When did you start singing? Any memories of earlier days?
I started singing around the house before I could even speak fluently. I love music and it was really clear that I was musically inclined from a very young age. My first stage performance was at a Christmas party with my Dad’s band when I was seven years old. I was really nervous, but I think my mom was even more nervous than me… we have a video as proof.

Would you like to share your childhood memories from Toronto and Brampton?
There are so many I don’t know where to start! I spent most of my childhood in part of the Toronto area called Malton, and later moved to Brampton for high school. My greatest memories of my childhood were great times spent with family. I loved going to the community swimming pool on weekends, going ice skating in the winter, and having musical picnics in the park with extended family!

When and how did you realise that this is what you want to do?
When I was a teenager I used to write about Bollywood and being famous in my diary. I didn’t know then that it could be possible. But I think I always knew that singing was going to be a big part of my life. Gigging was like a part time job for me. It wasn’t until I was finished university and secured a viable “backup plan” that I decided to consider singing as a professional career. Education is really important to me so getting a degree and having a solid option to fall back on in case singing didn’t work out was a personal requirement. I’m happy things worked out the way they did!

In your debut film “Chennai Express” you got a chance to sing with late legend S.P. Balasubrahmanyam. How was the experience?
I feel so blessed that my first film song was alongside such a legendary voice as SPB sir. I’m his huge fan and grew up listening to his iconic voice. I believe the title track of Chennai Express was meant to be a male solo initially, but fate had it that I was in the right place at the right time and was given the opportunity to try out a few lines for the song. I hadn’t met SPB sir until years later, but it was such a humbling moment when I did.

How did you develop interest in singing Tamil songs? Was it difficult to pronounce certain words?
When I first started singing in Tamil, I learned a lot of new sounds that I hadn’t ever tried before. I took a phonetic approach to learning the sounds, like I do when I’m learning the pronunciation for any language. I created a sort of legend that helped me identify the pronunciation of certain sounds. It’s a beautiful language and the songs that I have sung and learned in Tamil often have very complex or emotional compositions.

During this lockdown Chellamma song has created a positive vibe among South audience. Do share some memorable moments of the making of the video.
When I got the call to record Chellamma, I was at home in Canada. Thankfully I have a full recording setup at home and was able to do. The turnaround time was so fast! At first when Anirudh sent me the mix of the track he was telling me the idea of dressing up in traditional wear, I thought it was a great idea but I also thought he was joking. Turns out he wasn’t, but it was such a great idea! My family helped set up for the shoot, my mom helped me with the saree tie. We shot overnight because there were only a couple of days to deliver the masters for release. I had so much fun emoting along to the song and I think the final video turned out amazing. I’ve seen a lot of videos of people replicating our looks and actions in the song, so I guess the audience loved it!

You started your career as a YouTuber and you’re now a popular singer. Who are your recent favourite YouTube singers?
Recently, I found Emma Heesters to be doing an amazing job. She’s been consistently recreating Hindi songs on her own in a unique way, and she’s a great singer too!

What are the hurdles you had to face to reach where you are today?
When I first came to India to test the waters at a professional career in singing, I had no connections. The city was new to me and I had to rely solely on hard work. All I had at the time was my talent and social media as a tool. It was tricky dealing with the culture shock of living in a new country, away from my family and on my own. One of the biggest hurdles I faced especially at the beginning of my career was due to my Canadian accent. Many would assume that I couldn’t pronounce Hindi words correctly just because I’m from Canada. They would often hear me speak before hearing me sing and make that assumption. I’m grateful to be singing in multiple languages for playback and in live performances.

Please share some of the highpoints of your journey?
Where do I begin? Working with AR Rahman so early in my career was almost equivalent to a miracle in my books. Having the opportunity to perform with Carlos Santana was something I never even imagined. Being able to tour the world to perform and shoot music videos, doing the thing I love most as a job in it is a high point.

It’s not easy the way we women juggle around so many things- our work, homes, families, social lives, fitness etc. Some tips on how you balance it all so beautifully?
For me I think stress management and time management are key factors in being able to balance everything. Time management is something I’ve been consciously been working on even since childhood. I’ve grown up as someone who has always been involved in many things at once, balancing studies, extracurricular activities, family commitments, community engagements and music, which trickled down through all of those things. It does get hard at times, and can often be tiring, but that comes with being human I guess and all we can do is try our best.

What is in the pipeline in terms of your work currently?
I’m currently working on a few original singles, and there are some film songs and content for my YouTube channel in the works as well. Stay tuned to my social media channels to find out more about what I’m working on and when you’ll be able to hear it!

If you get a chance to say “thanks” and “sorry” to someone, who would it be?
My parents, there are so many things that our parents do for us. Sometimes we don’t explicitly take the time to thank them for everything they do. There are many things that I reflect on especially now that I live alone and I have a lot of time to miss my parents because I’m not with them every day. I often think to myself about missed opportunities to show them how much I love them. I reflect on what I could have done better as a daughter and I would want to say ‘sorry’ to them for taking things for granted.

On this Women’s day special edition what you would like to tell the other women around you?
Women are resilient. They’re fascinating creatures. Although there is a growing equality in the roles and of men and women in society, women are historically known to take on so many different roles and their sense of compassion and emotional intelligence tend to be elevated. I want to shout out to every woman out there – you are all amazing, whether you know it or not!!! We all need to support each other and be the change we need to see in this world.

— By Vinitha Venkatesha