Fresh from performing infront of a massive crowd at this years London Mela, Brit Asian artist Amar caught up with SimplyBhangra.com to discuss her journey throughout the music scene.
You are the daughter of the legendary Mangal Singh of Chirag Pehchan, I’m sure many of our older readers will know exactly who they are. How was it growing up on the vibrant live Bhangra music circuit?
Amar: It was very exciting!! Which little girl wouldn’t be excited over having a famous dad? I remember sometimes going to the gigs at the old ‘Dome’ in Birmingham with my parents when my dad had gigs there. I would always fall asleep in the changing rooms before he went on stage! I also had a lot of Uncles - the group members - and there was always a party atmosphere in our house with rehearsals going on, and people coming round to see my Dad.
Was music in the blood so to speak? Were you encouraged to go into music at a young age? Or is it something you picked up?
Amar: It was definitely encouraged. But that was because I had it in me I think. My Dad would have me sit next to him on the floor cross legged with the harmonium and make me practise with him from about the age of 5. Then when we had guests round I would be in my room, and I would hear my Dad calling me to come downstairs. I would hate it, lol, because I knew he was about to ask me to sing for the guests. So I’d come down, hide behind the sofa and sing from there. I know now, that this is because he felt really proud.
Alongside being a supremely talented vocalist, you are also a song writer. For you personally what does the song writing process entail? Do you have to be on your own, or can you pick up a pen and write wherever you are?
Amar: Wow my head has doubled in size. Thank you!! Ok, well I guess, there is no real formula to writing. I could be at home brushing my teeth and think of a lyric. Or I could be reading a book and take an inspiration from that. Or I could be in a studio and a simple sound could inspire a ‘feeling’ in me. Melodies usually come when I hear a piece of music or a sound that I like. I then piece a melody around it, sort of like a jigsaw puzzle.
You began your musical career working alongside the two stalwarts of the Asian Underground scene, Talvin Singh and Nitin Sawhney. What attracted you to the then niche Asian underground music set up?
Amar: The music was so exciting!!! When I first went to Talvin Singh’s Anokha club night in Hoxton Square as an impressionable kid, I had heard no music like this before. The voices on these songs sounded sexy, ethereal, and haunting, but the beats were tribal, hard and dangerous!! I had heard a lot of ‘fusion’ music before where people had stuck an Indian violin and tabla with a western voice for example, but this music wasn’t fusion – this was young british asian kids making music that reflected the fact that they had grown up with Bollywood and London sounds all at the same time. So I ended up meeting Talvin and we recorded ‘Jaan’ which was an amazing and very interesting collaboration of my vocals and his beats which were tabla focused but also drum n bass focused – you couldn’t quite put your finger on it! I worked with Nitin because again, I loved what he was doing, his music was daring and evocative, and he was very ‘singer’ focused so I was able to write quite easily with him
Your first solo album ‘Outside’ was released in 2000, do you feel that this album was the real foundation for your solo career?
Amar: It was the real foundation for me as a person. It was the first time I had really written and written about my life and it was the first time that I had a real input in how I wanted an album of mine to sound. I would say it’s a reflection of me back then. A teenager with normal teenage worries, and it certainly reflected the kind of music that I was getting into at the time, which was very experimental. For me, it’s like a beautiful little book or diary that I will always wrap up in gorgeous material, and pull out from time to time to reminisce, because it reminds me of that time in my life. I would say that now is the time I have really come into my own as an artiste.
You took a big hiatus after ‘Outside’, how did you manage to get signed up to Sunset Entertainment Group?
Amar: My dad used to work with a young British producer, back in the day, called Charlie Hype. He used to come to our house to drop him off after their sessions - I didn’t really speak to him much. Then one day he came round and said I must come to Philadelphia . That he had signed to a management company called Sunset. That they were the ‘big time’ lol and were working with another producer called Jim Beanz who was signed to Timbaland Productions. I almost didn’t believe him, but decided to bite the bullet and go over for a week. We ended up recording 7 demos and Sunset offered me a management contract shortly afterwards.
You featured on the platinum selling ‘Shock Value’ with the song ‘Bombay’ by Timbaland. What was the experience of being apart of such a major project?
Amar: Surreal! Imagine meeting one of the world’s biggest producers and recording a song with him…? After a long break from music…it was very surreal!! And the fact that we recorded and wrote the song at 5am in Virginia made it even more other-worldly. I was not used to this place. Jim had played my demos to Tim, and I had a call from my manager saying ‘he wants you in tonight’. I was in London at the time. So we literally booked the next flight to Philly, I got some new clothes and Jim and I headed to Virginia .
Jay Sean has been doing incredibly well across the pond, as Brit-Asian artist, do you feel artists like you and Jay Sean have opened doors and breaking down barriers for Asian artists to cross over and be accepted by the American audience?
Amar: I hope so!
Your new album ‘Show it Off’ is out soon, what can we expect from this album? What type of music vibe?
Amar: I would call it Indo-Urban. It’s a very urban album. There are influences of hiphop and rnb but then you will hear ‘oldy’ haunting Bollywood style vocals, kind of like the old Asha Bhosle influenced style…I’m singing mostly in Hindi on it – as I’d always wanted to do at least one hindi album. There are many collaborations on there too. Collaborations keep things spicy and exciting!!! It’s like going out for a meal, it’s ok going to eat alone but always better when you have company!
I hear you have collaborated with your father; Mangal Singh on your new album. How would you describe this song?
Amar: It’s a very minimal, vocal-led song. This ones produced by Charlie Hype. We wanted to keep it simple and let our voices carry it. It’s very Indian in style.
The main question, when is ‘Show It Off’ releasing?
Amar: We have no set date yet, but are looking at October. We are currently promoting the single Masala feat Jim Beanz and DOE.
The music industry can be a taxing lifestyle, the Asian music industry seems to have hit a road block here in the UK , what do you think needs to be done to take it forward?
Amar: I think people should be open to different sounds and ideas. It’s so easy to be protective over a certain sound or genre but we have to appreciate that people are growing in different ways right now with so many influences in their lives. People shouldn’t be afraid to be different.
You’ve just finished a tour of India with Jim Beanz. How receptive were the Indian music fans to your brand of music? Also do you feel India has turned a corner in terms of accepting western music at a much larger level?
Amar: Yeah, they loved us in India , we were very lucky. We’d literally walk into clubs with 3 backing tracks on CD, that was myself, Jim, and Rebel – a 3 piece RnB group from Florida . We’d jump onto stage and perform the songs with no introduction, no plan. We just wanted to see how these normal, everyday, Mumbai clubbers would react to our music. It paid off, they seemed to love the music! At the end of the day we were doing something different to the norm. I think they were also very intrigued with the different collaborations and how we gelled.
Bollywood seems to be the new Hollywood, the success of Slumdog Millionnaire and the Oscar award for AR Rahman has propelled Bollywood to even greater heights. Have you had any offers from Bollywood?
Amar: I was lucky enough to work with Sonu Nigam and Bollywood legends Shankar Ehsaan and Loy while I was out there, on 2 songs which will be featured my album. I’d love to do something for Bollywood – this is the music that I have grown up with and this was where my Dad worked for years.
You’re currently in the UK performing at the London Mela, could you ever see yourself coming back to the UK and using UK based producers for future projects?
Amar: Well I’m still based in the UK , my family are here. Yes of course, if the right relationship was formed and I met a producer that I gelled with I’d be in the studio like a flash.
Thanks for taking time out for this interview! Any final words for the readers of SimplyBhangra.com?
Amar: That’s no problem at all. Yes Readers!! Thank you so much for your support and love!!!! I sincerely hope that you are enjoying and rocking the music and I hope to continue to make you proud.