Music Press Asia: What would you like to see developed at MPower?
Ananya Birla: I would love to take Mpower across India, so that everyone feels that there is help available should they need. I’d really like open up a 24/7 help line and rehabilitation centers where people can go for a place of sanctuary; to get away from the day-to-day struggles they may be facing and experience a new environment with other people that help them feel less alone in what they are going through.
In a population of 1.4 billion Indians, where nearly 150 million people need mental health care, we have fewer than 4000 psychiatrists! Mental illness is still this massive taboo, fuelled by ignorance as well as cultural and religious prejudices. Most sufferers won’t even admit they have a problem, with fewer than 10% seeking help.
We want to continue to drive the awareness that will stamp out the stigma and carry on providing world class care for people who are discriminated against simply for having an illness. We are looking at implementing this in schools and colleges too, to get into education at a grass roots level.
MPA: India has always had such unique creative output compare to what we see the rest of the world; from modern Bollywood dance to century-old creative classics and fast-disappearing works like the Ramayana performed using traditional musical instruments. How is the modern culture embracing the old? And how does it affect your creative process as a young artist?
AB: India is a melting pot of cultures, and music has always been at its heart. Each strand of musical tradition has a history, passed down from generation-to-generation; they are so precious to our identity.
Over the years, yes some of these art forms have not received the attention that they deserve and been all-but-forgotten. With the rise of the internet and the help of streaming platforms , they are returning to the spotlight. There has actually been a recent beautiful composition of the Ramayana by Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma.
In my early years, I was trained in Indian classical music on an instrument called the santoor, which I still play today. This experience was super helpful when I began playing the guitar as a teenager, which I picked up with the help of YouTube tutorials. The guitar was great because I could play along with my favorite artists, learn about music composition, and also start to get to grips with singing at the same time as playing an instrument – which was pretty challenging at first!
There is so much amazing music coming out of India right now, in all genres – hip-hop, electro, rock – with artists producing music that should appeal on a global scale. It is really amazing to see many of these artists still incorporating classical Indian elements and sounds.
MPA: How will your latest release with Sean Kingston and new EP release differ from other singles you’ve released thus far?
AB: My first EP is out next month and is being supported by two massive labels – UMG and Island Records UK – it’s so exciting! The record is all about taking a step back from the relentlessness of the world and making sure you make the most of love – the uniquely beautiful bits and the challenges too. Each song explores love from a different perspective and looks at the diversity of emotions that we all experience.
There is one song, “Love Suicide” which is especially very close to my heart. 2018 was the year that I fell in ‘proper’ love and it was full of great moments and some not so great moments. It didn’t last, maybe I was a bit naïve, but I definitely saw that love wasn’t as straightforward or easy and perfect as we are led to believe– and I wanted to explore that in my EP.
I’m very excited to share it with everyone, it really feels like I am sharing a part of my soul with the world.
Music video “Unstoppable” features Ananya’s mother Neerja Birla, as well as iconic influencer from the world of sports, entertainment, and fashion including fellow Olympian Mary Kom, film stars Juhi Chawla and Pooja Hegde, India’s icons Aparna Popat and Sania Mirza, model Gabriella Demetriades, TV presenter Anusha Dandekar, influencer Malini Agarwal, designer Falgiuni Peacock, singers Kanika Kapoor and Sukriti Kakar and choreographer Karishma Chavan, who also directed the video.
In March 2019, Ananya released single ‘Better’ via UMG and supported by Island Records UK, produced by Grammy-nominated Mood Melodies (Jessie J, Alessia Cara, Noah Cyrus), music video directed by Tim Nackashi (Sean Paul, Dua Lipa, Maroon 5).