I am a child of the diaspora, so I grew up being treated differently from all directions. So I wrote this song. This is me saying I am more than what you think and say. And I am here.
Great Man: Great Man is a song that celebrates the man in your life. The man that stands by you and has your back no matter what. I wrote this song because I wanted to show my appreciation to my partner.