Having worked with Afrojack, Mood Melodies, shared a stage with Coldplay and amassed over 21 million views on her first two singles alone, it’s safe to say Ananya Birla is definitely a ‘Woman to Watch’, a title which coincidently was bestowed upon her by Forbes Asia in their ‘Women to Watch’. As well as being a chart topping artist, Ananya, has also devoted herself to charity, setting up her own mental health initiative MPower and continuing to promote women’s equality within India. We caught up with Ananya to discuss female entrepreneurs, equality and writing music…
WTYB: Your new track “Hold On” came out earlier this month and we’re loving it, take us through the song writing and production process.
Ananya Birla: When I write, it is always authentic and emotionally driven. I am inspired by my own experiences, or experiences which I hear from the people I meet around the world which resonate with me. I then work with producers and topliners on the melody and words which will help this story connect with the people who listen to my music. I am particularly inspired by love and stories of overcoming adversity.
Hold On was inspired by relationships of people close to me which have been challenged, whether it is because of sexuality, race or religion. Society often puts so much pressure on relationships and for me, it is inspiring to see how people hold on to love and overcome these pressures. I wanted to tell couples going through a difficult time to reject fear and confusion, and hold on to what they know is right for them.
WTYB: What one song do you wish you had written?
Ananya Birla: Perfect by Ed Sheeran
WTYB: Who are your favourite up and coming artists at the moment?
Ananya Birla: Sigrid continues to put out amazing work. Mood Melodies, who is the producer of ‘Hold On’ and who has become a really good friend of mine, is also from Norway and introduced me to her music a while ago. Her songs are really relatable and also have this awesome emotional punch.
WTYB: Your song “Meant to Be” topped the charts and saw you become the first Indian artist with an English single to go platinum, how do you celebrate your success?
Ananya Birla: It was such an amazing feeling. It makes me so happy to know that people are connecting with my music and enjoying it. I think it is also a sign of how much more global music is becoming. Not just in India, but around the world we are seeing what was once considered ‘foreign music’ becoming more popular. Just look at the success of Despacito.
I celebrated by doing what I love the most – heading back into the studio and working on more music. I am really excited to put out more of my work than ever this year, which I hope people enjoy as much.
WTYB: Do you think it’s important for performers to use their voice to promote equality and charitable endeavors?
Ananya Birla: Music is this beautiful, universal language that can connect with people regardless of nationality, gender, sexuality or social background. It is amazing to see artists like Demi Lovato, Kendrick Lamar, M.I.A and Lady Gaga use music to highlight social issues.
Other artists and organizations use live music to bring people together for a cause and to raise money. Ariana Grande, for example, did amazing work with her One Love concert for the victims of the Manchester bombings.
A couple of years ago, I performed at a Global Citizen event with Coldplay in Mumbai. It was an unforgettable night. Global Citizen are a wonderful organization who use concerts around the world to spur social action. It is a great example of how music can bring people together to support important causes.
I want to create music that connects with people everywhere and brings a smile to their face. There is no better feeling than when you hear that one of your songs has made even one person feel slightly better about something they are going through.
WTYB: You set up the mental health initiative called MPower, tell us a bit more about the work MPower does?
Ananya Birla: I battled against anxiety and panic attacks whilst I was at university in the UK and found it difficult to reach out for help. I was nervous that people would undermine my abilities. I witnessed first-hand the self-defeating results of putting yourself under too much pressure to succeed.
When I returned to India, the issues around addressing mental health became even more evident. My mother and I started MPower to make it easier for people to get help and to address the lack of awareness and awful stigma.
We have built a world-class care centre and we also campaign to raise awareness with big initiatives. Last year we organised a cyclathon throughout Mumbai and held a concert for over 20,000 people.
We are still in our early stages, but already we see more and more people opening up about their mental health without feeling misplaced shame.
This is a huge challenge not just in India, but around the world. Depression and suicide rates continue to rise, particularly amongst young people, and there is not enough support. We need a frank discussion about mental health at all levels of society. People who are lucky enough to have a public platform should be brave, and speak out to normalize conversations around mental health.
WTYB: You also provide a voice for women’s rights in India, what has inspired you to have such an active role in social issues?
Ananya Birla: I think it’s up to people like me, who have a voice and a public platform, to speak out and advocate for those who are frequently marginalized or ignored. My mother is really inspiring when it comes to social issues, she bought me up to believe that we should all strive to leave the world a better place than we find it. That’s why we created MPower Minds, our mental health initiative.
I truly believe that with equality, India can do and be so much more. Women are frequently socially and financially excluded, which is so damaging not just to the women themselves, but to the economy and society as a whole.
I’ve been inspired by advocacy in the entertainment industry driven by the Me Too movement. A friend of mine was harassed so I take the debate around sexism and sexual violence very personally. No woman should have to feel uncomfortable or intimidated in their place of work, in their own home, or whilst they are walking down the street. This seems like it should be common sense, a basic human right.
WTYB: As a part of this you have founded the Svatantra Microfinance, which gives loans to women entrepreneurs based in rural India, tell us why this initiative is so important?
Ananya Birla: As a female entrepreneur, I wanted to encourage other women into business because when you empower women, all of society benefits.
Svatantra provides loans to women entrepreneurs in the Indian countryside to help them grow their business and become self-sufficient. These might be women who make jewelry or clothes, or small shop owners who have often been ignored by traditional banks.
Women in India are often expected to stay at home and look after the family. Svatantra gives them the freedom to become financially independent. Financial independence is not only a source of confidence but also gives women the ability to make decisions for themselves and for their family. In a country where domestic violence is a huge issue still, this can give women the option to remove themselves from abusive circumstances.
WTYB: Finally, what can we expect from you for the rest of 2018?
Ananya Birla: My aim is to show the world that India can produce a successful, global musician. This year, I am releasing as much music as possible and committing to more live gigs and concerts around the world.