Jonita Gandhi: On a Song

A singer who has tracks across genres including Bollywood, Sufi, Western Classical, RnB, Pop, Soft Rock and more, Jonita Gandhi has several feathers on her crowded cap. She looks back on her eventful journey to date in this tête-à-tête.

Down Memory Lane

Gandhi was born in India but raised in Canada, where her family migrated to when she was an infant. Luckily, her family recognized very early on that she was interested in the arts. 

“I would sing around the house and although I was initially extremely shy about it, my parents encouraged me to explore singing more and more as I grew up,” Gandhi says. “I always kept singing as a hobby while I went to school and studied, but eventually I took it up full time and the rest is history.” She smiles. 

It also helped that the home atmosphere was always musical as both her parents love music, which was always playing in the house. 

“My dad is a musician by hobby and has a band,” Gandhi says. “They always practiced at our house. When I was young, my dad would hear me singing and dancing around the house and realized there was probably something there that would benefit from encouragement and lessons. I was shy initially so I would only sing from behind walls where people couldn’t see me. My dad encouraged me to practice, and gave me opportunities to sing at events with his band … until, eventually, I started getting gigs of my own as well.”

Bollywood Calling

Her debut song in Bollywood came about when she met Vishal Dadlani at his studio while visiting her friend Abhishek Ghatak, a sound engineer at the Vishal-Shekhar studio at the time.

“He [Dadlani] had heard my covers on YouTube before and he asked if I would like to try a few lines on a song they were working on at the time,” Gandhi says. “My fight-or-flight instincts kicked in because I had never been in a situation like that before. I hadn’t ever recorded a scratch for a film song before. I was thrilled when I found out that my voice was being kept on the track and the “Chennai Express” title song became my first song in Bollywood, [singing] alongside the legendary S.P. Balasubramanyam sir.”

Language Matters

When she first started working in India, her Canadian accent was a bit of a barrier because people would assume that she would not be able to pronounce the lyrics.

“Thankfully I grew up in a home where Hindi and Punjabi were spoken regularly and I know the difference a slightly incorrect pronunciation can make to the meaning of the words,” Gandhi says. “I try to put in a lot of time and effort to get the sounds right in all the languages I currently sing in.” 

That is a tall order, given that she has sung in Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Malayalam, Gujarati, Bengali, and English. 

“I have performed in French, Spanish, German, and there was one time when I had to perform a song in Japanese! Whenever I’m learning a song in a language I don’t speak, I always seek help from someone who speaks the language natively to ensure my pronunciation is correct,” she says. “There have been instances where unknowingly I have mispronounced words and completely changed the meaning of sentences, but that’s all part of the learning process.” She laughs.

Music Mantra

Apart from playback singing, Gandhi has several independent songs and collaborations to her credit. She was recently featured on the Times Square New York billboard for her latest collaboration with Badshah, Yuvan Shankar Raja and Uchana Amit for the song “Top Tucker,” which has been topping the charts.

“I couldn’t get it together when I found out that my name and face were on a billboard at Times Square,” Gandhi says. “It was part of a Spotify feature for the song ‘Top Tucker’ and feels like a bucket list item got checked off in a memorable way.” 

Currently, Gandhi is working on a few originals for she is looking forward to releasing soon. 

Quiz her on what music means to her and she says, “Music to me is a lot of things. I think, above all, it is an escape. It allows me to be anyone I want, whenever I want, which is incredibly empowering.”

The pandemic has put a damper on the music industry but Gandhi has some solutions.

“Although live concert events aren’t possible, and remote studio recordings have become more common, there are still opportunities,” she says. “Of course, it is definitely not the same feeling with remote or virtual work as it would be for live engagements, but it isn’t a bad time to be in music. Now that everyone has gone online, it has given us the opportunity to build our brands online and leverage digital engagements of various sorts.”

Future Perfect

Gandhi made her debut as a judge on “Taare Zameen Par,” a music talent show for children that aired on Star Plus recently. 

“Being a mentor on ‘Taare Zameen Par’ was a really enlightening experience. I learned so much while shooting for the show, not just about the experience of reality shows, but also about myself. Sitting at the mentor’s table with Shankar Mahadevan ji and being guided through the process by him was such a blessing. The show was also a great opportunity to practice speaking in Hindi as it’s not something I do regularly. I am open to the idea of judging shows in the future.” 

She did not reveal specifics about what lies ahead in 2021 besides that she is excited by what lies ahead.

“My plan is to continue growing my audience by dabbling in lots more independent music, regional music, and mainstream music,” she says. “The sky’s the limit and there is always something cooking, so I urge all my followers to stay tuned.”

This article appears in the June issue of SEEMA Magazine, check the rest of it out here!