Ananya Birla took a few moments out from gigging in India to chat to us about us latest project and her career so far. Ananya, who previously studied at Oxford University, is signed to Universal Music in India and is currently working with Island Records UK.
Tell us about your latest track Better. It’s clocked up over 10million views on YouTube since the video was released a couple of weeks ago.
Better is a mood boosting, feel-good electro-pop track. It’s a song that celebrates the people who lift you up and make you better.
Like all my music, it’s really personal to my own experience. Last year taught me a lot about who you can really trust and rely on to be there for you when things get rough, and I wanted to give a shout out to those amazing people I’m lucky enough to have in my life who make me stronger.
I’m so happy people have been so positive about the song both back home and around the world.
A lot of your success has been in India so far. You’re the first star to go Platinum singing in English. How did that feel?
Totally unexpected, but amazing. It goes to show how much more excited people back home are about embracing international sounds, and that independent, non-film music is truly finding its legs.
There’s been a real breakthrough over the past few years of exciting artists working in English, like Meba Ofilia and Parekh and Singh.
There is so much undiscovered talent back home and I hope that the positive response I’ve been getting encourages other musicians in India to be less afraid of taking chances and to think internationally when they’re working on new projects. I’m a big believer that music is the ultimate global language.
What challenges have you faced in your music career so far?
I went from doing gigs around London when I was at uni in Oxford (which was amazing, even in the grungy bars where I was playing to just a few people), to being signed back in India with a massive company like Universal Music. It was an amazing opportunity which allowed me to work with so many seriously talented people, but it was also a lot of pressure! I wanted to prove that they were right to take a chance on me.
That transition is tough for every artist; you want to take your career to the next stage, but you don’t want to lose yourself in the process. But I’ve been able to find my sound over the past year which has been really rewarding. I’ll always take on feedback (it’s why I love collaborating with other artists), but at the same time I’m now more confident about vocalising what I want to express and communicate through my music.
What have you got coming up over the next few months?
A few months ago, I was performing at the same concert in Goa as Sean Kingston and we hit it off immediately. He’s such an amazing guy and so much fun. We ended up working on a track together. We are releasing that in April which is super exciting, along with my first EP. I have been working with artists all around the world, including some awesome hip hop artists from Nigeria, to put together something which I hope connects with audiences no matter who they are and where they’re from. That is the ultimate aim with my music.
Do you have any plans to tour the UK?
One of the best things about working with Island Records UK is that they are helping to make my music accessible to people in the UK. I’m holding loads of shows around India at the moment and London is next on the list!
Where do you see your career headed?
My definition of success is constantly changing, but ultimately I just want to continue to do the things I love and make a positive difference at the same time.
You started the mental health organisation Mpower – how did this come about?
Mpower is really close to my heart because I had my own battles with anxiety and panic attacks at university. It got pretty bad because I was scared to reach out for help, thinking that people would label me or undermine my abilities if I did. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to get the help that I needed but it became so clear to me how difficult it was for most people in India to get support.
I recently read that India is the most depressed country in the world and that every three seconds someone attempts suicide – which I think is now the leading cause of death for young people back home. It’s a crisis and people can’t get the help they need, either because there’s such an awful stigma engrained in our society or simply because there isn’t enough help available.
We’ve been trying to change that by setting up centres which provide holistic care for people who are struggling and their families.
I recently shared the stage at One Young World summit with two amazing female mental health campaigners, Roxie Nafousi from London and Cassie Snelgar from South Africa. We discussed the work we are doing and how we can all work together around the world to stamp out the stigma.
Can you talk a bit about your work with Svatantra helping women in rural India become financially independent?
I had experienced a lot by the age of 17 and I wanted to channel that into doing something positive, so I set up Svatantra. It is a sustainable business with a heart, which provides small loans to female entrepreneurs deep in the Indian countryside, empowering them to fulfil their potential and achieve financial independence. I believe that gender has no bearing on your abilities or talents and I want to give everyone the opportunity to live up to their potential.
Which female artists are currently playing in your headphones?
At the moment I’m really into UK artists like Mabel, Raye and Grace Carter. They’re all rocking this amazing mix of strength and tenderness which make them so relatable and inspiring at the same time. I’m also loving Dua Lipa and Sigrid.