KOCHI: While she was in the womb, her mother played a range of songs to enrich the life shaping up inside her. From old Hindi film songs and Indian classical music to the rousing songs of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Don McLean and The Beatles, the mom who wanted her child to be a singer listened keenly to soulful music. It worked. Piya Sukanya is now a multi-genre music maker, singer, song writer and theatre artist.
“Since my parents worked with the United Nations, I lived a good part of my life abroad. But I’ve been learning classical music for 20 years,” says the Cambridge-born singer who was in the city recently.
“We were in New York till I was 16 before we moved to Florence, Italy. From then on my summers were in Allahabad, my mother’s hometown, where I learnt Hindustani music from Pandit Ramashraya Jha who is Subha Mudgal’s guru too.” Little wonder then that the music, lyrics and themes of Pia’s debut album, currently under production, are influenced by these multi-ethnic cities.
The album is being made in collaboration with lyricist Michael E Ward, arranger Philip Henderson, guitarist Sanjoy Das aka Bapi and jazz-rock musician Zubin Balaporia. “It is the voice of the modern Indian woman _ the woman who dares to dream. Every song deals with a separate theme. That was when we realised that these could well be filmed ‘coz each song has a story to tell. So we are writing a story and incorporating the songs in it,” says Pia who is penning the storyline and script of the three crore venture which will be an Indo-British coproduction.
“This way I want to connect with the audience who share my sensibilities, love my music and relate to my story in India, the US and Europe.” The turning point in Pia’s life was when as a 15-year-old, she sang at the UN General Assembly in New York concluding an international conference on ‘Violence Against Women’. “There were nearly 2000 people in the audience when I sang ‘This little light of mine.’ Before I knew it, Lebo M (of ‘Lion King’ fame) gave me musical support. When I, an impossibly shy child, was up on the dais many wondered what the outcome would be. But everything came out well. It was a special occasion for me ‘coz that was my first big performance.” In the starstudded audience was UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and Pia’s childhood icon, Julie Andrews. “It was a dream come true when Julie Andrews complimented my voice,” says Pia with a dashing smile.
Pia graduated in social anthropology from Cambridge University in 2005. But music did not take a back seat. During the course of her study, Pia took a year’s break and came to Delhi to study music under the tutelage of L K Pandit. “By then I was passionate about rock music and performed at the Great Indian Rock Festival with ‘Karmic Circle’, then one of the top bands in the country. I hadn’t told my guru about it as I was afraid of how he’d take it. But since I was the only girl to have taken part in the festival that year (2002), I emerged a favourite of the media and my guru got to know about it. Surprisingly, he took it well. The only advice he gave me was not to mix the two genres.” A whole new world of musical experience opened up to Pia in the form of theatre when she returned to Cambridge. “I got the bug for acting at Cambridge and started with playing Maria in ‘West Side Story’ at Cambridge Arts Theatre. The next three years, I studied little at the university but was associated with a lot of theatre and musicals. We also had a jazz band and a world music band. Cambridge is an amazing place to be in to develop your talent.” After graduation she auditioned for ‘Far Pavilions’. “And then came the big question, ‘What next?’ I felt Mumbai was the place to be in.” This is Pia’s third year in Mumbai. How has the city been treating her? “I had no contacts when I came here especially since I come from neither a filmi nor a musical family,” she says. Pia now plays Dorothy in the Hindi adaptation of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Ask her about her future plans and Pia says that her album is the first step towards establishing herself as a mainstream composer and performing artist. “Am thinking of doing an album in Hindi. If all goes well, you can hear me soon in Bollywood. I want to compose, sing, be associated with theatre, accumulate a lot of experience and then direct a film some day.” Will she step in front of the camera in B-town? “If I get the role of a singer, yes!” she chuckles. “I’m in Kochi to do a song with composer Sunny Viswanath.
It’s lovely working with talented folk like him.
This is the first time I’m in your city. And definitely not the last time!”