A master list of India's female indie and pop songwriters and composers: A guide for fans and festival programmers
This is less a column than a list. But it’s an important one.
A couple of days before Women’s Day, I read about UK music rights collection society PRS For Music’s 100 Women Changing Music chart, which listed that country’s most popular female songwriters and composers of 2019 based on the number of times their tunes had been streamed, downloaded, broadcast and performed over the last year.
It prompted me to think about whether I could come up with the names of 100 women songwriters and composers working in India’s independent and pop music industries. After including Indian-origin acts, my list comprised 110 names. (Note that unlike PRS For Music, I did not count the members of duos and groups separately.)
I knew of course that this tally was far from comprehensive. It left out, for instance, several artists from the country’s many regional-language music scenes. So I shared the list on Facebook, tagged a number of industry folk, made the post public and asked viewers to comment with the names of female performers who write their own lyrics and music. In just a few hours, I got almost 100 suggestions, which I added to an updated list, which is currently double the size of the original.
I’m not sure if some people misunderstood how it was put together but I couldn’t find writing or composing credits for more than 30 out of the vocalists whose names were proposed. In some cases, however, the singers simply hadn’t been given their due. For example, Suzanne D’Mello of a cappella ensemble RaagaTrippin’ mentioned that she’s written the English lyrics for many of the Bollywood tracks she’s sung.
There’s also a lack of adequate metadata for Indian music releases. Lyricists’ and producers’ names are missing from most audio streaming services. This information is usually provided to them by the labels or in the case of independent acts, the artists themselves so it’s a pan-industry issue.
There have been countless articles written about the reasons why there’s such a huge gender imbalance in our music industry – I’ve dedicated two previous columns to it, one each in 2018 and 2019 – so I won’t go over them again. My list was written to show the nation’s festival programmers – who frequently cite the scarcity of talent as the main reason for the paltry percentages of women in their line-ups – that there are far more female artists than perceived. Maybe they aren’t looking hard enough.
Sadly, we find ourselves at a time when we can’t say for sure if any Indian music festivals will take place this year, but that doesn’t make this list, which now has nearly 230 names, any less relevant. Given that we’ve all been left with more time on our hands during these weeks of social distancing, I recommend taking the opportunity to randomly pick an artist whose music you have never heard before and explore their repertoire.
Unsurprisingly, there are a disproportionate number of singer-songwriters but you might also discover electronic music producers, rappers, instrumentalists and even a couple of classical musicians. While a few of them have populated their YouTube channels with covers and mash-ups of other people’s tunes and just a stray original or two, the majority have at least an EP’s worth of tracks uploaded on streaming services.
The list, by its very nature, is one that will keep growing but because I had multiple requests to publish it somewhere apart from Facebook, I decided to make it the subject of my column. Here it is, with 225 names as of the end of March 2020. (For those who chance upon it in the months and years to come, know that you can see an updated version here.)
Aditi Singh Sharma
Ananya Sharma (Queendom)
Anjali Sankaran (Atlas and the Sky)
Anokha S Kumar (Ink Of Bard)
Anushka Manchanda (NUKA)
Anusha Ramasubramoney (Second Sight)
Anushree Gupta (Sukanti and Anushree)
Brecilla Dsouza (My Kind Of Blue/Queendom)
Chandana Bala Kalyan
Gouri and Aksha
GrapeGuitarBox (Teenasai Balamu)
Kavya Trehan (Mosko)
Kaysee aka Kabyashree Bora
Madhuri Jagadeesh (Moon Arra)
MC Manmeet Kaur
Mekkoh/The Vinyl Records
Naom Chhangte (Jenny and the Cinematics)
Nirali Kartik (Maati Baani)
Noush Like Sploosh*
Paloma Majumdar (Paloma and Adil)
Pavitra Chari (Shadow and Light)
Saba Azad (Madboy/Mink)
Shalini Mohan (Ginny & the Bottle)
Shireen Ghosh (Whale In The Pond)
Sreya Muthukumar (Shorthand)
Sukhmani Malik (Hari and Sukhmani)
Sukriti Kakar and Prakriti Kakar
Swapnali Raaj Sachdeva (High)
Tanushree Dwivedi (Zehen)
Tapasi Bhattacharya (Rejected Cartoons)
Tracy De Sa*
The Snake Charmer
Tipriti Kharbangar (Soulmate)
*Indian-origin artists based out of the country part or all of the time
In case you missed my last column, know that I’m maintaining a log of all the Indian independent music albums and EPs of 2020. Since I published the piece, several artists and their management teams and fans have emailed me the details of their recent and upcoming releases. The list gets longer every day – as you can see, I’m all about lists – and as a result, this time around, I’m not highlighting just one or two sets but recommending four new albums: alternative rock veterans Thermal and a Quarter’s politically-charged A World Gone Mad (it’s their eighth full-length effort including triple-CD 3 Wheels 9 Lives, making them the most prolific Indian independent band of all time); electro-jazz quartet Ape Echoes’ groove-filled Charlie Dreams of Escape; Urdu singer-songwriter Sameer Rahat’s poetic Aamad; and hard rock duo Diarchy’s headbang-inducing Splitfire. Also worth checking out are electronic music EPs by producers Arjun Vagale, Corridors, Nate08, Oceantied, Stalvart John, Yung.Raj and Zilik, each of which were put out during the past fortnight and could potentially provide a suitable soundtrack for your next Zoom party.
Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox
Updated Date: Apr 04, 2020 10:53:01 IST
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