Emerging Artist Vidya Vox Talks Fusing Indian Sounds with Western Pop Music

VidyaVox
Jermaine Saunders

VidyaVox

Vidya Vox is on the verge of releasing her new EP 'Kuthu Fire.'

Growing up as an Indian in America, Vidya Vox was living two separate lives. She spent her days trying to fit in with her classmates, listening to American pop stars, but behind closed doors she was eating dosas, singing Carnatic music, and celebrating all things Bollywood. After heading to college at George Washington University, where she was on track for a career in medicine, the first-generation Indian-American found her voice. It was there that Vox teamed up with American clarinetist and composer, Shankar Tucker, and began creating mashups, fusing popular Western tunes like Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” with traditional music from India.

Since launching her YouTube page in 2015, Vox's videos have garnered over 400 million views. Her tracks like “Closer/Kabira” began circulating the web, and soon earned her 3.3 million page subscribers. Vox’s fans tune in from all across the globe to watch her bi-monthly video mashups and are celebrating her recent venture into original music with tunes such as “Be Free,” which she has artfully fused with Malayalam folk song “Pallivaalu.” The track is one of six that is included on her debut EP, Kuthu Fire, which drops today (Aug. 18).

Billboard talked with Vox about bringing Indian music to the masses, the process behind her eclectic mashups, and what we can expect with her debut endeavor.

Billboard: How did you get started making music?

Vox: I have been learning Indian classical music since I was 5. My mom put my sister and I in singing lessons when we were kids. We grew up singing at various events and functions, for friends and at home. During college, I collaborated with another YouTuber and musician, Shankar Tucker. He told me, “You can do music on YouTube and it’s a viable way to put out your songs” and it worked out. I was actually going for the pre-medicine track and studying for my MCATs and then I decided to follow my passion, which was music. So I moved to India after college to re-immerse myself in Indian music. And then two years later, I moved back and I started my first music video in 2015.

Your music incorporates elements of traditional Indian music into modern electronic and hip-hop. How did you develop your sound?

It was influenced by how I was brought up. At home, I would be singing Indian music and watching Indian movies and listening to Indian music. But then I’d also be listening to Destiny’s Child and eating pizza. It was two separate worlds. I always felt the need to find a harmony between the two. I always thought if I could bring some of my culture in with modern music that it would be amazing. It was not cool to be Indian in school. Kids would make fun of my lunch and things like that. Even thought I really loved Indian music, I always felt like I could never show this to other people and it always used to kill me a little bit inside. The second I went to college, I took a stand. I joined an Indian dance team there and I got involved in the student organizations that really helped me be more proud of it. I think it’s really important to remember where we came from. I want to bring that to other people. Some of the Indian instruments and that art is so ancient. It’s so beautiful and it’s so old and if people can get some exposure to that, I think that would be great. Music has been my way of expressing what I’ve been feeling. It’s very natural for me to sing in English and have a tabla in an arrangement, to have hip-hop beats but sing in Tamil. It’s very niche but I love doing it.

You’ve really made a name for yourself with your mashups. What is the process of creating those like?

It’s actually quite technical. People think that Indian music and western music aren’t that similar but they actually have quite a lot of common ground. You just have to look for the right scale and you have to look if the tempos can be matched up. I look for a song where it’s not super important that the tempo stays the same as the original so it doesn’t change the feeling of the song in any way. It takes a lot of time. When Shankar and I sit in the studio and do a demo, there have been many mashups that we have come up with that haven’t worked. But I’m getting faster at recognizing them. It needs to work immediately. It’s a fun puzzle. I always do a video that I like. I don’t feel like I have to do the latest cover song or a radio hit. The popularity of the song is not important to me.

What can we expect from your new EP, Kuthu Fire?

Lately, we’ve been writing our own English songs to mash it up with an Indian song that already exists. The EP is six tracks, all in English except for one song, “Be Free” and that’s a South Indian folk song. That’s all in English but with influences of hip-hop and electronic music and arrangements of tabla with Indian instrumentation. Shankar and I wrote it all. We really like taking folk influences from India and adding that to our own English songs and lyrics.

What percentage of your fan base is in India?

Right now it’s 50%, maybe a little bit more. The demographics change quite often. It used to be almost 70% India but now it’s more spread out. Come second I think is U.K. and then U.S. One time, Mauritius was my second country, Trinidad was my second country. It really depends on where I’m having concerts. I will see the demographics switch depend on where I am going. I think it’s great that I’m able to connect with other countries and other cultures. And I also hope that Indian people can stay connected to it as well. I think this is something that is very different for them. It’s very out of the norm of the Bollywood music that exists right now.

Speaking of Bollywood, what are your thoughts on Apple being in discussions to potentially buy Bollywood film distributor Eros?

There is amazing content in Bollywood that is being made and there is a lot of it. Bollywood makes the most films out of any film industry in the world. If Eros is selling their rights to Apple, I think that’s great. I think it will close the gap a little bit more. I want more people to watch Bollywood films. It’s something that I grew up watching. It’s just so fun. it’s such a celebration!

What do you have planned for your upcoming fall tour?

I’m really excited about that. We’ve been working on it since May. It starts in South Africa in September. There are some dates in the U.S. like Dallas and on the East Coast and then it goes into India and Mauritius, so everywhere. We do have to do some of our covers and mashups but it’s going to be mainly our original music, which Shankar and I have been working on. So there are these six songs on the EP but we actually wrote a lot more than that to go with our tour. And we have the dancers with different props. I’m also going to be trying to dance and sing at the same time. I’ve been rehearsing like crazy.

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