On Jazz Day, Seema celebrates singer, songwriter and vocal coach Samantha Noella
UNESCO officially declared April 30 as International Jazz Day in November 2011. On this day, communities and jazz fans from all around the globe get together to celebrate the history, evolution, and influence of jazz. Today, we feature Mumbai’s own jazz sensation, Samantha Noella.
Samantha Noella is a certified vocal coach, songwriter, and singer. Her repertoire includes jazz, pop, R&B, and other genres. She was featured in iconic advertisements such as “The Nescafe Ad” and “Devdas.” She also appears on the “Mr. & Mrs. Iyer” soundtrack. Samantha has collaborated with composers such as Shankar Ehsaan Loy and Arman Malik, among others.
She studied contemporary voice with professionals such as Chris Johnson, and jazz vocals with Grammy winner Peter Eldridge, Jay Clayton, and Cameron Brown. Noella is also co-founder of The Scattitude Academy of Music, where she has coached celebrities, such as Priyanka Chopra and Shraddha Kapoor. In this interview, Noella discusses her influences, rise to stardom, career moves, and more.
I began singing when I was five. The first few songs we sang were “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Mack the Knife.” I didn’t even know it was jazz at that point. My mom was a great influence on getting me on stage. My dad was also a singer.
Shirley Bassie, Anita Baker, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Ella Fitzgerald, Dianne Reeves, and Barbara Streisand. She was a huge influence in my life, and I’m glad I got to see her in concert as well.
Indian Muses of Note
A fabulous singer called Pam Green, and Louis Banks, I’m glad we had the honor to perform with him. They really set the benchmark for all of us to aspire to and be even better.
On Starting as a Chorister in Mumbai
Bandra, Mumbai, was a great platform because we got a chance to interact with many people who brought music from all over the world. We also had the opportunity to sing in church. That is really primary for a good foundation to sing with other people, to be able to harmonize. It taught me many of the basics of singing as a chorister. That was an intrinsic part of growing up because every year we would participate at St. Andrews. It taught us not just how to sing really well, but also how to do community- and team-building. It taught about how to sing as an individual and as a group and being able to hold your own. I think that’s been very important for me as an individual growing up to be an artist, an educator, and a musician.
The word jazz is a very broad term. For me, jazz is literally a free expression of who you are and how you do your take on a particular song. It’s not just about doing anything that makes no sense; it’s organized chaos.
The Jingle That Changed Everything
The turning point in my life was when I did that Nescafe jingle. It opened many doors for me and moved a lot of things around for me. Thirty people auditioned for that jingle.
The Role Indian Classical Music Played
I learned Indian classical music because I thought it would help me with my diction and fluidity as a singer. So for three years, I did Indian classical music. It allowed me to sing more freely and allowed me not to be scared of it, because initially I was quite inhibited by it. Singing has always been so important, I wanted to do it in all forms!
Performing is my way to unleash myself on stage. It’s my way of actually being able to say whatever I want to say without having to worry about it. I’m glad I did that. There was a time when I was singing not just jazz, but [other forms] with almost seven bands. So whether it was a funk band, a country band, a jazz band, or a blues setup, I was there almost twice a week. It really gave me a chance to do all kinds of music. I think that’s what brought versatility to my music. I really don’t want to be put down as just a jazz singer.
Conquering Gender Stereotypes
When I formed my band in 1996, I got a lot of flak because they were used to a male band leader. But, in my opinion, when we formed a band, it was not about being the leader. It was about playing as a unit. So, for the longest time, they would want to do the songs their own way.
I said, “There’s a reason why I stand in front of you today, and it’s because I am singing. If you choose to sing, you can lead the band however you want. But if I’m standing in front of the band, then follow me.”
I have so far released eight songs, of which six are original, and one is a cover. I’ve done a couple of collaborations. I’m so happy to get my music out there. It’s available on all digital platforms, like Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon. It’s a mix of expressions of who I am. In addition, it’s about food and my love for it. It’s about making it in the industry. And it’s about climbing up a ladder, coming out of a dark place, and still making it out. They’re all different stories. It’s about love. It’s about life. All my songs tell a different story.
Message to Aspiring Jazz Artists
Stay grounded, work hard, and practice; I think that’s the best thing you can do. Take care of your voice. Listen to your voice. If you’re a singer, without your voice you have nothing.