BizAsia talks to Jonita Gandhi ahead of ‘Absolute Bollywood Live’ (London)

Amrita Tanna

Senior Editor


Even in this day and age, it’s hard for people who love music and are talented to be noticed. Many use different tactics and ways of coming under the radar of well-known industry greats. Jonita Gandhi is one such talented singer who started off showcasing her talent on YouTube. She is now touring the world with the likes of Sonu Nigam and AR Rahman and has also lent her vocals to movie soundtracks. Gandhi is headlining for the first time with popular playback singer Ash King this coming weekend at London’s Eventim Apollo to mark 50 Years of Bollywood.

BizAsia had a short t̻te-��-t̻te��with Gandhi ahead of the event.

Jonita Gandhi

You have followers from across the globe who are familiar with your videos and music through YouTube. What made you start off like that and put your voice out there in this way?

I think everybody was doing it, I guess. It was an easy way to get honest feedback from people because everybody online put up really honest comments. ��I saw that there were a lot of covers being made by people in the west but there weren’t that many covers by Indian artistes. ��Then I came across the work of Akash Gandhi and once I saw his stuff, I noticed that he’s doing a lot of the songs that I really like so I messaged him and said let’s collab. ��I had already done a few videos on my own channel, the latest one I had done was ‘Yeh Hosla’ and then he said let’s do that song. ��From there on, we got a lot of views and we kept going.

How did your first step into Bollywood come about with ‘Chennai Express’ (2013)?

I did this tour with Sonu Nigam in 2012 and then 2013 is when I decided, in the beginning of the year, that I would go to India for a few months and see what happens. ��I started networking with engineers and sending my work out to people there, I visited Vishal-Shekhar’s studio to meet an engineer, his name is Abhishek Ghatak, Vishal was there and he had seen my stuff on YouTube before that so he kind of knew who I was and he said ‘do you want to try a scratch right now?’ and I was like ‘yeah!’ so he put me in the studio, and the song was pretty much done, it was a male song but the producers maybe wanted a female section in it ��so he was like, ‘I’ll add a female verse’ and the whole get on the train��hook��he also thought of while I was there and then it just kind of worked I guess. ��I found out a few months later that my voice was staying (in the song) and I was like wow.

You accompanied AR Rahman in his London O2 concert in August. ��It was a concert that happened on Indian Independence Day, which was brilliant in itself, but what was it like performing to such a massive audience?

It was actually unreal. ��I hadn’t done too many of his large scale concerts. ��I did a whole tour with him this summer, which was mostly intimate concerts in auditoriums, so this was like putting that show on a much bigger stage with a much bigger audience. ��Performing at the O2 itself was a milestone for me, I don’t think I’ll forget it. ��The whole experience was amazing. ��There was a song that he sang, ‘Mahi Ve’, where he asked the audience to pull out their songs to put the flashlights on; all the photos from that were wow, it makes you realise how many people were there. ��It was packed, I think it was sold out. ��Incredible experience.

You said you’ve been performing to so many well-known artistes and at their concerts, you’ve even had praise from the legendary Amitabh Bachchan, and a lot of other people in the industry. ��Do you sometimes have to pinch yourself that this is actually happening?

Yes. ��I don’t know. ��I think when things happen I don’t realise and then randomly, afterwards, I’ll look back and be like, ‘wow did that really happen?’ ��In the moment, you’re just stressed out about performing, referring to the Rahman concert or whenever I get to perform with epic people, in the moment you’re just focusing on performing really well and working hard and all that. ��You don’t really absorb the experience until afterwards. ��With A. R. Rahman, every time I feel a little more star-struck. ��It’s weird, even though I’ve done a whole tour with him now. ��I’m a huge fan of his.

Ash King & Jonita Gandhi
Ash King & Jonita Gandhi

You’re coming for your concert, ��50 Years of Bollywood�۪, with Ash King and we’re sure the music will include a lot of classics. ��Would you like to give a bit of an outline or any of the songs or particular melodies you’re going to be singing?

It’s going to be a jam-packed show. ��There’s I think like 88 songs on the list. ��I don’t think I’ve ever done a show with that many songs in it. ��We’re covering the decades as best as we can, trying to include all the classics. I’m sure that everyone will know all the songs and they’re going to be dancing and singing along. ��It’s going to be really exciting, it’s going to be like a big production, there’s going to be dancers and singing. ��It’s the first time I’m doing something like this in London. ��It’s the first time I’m headlining a concert in London, so I’m really excited about that. ��It’s such a beautiful venue, it’s going to be really exciting. ��I’m super nervous but super excited.

What is your favourite era? ��You’re doing give different decades at the concert but what would you say on a personal level?

I hate these questions. ��(Laughs) I can’t really pick.

Do you have any particular songs in the 88 (songs on the list for the concert) that you’ve always wanted to sing live but haven’t done so yet?

I think there’s a lot of earlier songs, from the Lata Mangeshkar-Mohammed Rafi era, Kishore Kumar, that are going to be the most hard-hitting… So it’s that end of it and then the current end of it as well, both ends of the show (of the 50 years) are my favourite. ��I can’t say. ��The 90’s too, everything in between. ��Me and Ash (King) are a part of the current generation of Bollywood songs, so I don’t know.

I think both you and Ash (King) will come together really well. ��Both of you have a classical feel to your voices as well so it will be beautiful.

Me and Ash actually perform together a lot and I think it’s because we’re able to cover a lot of different genres, so it’s perfect for this kind of show. We can do the classic, semi-classical stuff and we can also do western, pop and whatever music is going on in the industry today. ��So we’re trying to span those years well with the kind of singing we do so I think it’ll work.

Is there anyone in the current generation that you haven’t worked with, singing-wise, who you really want to work with?

There are a lot of people, like Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. ��I haven’t worked with them and I’m a huge fan of their work. I’m working with a lot of new guys right now, who are not so well-known but there is so much amazing talent and now the industry is opening up so it’s like everyone is working with everybody and there are a lot of albums coming out that have multi-composers. You know how it used to be where one album would completely be composed by a Vishal-Shekhar or Pritam or someone, now there’ll be one or two songs by a certain composer and one or two songs by a new guy. ��There’s a lot of people who are new that I love working with.

What can we expect from you next, Bollywood-wise, aside from the concerts? You’ve done a little bit of playback singing, is there anything to come that we can look forward to?

I have recorded a few more songs. I don’t know for sure if they’re going to be out because that’s the way the industry works – you don’t know until it’s out, but I have recorded some more songs. ��I had one just come out a few days ago and there’s going to be a few more coming out hopefully by the end of the year or early next year. I hope it works out.

Jonita Gandhi and Ash King will be marking 50 Years of Bollywood at the Eventim Apollo in London on Sunday 22nd November. Keep checking BizAsia for more.