Posted On 27 Feb 2018
Mathy Pillai spent her formative years in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. After turning 18 she left for New York City to pursue a Bachelor of Science at Hunter College. It was at Hunter that Mathy discovered her passion for the arts, which took her on a different path to become a world-renowned practitioner of Bharatanatyam (“BAH- ra-tha-NAH-tee-yum”), an ancient Indian
Classical Dance form. After over 20 years of performing around the globe (the U.K., India, and Hong Kong, to name a few) she founded the Kalai Aham School of Dance. Mathy is especially proud that her students will be performing at the United Nations this April.
Mathy’s life journey included working for the City of New York’s Welfare Department. She became deeply affected by the struggles of the people who came to her office for assistance. Their stories ignited an unshakable desire and mission to help those most in need—the homeless. Being a dancer, Mathy knew she could drive public awareness through art; but an ancient dance form might not be the best way to reach a wide audience with her message. Inspired by charity records such as “We Are the World”, she wrote “Love Yourself” and sang it for friends and family. After speaking to many people in the music industry about her vision, fortune smiled and she met famed producer Joe Vulpis who was so moved by the song’s message that he agreed to co- write the track and help release it as a non-profit single. “Love Yourself” and an accompanying music video (featuring Mathy’s dance students and the Sayville Dance Theater) was released on January 22nd with all proceeds going to Home for the Homeless (www.homeforthehomeless.net), a homeless aid organization started by Joe and Mathy.
Learn more about Mathy Pillai in the following All Access interview:
Thanks so much for your time! We know musicians and producers are busy people so we appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions about yourself! So where does this interview find you today?
It is my pleasure, thank you! I just had lunch and will be taking Simba, my dog, out for a walk.
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your careers? What are you most excited about for this year? What is one big goal for you in 2018?
2017 was a year of joyful surprise for me. I had no idea that by the end of it I would have written and released a charity single. It was a blessed year and I am grateful.
In 2018 I want the message of “Love Yourself” to be heard by people across the world and to see the progress made in our partnership with “Home for the Homeless”.
Growing up, did you ever think that you would write music ever and start a non-profit organization?
My background is in Indian classical dance so beautiful music has always been a part of my life. However, I never before thought I was capable of creating music myself.
I have danced for charity–and so have my students–so I know the power art has to bring positive social change. Even so, helping to start a non-profit organization was something I never imagined in my wildest dreams until now.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city has influenced them as an artist. How do you think your home has affected you and your music? I am very curious how the music of Sri Lanka influenced you?!
I am from the city of Jaffna in Sri Lanka. When I was a child, my parents would take me along with my brothers and sister to see Indian classical music performances as well as Indian pop music, which in my country were songs from films. During family gatherings, we would all sit by a huge mango tree outside our house and sing. My siblings were very good singers and I would feel self-conscious about my own voice, but everyone had to sing something so I would end up picking my favorite movie songs.
To those of us who aren’t familiar with it, can you please explain exactly what the ancient Indian Classical Dance form, Bharatanatyam is all about? How did you get started practicing it?
Bharatanatyam is an ancient dance form which originated in South India over 2,000 years ago. It comes from Hindu devotional dance and is mostly unchanged even to the present day.
As a child I had a burning desire to become a dancer but since my family was conservative I was discouraged from pursuing it. When I was 18 I left Sri Lanka and traveled to the United States for college, relocating to New York City. A few months after I arrived I saw a performance by the late Padmini Ramachandran, the most renowned Bharatanatyam dancer at the time. I sought her out after the performance and asked to be her disciple. She agreed to let me join her dance school, even though I was much older than most beginner students. Typically you start learning as a young child. From that day I dedicated my life to the art form.
What was it like starting up your Kalai Aham School of Dance? What inspired you to start it?
About 5 years after I started in dance, I travelling around to the world performing. At a performance I gave in New Delhi, India I met the famed Bharatanatyam teacher Dakshinamoorthy Pillai (no relation to myself) who asked me to study with him at the University of New Delhi so I could become an instructor myself and spread the art of Bharatanatyam in America.
After teaching Bharatanatyam in the U.S. for 10 years in with existing schools I felt inspired to start my own dance academy, “Kalai Aham”, which means “art of the soul”. I am immensely proud of my students, many of whom have become international performers and teachers themselves.
Let’s talk about your song, “Love Yourself.” What was the inspiration for it? How creatively involved were you with the process of making the music video for it? How did you decide to collaborate with the non-profit Home for the Homeless on it? Why do you think the song fits this organization so well?
The lyrics to the song started as a poem inspired by a dream I had. At the time I was having a lot of self-doubt and was not in the best place spiritually. In my dream I heard a voice tell me, “Love yourself. No one can love you more than you.” I thought it was ironic because I am always telling my kids this! I suppose it is much easier to give advice than to take your own, haha. I started writing the poem as a form of therapy and as I read it aloud a melody seemed to naturally come. I sang “Love Yourself” for friends and family, whom I am so grateful to for encouraging me to go further with it.
When I first met Joe (Vulpis) he asked me what I wanted to do with my song. I told him my vision is to use the song to help those most in need and impact their lives in a meaningful way. Together we came up with the idea to start the organization Home for the Homeless.
“Love Yourself” is about the universal message of caring for oneself, even if it seems like the world is not on your side. Those who deal with homelessness struggle every day for things most of us take for granted such as food, shelter, and clean clothes. Under such hardship it can be easy to lose hope and feel alone. We wanted the mission of “Home for the Homeless” to mirror the song’s message and provide assistance and a safe space so that people can uplift themselves.
What was it like meeting the famed producer Joe Vulpis and then working with him on “Love Yourself”?
This is a bit embarrassing, but at the time I met Joe I was not really familiar with American music. I had heard that he worked with famous artists such as Lady Gaga but I didn’t fully understand what that meant. Once we started working together on “Love Yourself” I was amazed by his incredible talent and ear for music. Collaborating with Joe is one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had as an artist.
Do you have any plans to release anymore music? Have you worked with Joe Vulpis on anything else new lately?
Yes, Joe and are working on a new track that I can’t really say much about yet. We are really excited about it and can’t wait to share it with the world.
We are living in a crazy and at times rough world right now so I am curious how you think being an artist gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that your new music is going to reflect these
Now more than ever we need to remind ourselves that we are put on this earth to help others. There are a lot of loud voices these days that seem more concerned with separating people for their differences rather than bringing humanity together. Music is a universal language that transcends cultures so it does bring me great joy to be able to communicate this way.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about yourself or your music with our readers?
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story and for taking time out of your lives to read this.