Neha Bhasin: ‘The Biggest Thing that Concerns Me is How Numbers are Becoming the Benchmark of Art'
RollingStone India|May 2021
The Punjabi folk/pop artist and former member of erstwhile band Viva! speaks about the politics of modern creativity, her hybrid musical trajectory, artistic rebellion in the digital age and more
Nirmika Singh and Jessica Xalxo
Punjabi folk/pop artist Neha Bhasin has had quite the storied run since Viva! disbanded in 2003. For those who experienced their teenage years in the early Noughties, India’s first all-woman pop collective bears strong memories — who could ever forget the days when “Hum Naye Geet Sunaye” played non-stop on Channel V? Now a powerful vocalist and performer par excellence, Bhasin has charted a creative path encompassing India’s varied film and independent music industries. While Bollywood and Tollywood hits like “Kuch Khaas (2008),” “Dhunki (2011),” “Swing Zara (2017),” “Chashni (2019)” and more established Bhasin as an award-winning playback singer, her parallel, independent releases quickly made one thing clear to the masses — she wasn’t going to submit to any of the industry’s stereotypical brackets.

Bhasin is one of the few talents, amongst India’s rare playback and independent musician hybrids, who has managed to carve a distinct artistic identity over the years. A mezzo-soprano leaning into her cultural roots, Bhasin is instantly recognizable by her colored hair, prismatic punk outfits, killer dance choreography and steady activism — all of which find their way into her own brand of Punjabi folk/pop. Her recent releases see her experimenting with and growing into her artistry as a lyricist and composer as well. From drawing on the delicate strains of traditional folk on “Taara” to leaning into folk/pop on the ballad “Tu Ki Jaane” and belting bold on the electro-pop anthem “Kehnde Rehnde,” Bhasin addresses love, body image, mental health, cyberbullying and more through her music, ensuring that whether you agree with her or not, she’s always making a statement.

Bhasin, who is currently a mentor on the reality series Indian Pro Music League, talks about connecting with her roots to find her sound, the numbers that dominate the Indian music industry, key milestones over her two-decade-long career, her artistic legacy and more in this interview with Rolling Stone India. Excerpts:

Your evolution as an artist from 2002 to today has been inspiring and empowering. When you look back on your glorious career, what are the biggest milestones you can identify?

When you have a career spanning 19 years, it is difficult to nail [it all] down to one aspect of your life that you would want to talk about. But definitely, the first milestone would be in 2002 when I started my career with Viva! The selection process, the first concert, I still remember [it all]… it was June 1st, 2002. After this, the second landmark was when I started to sing for the film industry, the first one being in South India, when I sang my first song for (composer) Yuvan Shankar Raja (in 2007), then I sang for the film Fashion (2008), my first album Tabaah [released] in 2010, my first single in 2012, I received my first Filmfare nomination in 2008. I think there are many such landmarks, with 2016 and 2017 being the life-changing years with my independent music taking off, me getting married (to producer Sameer Uddin), me having a camaraderie with my husband of love and music, all amounting to a lot of great memories.

Your contribution to making Punjabi folk contemporary and accessible is immense. Do you feel that returning to your roots has caused you to express more purely and uninhibitedly?

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