During the peak of lockdown, unlike many of her contemporaries, she refused to jump the digital concert bandwagon. For singer Sonam Kalra, it was important that the years she put into her craft were not eclipsed by the low quality in output that had become synonymous with such concerts.
“I simply did not mind the rigor that went into learning new technology. I was clear that I would not get into it unless I was satisfied with the way I sounded. How can a phone’s mike do justice to the years of riyaaz? I am glad I could decipher ways to ensure a relatively good quality for myself and my musicians after discussing the issues with experts, trial and error, and improvisation. Sometimes, being a perfectionist pays off,” she smiles.
The singer, who recently participated in a HCL Digital Concerts edition where she sang Sufi kalaams does however feel that the digital medium has opened several new possibilities not just for artists but listeners too. “In a recent concert, I had audience members from the US, the UK besides India. It was heartening to see the number of people in attendance. The reach of the medium has been a revelation.”
But of course she does miss physical performances. “I am tired of looking at my own face during a Zoom concert. Sometimes it is as bizarre as singing to the mirror. I recently did an outdoor physical concert with 50 people — it felt magical. Believe me, I sang a few songs with my mask on. I personally feel that the most important lessons are learnt when we are pushed out of our comfort zones — that is when we become better versions of ourselves.”
Adding that she envisions more outdoor concerts with social distancing as the new normal for her fraternity, Kalra said, “Considering the change in weather, I am sure people would love to listen to music under the stars. Also, now that we have realised the power of digital, physical concerts that can also be streamed live — that way you get the best of both worlds. People who are in a vulnerable state, like the elderly or those can’t come, also get to be a part of them. The future will be a blend of these two, and it will be a good confluence as it will allow us to reach a lot many more people.”
Stressing that more than the lockdown, what hurt her was the government’s apathy towards artists, Kalra feels that placing art at the bottom of non-essential items said it all. “I really want to ask the powers to be if they can imagine a world without music, cinema, television or a beautiful piece of fabric on them. Not to mention people who would insist that we should perform for free as they were ‘giving us a platform and exposure’. I mean, really…”
Kalra, a trained Hindustani classical musician who has done theatre, worked in advertising, hosted car and travel shows on BBC to eventually come back to music is known to blend multiple elements of different forms in her performances. Be it the Sufi Gospel Project or Partition: Stories of Separation which witnessed music, installation, video, theatre and performance on one stage, she feels that those willing to ‘listen’ will always get it.
“Well, I may not cater to the lowest common denominator, but let’s be clear — I came after long to my music because I realised I wanted to say something through it. I had to be more than a singer who sings nice songs. It’s paramount for me to do the stuff that leaves the audience thinking. No matter what I say, it should be a reflection of my belief system. The last thing I want is to be boxed in. Tomorrow, if I decide to rap, it’s me. I make these decisions for me because it’s my life to live, my story to tell, my truth to reveal.”