An In-Depth Interview with The Rising Pop Singer ANANYA BIRLA On Her Newest Track with SEAN KINGSTON and A Lot More!
Rising pop sensation Ananya Birla and multi-platinum Jamaican/American hitmaker Sean Kingston and have released their highly anticipated single “Day Goes By”, out now via Universal Music/Island Records.
The infectious anthem, which premiered on Billboard, arrives with a magnetic video directed by Mike Ho (Chris Brown, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj) which sees Kingston’s trademark reggae-R’n’B fusion blend perfectly with Ananya’s unmistakeable pop vocals as the duo trade verses on seduction and infatuation.
Kingston first took the world by storm with his debut single “Beautiful Girls” back in 2009. He linked up with Ananya, the only homegrown artist to go platinum singing in English in India, when they shared the stage for his 2018 worldwide tour. Their mutual artistic admiration led them to the studio in LA for their first creative collaboration.
Co-written by Sean and Ananya and self-produced, “Day Goes By” marks one of the first major pop collaborations between a US and Indian artist.
Kingston, whose forthcoming album, “Made In Jamaica”, is set to feature Chris Brown, Tinashe and Justin Bieber, said: “It was so beautiful and easy to work with Ananya. We linked up in India and she played me a few of her records and Immediately I knew our sound together would be dope!!”
Speaking about how the single came about, Ananya added “Day Goes By is for anyone who’s lost their mind in love… It’s been brewing for a little while now: Sean and I knew we wanted to make something that captures that intoxicating feeling, and also make it super fun – something that people could dance to. When we got into the studio it all came together so quickly and organically. Sean’s an amazing collaborator and there was always such a positive vibe. I’m so excited to share it with the world!”
It has been a big year for both artists. Kingston just finished a sell-out 17 show world tour and released his latest track “Peace of Mind” in April. Ananya, who has racked up nearly 200 million streams since signing with Universal in 2016 and was recently named as one of GQ’s most influential Young Indians, dropped her debut EP “Fingerprint”in May which included the hit single “Blackout” feat Vector and WurlD. Last month, she opened for Wiz Khalifa on his India tour.
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Ananya is a singer-songwriter based between Mumbai, London and Los Angeles, and the first homegrown artist to go Platinum with an English language track in India – something she has now done five times, breaking the dominance of Bollywood music on the Indian music scene.
Since signing with Universal Music India in 2016, the self-taught santoor and guitar player, has reached over 200m combined streams and collaborated with artists such as Sean Kingston, Afrojack, Jim Beanz and Mood Melodies. She has also performed at major Indian concerts including Global Citizen, Oktoberfest and Sunburn, Asia’s biggest electronic music festival. She has plans to perform in the UK and US at the end of the year.
Ananya, who has been listed as one of GQ’s Most Influential Young Indians and one of Forbes’ Women to Watch, released her debut EP Fingerprint in May via UMG and Island Records UK.
Outside her music, Ananya is a strong believer in equality. She uses music to bring people from all backgrounds together and organizes music festivals in Mumbai to benefit the mental health organisation she founded, Mpower. Mpower was launched after she battled her own issues whilst at Oxford University and works towards dispelling the stigma associated with mental health illnesses and providing care in India where there’s been little to date.
She also promotes female empowerment through her business Svatantra which helps women entrepreneurs in rural India grow their businesses and become financially independent. Svatantra means ‘freedom’ in Hindi.
Learn more about Ananya Birla in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
I got back to Bombay from LA last week, where I was putting the final touches on my latest release – a collaboration with Sean Kingston called Day Goes By which is out today.
Now that we are more than half-way through the year, how has 2019 been treating you? What are some goals that you have for yourself this year? How close are you to reaching them?
It’s been an incredible year! I released my debut EP, got to work with some amazing and inspiring people around the world and perform at some awesome shows, I’m loving every minute. The response has been quite overwhelming!
My aim for the rest of the year is just to carry on doing what I love – making music – and hopefully making a positive difference at the same time. I’ve also been planning for a long time to move out to the US permanently to work on my music, and that dream is close to becoming a reality. I’m super excited, and so grateful for all the support I’ve received over here.
Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
Music’s always a been a massive part of my life – listening to it and making my own. It’s been a companion for me through good times and bad, and an amazing outlet for me to channel my feelings.
I knew for a long time that I wanted to be a musician…I was writing, playing instruments and singing since I was a kid, but I wasn’t always confident I could make a career of it. I guess I was really insecure about fully committing to the thing I loved more than anything, and about how people would react.
Going to the UK for college gave me the distance and perspective that I needed. I was making music and performing regularly, over time it dawned on me that it was the thing that made me happiest in the whole world. It was a leap of faith, but I am a big believer that life is too short not to pursue the thing which sparks a fire in your soul.
Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing? Would you be as fulfilled in life?
I did, yeah. At times I felt a pressure to have a more ‘normal’ career – which I think a lot of musicians feel at some point. But dedicating myself full-time to anything other than music would have made me miserable – it’s my greatest passion for sure.
I have some projects alongside my music though. Back in India I run a business called Svatantra, which means freedom in Hindi. It provides small loans to women deep in the countryside to help them grow businesses and become independent. I also founded an initiative, Mpower, which tackles the stigma around mental health and provides support to individuals who are struggling. Music is my main focus and without it I definitely wouldn’t feel fulfilled, but I love these projects too.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
I’ve been really surprised by the amount I’ve been able to explore other countries, and expose myself to other cultures through music. I have been so lucky to work with some amazing people around the world, like Sean, Afrojack, Mood Melodies over in Oslo, and also Vector and WurlD, two of the biggest artists in Nigeria, who I made ‘Blackout’ with – which was the lead single for my debut EP.
Everyone I’ve worked with has a different approach to making music and I learned so much from each of them. There is something really beautiful about bringing together different cultures with music. I really think music is the ultimate global language.
Let’s talk about your newest single “Day Goes By” with Sean Kingston? What was the inspiration for this track? How do you think it compares to your previous songs? What was it like working with Kingston on it? How did that collaboration come to be?
I met Sean last year when I opened for his tour in India. We clicked immediately – he’s such a down-to-earth guy, and so genuine! He really vibed with my sound, and we said we’d get in the studio together next time I was in LA. So, when I was over, I hit him up and pretty soon after we were making Day Goes By!
The song is about the euphoric early stages of falling in love – the intoxication, the obsession, the lust. It’s the first time I’ve done a straight, split-down-the-middle collab, and I loved the process of riffing off Sean’s sound and energy.
What did it feel like finally releasing your debut EP, “Fingerprint”? What was the process like of putting it together? Did anything surprise you about that overall process?
It felt amazing but it was a longer and tougher process than I could ever have imagined. I wanted to make sure all the songs had a similar feel and were all totally authentic to me, really capturing the emotion behind them.I had been writing consistently for like a year and we had so many songs to choose from, so that was one of the biggest challenges. On paper, putting together five songs for an EP seems pretty straightforward but I was really surprised by how long the process was getting everything together and all the work that goes on behind the scenes.
What was the inspiration for your EP’s lead song, “Blackout”? How does it compare to the other songs on this collection?
I wrote ‘Blackout’ with Angela Hunte, who also wrote one of my favourite tracks ‘Empire State of Mind’, ” -. She’s been such a mentor for me since we first met and continues to give me amazing guidance.
I’d always wanted to work on a hip-hop track but it was a totally different vibe to my other songs so it was a bit of an adjustment. I was really lucky to get to work on it with Vector and WurlD, who are two of the most talented artists on the African hip hop scene.
The song is all about chilling out, taking a step back from all of the stresses of the world and making sure we are taking time for ourselves and appreciating the things that really matter.
What does it mean to you that you have been able to be recognized in India for your songs that are in English? Do you think that was a challenge?
When I started out people said there wasn’t really a crowd for the kind of music that I wanted to make so it was a massive challenge. Some people tried to push me in directions that I wasn’t really comfortable with too so it was tough to stick to the music that I really wanted to make. They said I wasn’t Indian enough – which was really hurtful because I love India and am so proud of my culture, but because I wanted to make music that sounded different to what everyone else was doing they felt I was turning my back on my roots.
I always believed there was a market there because It was the music my friends and I had always loved. It feels awesome that people have been so positive – I still can’t believe that five of my tracks have gone platinum back home. I am so grateful to be where I am now, but there is still a long way to go.
I would love to know more about your mental health initiative, Mpower that you have in Mumbai. How did you first get involved with this?
Mpower is really close to my heart because, in my teens, I fought my own battles with depression, anxiety and panic attacks. I let it get pretty bad because I was scared to reach out for help, thinking about what people would think of me. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to get the help that I needed but it became distressingly clear to me how difficult it was for people in India to get the same support. I decided I needed to do something.
I read recently that India is the most depressed country in the world and that every 3 seconds someone attempts suicide – which is now the leading cause of death for young people back home. It’s a crisis and people won’t get the help they need, either because there’s such an awful stigma or because there just isn’t enough help available.
We’ve been trying to change that by setting up centres which provide amazing care for people who are struggling and their families. In the last 12 months, we’ve also managed to put on two music concerts which have brought together tens of thousands of people to raise awareness. We’ve made great progress, but there is still such a long way to go.
As often as I can, I try to talk about it on social media too. I did a live last week where I was just giving some tips on what to do when you are feeling low or overwhelmed – I think it helps for people to know that they are not alone when they are going through something difficult.
Where can people see you perform next? Do you plan to tour at all this summer or later in the year? What has been a favourite performance of yours so far?
I have a few things lined up for later in the year which I will be announcing soon. . I love touring more than anything, being face to face with my fans and having that interaction is the best feeling.
Every single performance is just so special in its own way, I don’t think I can choose one favourite. Right from when I was gigging in London to now performing in front of thousands of people, it’s just really surreal and I cherish both.
How do you think you have grown as a musician since you first started making music?
In just about every way possible. Developing as a musician is all about challenging yourself to step outside of your comfort zone – that is where things get super exciting. It is what I try to do with every track to ensure that I’m always growing as an artist, whilst still staying true and authentic to my own voice.
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all? What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now? What has social media done for your career so far?
It’s a struggle and I often have to get reminded to post about stuff…I don’t know if I’m very good at it, but I think the most important thing is to stay real and authentic, and balance out the glam promo shots with some real life stuff. I know through my work with Mpower – and from my own experience – that social media can have a really negative affect on mental health, particularly for young women, which is why authenticity is so important.
For me, social media isn’t a publicity tool – I use it as a way to connect with my fans. Nothing makes me happier than when a fan sends me a DM to say that they were moved by my music and that it helped them through something they were going through or just made them smile. That is what it is all about for me.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
Ooh so many! It would be a dream to work with Eminem! I really look up to artists who are who are authentic with their music and he is the best example of that. At the moment I’m listening to a ton of Khalid. I would love to do something with him.
If you had an unlimited budget and your schedule was free, what would your dream music video look like?
I am totally blown away by videos from Emil Nava and Hannah Lux Davis. If I had an unlimited budget I’d just hand it over to them because it would be a dream to work with either of them.
What has been the coolest place/TV show/commercial that you have heard a song of yours? Where would you still love to hear a future song of yours played?
HBO and a few TV series picked up my songs in India which was amazing. And last month, I heard my song on the radio when I was in a taxi in Estonia – and found out the driver was a fan! Honestly, hearing my song play on the radio will always be the best feeling!
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
If people are connecting with my music and smiling – that’s everything!