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An Indian at the Grammys

Posted March 22nd, 2021, 10:47 AM IST

An Indian at the Grammys

Nominations for a Grammy is no minute feat for any musician, but it becomes extra special if it comes for a debut album. So too, one cannot contest how special this occasion is for Priya Darshini, whose debut album Periphery has been nominated in the Best New Age Album category at the 63rd Grammy Awards 2021.

Talking about her initial reaction to the Grammy nomination, Priya says, “It was a deeply surreal experience and an incredible feeling. I was not expecting it at all. Much of this record is about those who exist on the margins of society; those who feel on the periphery. Whether it be race, caste, class, skin colour, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, there are millions of people who exist in these spaces; those who feel on the outside and isolated from those around them. This album was created to commiserate with those people, and to let them know that they are not alone, and that I see them.”

The singer, who was born in Chennai but has lived in Mumbai since she was two years old, had started studying music when she was probably around three or four years old. “My mother and grandmother were my first teachers, and then I studied Carnatic music with Bombay Lakshmi for a few years, after which I switched to studying Hindustani classical music when I was around 15 years old,” recounts Priya, who now continues to study with her guru Sunil Borgaonkar.

Music, music everywhere

But the Carnatic to Hindustani classical music shift was not enough for Priya, for now she has also expanded to studying many other forms and styles of music, including jazz and microtonal music. “There’s so much to learn, and I’m curious about them all. I’ll need many lifetimes for it,” shares the now resident of Brooklyn, New York, her excitement for both seeking knowledge and music showing through.

The genuine love for something is a miraculous saviour. Priya, who had lost her voice twice —once when she was twelve, and then again when she was nineteen — had to undergo surgery on her vocal cords both times. After several months in complete silence, she could finally move to speech and voice therapy to be able to speak and sing again. “It took me years to build my vocal strength and build the right techniques so I would never have to go through that again,” she says.

Finding her feet in the industry

Priya has worked for various genres of music creation such as ads and movies. According to her, each one of these experiences called for a completely different skill set and artistry within her. “I love the diversity in it all. I absolutely enjoy doing voiceovers, narrations, singing for movies, as well as composing and song-writing,” she says, adding how she feels blessed about having collaborated with many incredibly talented artists who play varied styles of music. Some of the collaborations (outside of her album Periphery) she has really loved are Futureman (Black Mozart Ensemble), House of Waters, Karsh Kale, Grand Tapestry, Eligh, The Epichorus.

The musician is thankful, she tells us, that the independent music industry has changed drastically over the years. “Boundaries are blurring and so are genres, and now with the Internet accessible to most, people have the autonomy to share their music online without having to depend on record labels or working within a system,” shares Priya. “Now, if your music is good — and you have a bit of luck — people will hear you. That being said, I still feel there needs to be a much larger platform for independent artists. Film music still is very insular and operates on a larger platform, owing to more funding, but I look forward to seeing more inclusive programming at venues and festivals all over the country.”

A mixed bag called 2020

Like it was for most people, the year 2020 was a difficult one for Priya too. “It has definitely been very challenging, and being far away from family, and not being able to see them — as it has been for so many around the world —has been emotionally difficult at times,” she explains.

But there’s more to the challenges 2020 posed for the musician. “As an artist, it has been especially challenging as all concerts and tours have been cancelled,” Priya elaborates. “We had no idea when we could have our jobs back. That is scary. I have the privilege to not have to struggle to put food on the table, but so many artists and others who’ve lost jobs haven’t had that privilege and I’m heartbroken for all of them.” That being said, the year 2020 did bring her recognition for her music. And she is undoubtedly grateful for that. “We released Periphery during the lockdown, and it got a nomination while we were isolating indoors,” she explains.

However, the Grammy premiere event also happened at a time when Priya couldn’t share or celebrate it in person with the people she loves. “So it’s definitely been a mixed bag of feelings,” adds Priya.
All said and done, Priya is busy with more work, writing a lot more new music! “Two more studio albums are on the way, and I can’t wait to share,” she concludes.