At the tail of end of December 2021, Mumbai-based singer-songwriter Aditi Ramesh dropped her first music video ‘Shakti’ on YouTube. The video, directed by Mumbai-based musician, photographer and videographer Ronit Sarkar, has already bagged the Best Music Video of the Year at the The Indian Music Diaries Awards 2022 and the Rolling Stone India awards.
Co-produced by Ranchi-based rapper-producer Sumit Singh Solanki aka Tre Ess, the song dives deep into the gender imbalance of our society and the innocence of the young. The song blends elements of R&B, jazz, blues and Carnatic music to put out various messages, including some of the toxic traits of social media and how “brands, corporations and activists seek to cash in” on the individual.
In an interview with LiveWire, Ramesh speaks about the trials and tribulations the pandemic brought with it, the making of ‘Shakti’ and what she would like to tell her younger self.
You’ve stepped out of the pandemic with a great new song, plus your first music video. What did the pandemic and lockdowns do for you, creatively?
The pandemic was initially a shock to me (as with all of us). I was looking forward to touring in Turkey and the UK in 2020 and suddenly not only were those shows cancelled, so was all live music and my main source of income. With time, however, I found that the pandemic and lockdowns pushed me to expand my skill set and to slow down and make music for its own sake. I started teaching and composing music for short films and ads and both of these things really helped me grow. Most of all I started practicing vocals and piano for myself and not with a band or for a particular event as I always used to. Over the past two years I feel like my voice, sound and approach to music has completely transformed.
The ‘Shakti’ video shows us a tougher, adult Aditi talking to high-school Aditi – and clashing, too. If you had an hour to chat with your younger self, what would you want to talk about?
There are so many things, I feel like one hour would not be enough. I’d tell my younger self to be her own person and to stop measuring her self worth by an external rubric. All human beings are different and it’s important to understand the context from where other people are coming rather than comparing yourself with them or feeling antagonistic towards them. I’d tell my younger self to believe in herself more and to see clearly that her parents might not always understand her but she should still understand that their actions are coming from a place of love. Lastly, I’d tell her that it’s all going to turn out okay, so live in the moment and don’t worry so much about things.
The lyrics of ‘Shakti’ are pretty hard-edged, and it seems like they have to be (among other things) about social media. Is that so, and what are your thoughts about social media?
Social media is like a double edged sword. It’s a great entrepreneurial tool that lets you actually connect with people but it also can foster unhealthy competition, body image issues, toxic arguments and adversely impact mental health. There is a market driven image of how a person, particularly a woman, should look and social media drives this harmful standard to which seemingly one can never measure up to. It becomes further problematic for non-binary persons who are under constant societal scrutiny for their choices.
Since social media is essentially a marketplace, various entities such as brands, corporations and activists seek to cash in on this at times. Through tokenism we are reduced to our most capitalistically attractive features and used for these when it benefits various parties. This happens to all persons across the spectrum and of all nationalities, religions, castes and colours.
There is also a strong cancel culture which is dangerous and detrimental to free thought, expression and open discussion. When someone has a different point of view than we do on social media we cancel them, shout at them, and stop listening to them at all.
It’s very easy to take this stance behind a screen but if we really do want to effect change we must start to see all people as human beings and hear them out. Just because a person is being aggressive about their agenda does not mean we must also stoop to the same level and behave similarly.
What were the best and worst things about making a music video?
I think the most difficult thing about making this music video was making it on a tight budget which meant a lot of work handled by a very small group of people with hardly any time and at times having to make choices based on our funds and not the artistic vision. However, I also could say this was one of the best things too because at every point we somehow made it work and it was an amazing learning experience. I enjoyed every part of it right from sourcing costumes at the lowest possible cost to putting together friends to be the extras, painting the bulletin board backdrops the night before the shoot, learning the choreography in a week and finally the actual performance and acting in front of a camera for the first time.
By the end of the ‘Shakti’ video, you’re dressing in multiple costumes – who are the different people we’re seeing here?
I see each of these costumes as characters who represent different people across the spectrum and I conceptualised them as pairs of opposites. There is the societally feminine woman (white dress) contrasted with the non-binary person (black shirt and black veshti), the working woman (magenta pantsuit) and the housewife (sari with rubber gloves and if you zoom in close – elai sapadu earrings to signify cleaning and cooking respectively), the subaltern (blue lab coat and sari), and the affluent (the red outfit and the green top with balloon pants. Here, I had two counterparts (because I want nine characters in total) and lastly the young and the old. They appear on the lyrics, ‘There is no wrong or right, there is no dark and light, there is no day and night, there is no black or white. It’s a spectrum’. The fact that they all have the same face is meant to show that despite the differences that seek to divide us, we’re all human and we’re all the same.
Give a shout-out to anything creative or political you’re enjoying these days – books, music, memes, or important conversations with friends.
I’m presently reading Sebastian and Sons which is a brilliant book by T.M. Krishna documenting the Dalit Christian community of mrdangam makers who have been essential to Carnatic music for generations yet have always lived on the fringes of society. I also really enjoyed listening to ‘Malaika’ by the great Miriam Makeba (aka Mama Africa), which a friend recently shared with me.