Thursday, December 6, 2012

No explanation is necessary; here is mine

I woke up to a barrage of concerned emails today after I'd made the decision to shut my Facebook fan page and YouTube page down. Some of my friends were worried about me; others thought it was their fault.

The fact is, there's nothing to worry about. I just made a decision I'd been thinking about for months, even years now.  

I have sung Hindi songs for over eight years. I've performed all over the US, and some in India. I even got audiences with three music directors, but I never pursued those avenues further. I have sung for crowds as large as 10,000. I ended up being able to move to India because of it. I'm very appreciative of all those things.

But I have come to a realization over the past few years, and that is that I can never really succeed at it. And by "succeed," I mean "meet the standards I have set for myself."

My first show was October 30, 2004. That night, I had said to myself I did not want to be known as "that white girl who sings Hindi songs." I wanted to be known as someone who sang Hindi songs well. The first is easy to achieve. The second is much more difficult. I don't want to be a parrot who sings unknown words without understanding their meaning, good at imitating but no originality. It's been done. I don't want to be a pretty face, a gori who sings Hindi songs, Carefree White Girl jaunting off to India for "adventure" and singing for the novelty factor. It's also been done. 

I have, over many years, come to the understanding that I did not grow up with these sounds in my ears, do not have extensive Indian classical training or exposure, and so the beautiful songs of yesteryear are inaccessible to me; I cannot do them justice. I can only give a mere shadow of their subtle beauty.

And to tell the truth, the more Hindi I know, the less I like the modern songs. Turns of phrase that seemed romantic at one time (tere saath jiyoon, tere saath maroon) are so incredibly cliche, and some songs are just so stupid and immature (Mere jaise laakhon mile honge tujhko piya, mujhe to mila tu hi - seriously?). Not to mention Hinglish lyrics like "Zara zara touch me touch me touch me" which have absolutely no literary merit and don't do anything for the gori stereotype I constantly have to challenge. 

I've become quite disillusioned, to say the least. By the songs themselves, by the vocal brick walls I run into, by the fact that people are so okay with my doing this just because I'm white that I don't get any sort of constructive feedback but lots of empty praise, by the fact I have sung for eight years and I still cannot solve the vocal issues I started out with. 

I had been feeling this way for a long time, but finally realized I needed to make an actual decision about what to do with these feelings when a friend Liked one of my old videos on Facebook, which made it pop up in others' feeds, and suddenly I had 39 Likes and 38 comments in the span of a few hours. My reaction was not to be happy at all, but to cry all evening and wish it would just go away. I didn't want to be associated with that three-year-old video. It was Andrea -- nay, Adriana, the one-trick pony, the party novelty, the girl dragged, protesting, over to Vishal Dadlani at a club in Delhi and being commanded to sing on cue. The person who doesn't need to improve even over three years or eight years because HOW DIFFERENT, SHE SINGS HINDI SONGS.

Those are not the standards I set for myself. I didn't want to be appreciated for being different, or for 'just trying.' I wanted to be good at it, to sing what was really in my heart. But it's a far-off goal, unreachable as long as I cling to my quotidian life, which I have never been able to let go of, nor do I think I should. I can think of many more ways to spend my waking hours than to beat my tiny wings on this particular pane of glass. I know there's another direction I can go in. Spend more time at the gym. Cook good dinners. Translate some Bengali songs. Pick up the phone and call my friends. 

You want to hear a white girl singing Indian songs who is actually good? Listen to Nicki Wells. And then close your eyes and just listen and forget she's not Indian. Because you can. 

Now, I'm not quitting singing forever. I still take Rabindrasangeet lessons - that place I fled to when the Bollywood illusion proved itself to be so. But I do that for me, on my own terms. I'm not spreading myself too thin, trying to be everything to everyone; I am concentrating on one thing and doing it for my own love of it, not for others' admiration of me. 

I am thankful to all of those who supported me along the way and am glad for all the good things in my life that have come from singing. I know those friendships and those good things don't need the excuse of my singing to exist, and those are things I hope to keep forever.


  1. Glad to hear you are still singing, even if just for yourself. If it's something you love, then that's all that matters~

    1. Thanks, Monica! I don't think it's possible for me to stop singing entirely. The pressure's off; that's the good part.

  2. Continue what you do best, Andrea :)

    Yes, the reason I do not listen to Hindi music is exactly what you have written - "Not to mention Hinglish lyrics like "Zara zara touch me touch me touch me" which have absolutely no literary merit". They are not even melodious!

    Rabindra Sangeet and other Indian Classical songs > is the way to go forward!

    Let me know if you start a new refurbished channel :)
    All the best! We are with you!

    1. Thank you Aditto :) I'll probably keep a soundcloud for collaborating and sharing a few things here and there but I just don't see the point of making youtube videos ... it sort of defeats the purpose of not being 'white girl singing indian songs' ... I would rather have only audio and have my voice judged on its own merits.

  3. Oh no! I've only heard a little but you have an amazing voice. Did your search to sing well according to your criteria really represent shifting into another culture - a desire for acceptance in another community? I wrote about this desire to move into another culture a while back with regard to language learning.

    Some of what I quoted:

    In Chapter 12 (P.217) of Dreaming in Hindi, Rich writes: ‘In the 1960s the Canadian psycholinguists Wallace Lambert and Robert Gardner had just come out with their observation that people learn languages from one of two broad motivations: either they’re doing it to make a living, or they have some compelling desire to slip into another community.’

    Rich continues: ‘Sometimes this second aspiration stems from the fact that the feel masked in their own. “Why do people want to adopt another culture?” Alice Kaplan writes. “Because there is something in their own they don’t like, that doesn’t name them.”

  4. I wanted to sing well, to my own standards, because I have never sung poorly :) I never wanted to be singled out for novelty; I wanted to be appreciated for the art I bring or not appreciated at all.

    I think that Katherine Russell Rich projects her own desires to learn Hindi here pretty well. For me, it just started as another language to sing in, like the Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, and various African languages I'd sung in from junior high choir and beyond. The only difference was that now, I focused in on one language (although I didn't really; I sang some Punjabi songs and now pretty much only sing in Bengali and English.)

    I also think the studies of the 1960s really need to be redone in light of the fact we live in a more global world fifty years on. I think there are multiple motivations for learning other languages other than "I want to make money" or "I don't have a culture, pleae give me yours." I started learning French because I thought it was beautiful, not because I didn't like English. Once I'd gotten bit by the language bug, I found it fascinating how you can really understand other ways of thinking, other cultures, other PEOPLE, through language and that is still one of my favorite things about learning other languages.


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