Her first big break was on the Channel V television show Popstars, and Neha Bhasin became one of the five winners that made up the group from that show called Viva. Viva went on to be a huge hit with album and concert sales and for two years that was her life. Then Bollywood came calling and you have heard her outstanding vocals on songs like ‘Kuch Khaas Hai’ from Fashion, which got her a Filmfare nomination and ‘You and Me’ from Pyaar Impossible. Now, Neha Bhasin is going in a new direction and is releasing her debut Pop album, Taabah. Produced by Gaurav Dayal (Sorry Bhai), who also wrote the music, Neha’s album is unique, because it is a solo album much like they have in the West and also because non-Bollywood pop albums are not done that much in India today. With Taabah, Neha and Gaurav not only hope to revive the solo artist industry, but also they are going about it in an innovative way. Check out what Gaurav and Neha told me about the songs, their hopes, their plan and what Taabah is all about!
What started Neha on the road to making Taabah? “This is a direction I always wanted to go in, but since in India, pop music is a small industry, I just had to get to the right people and the right infrastructure to make sure that it was not at all close to my launch during Viva. Three years back Gaurav Dayal and I started writing the album Taabah. At that time we didn’t know what we were going to do with it. I think he needed to express, as an artist and I needed to express as an artist so we just got together as a team and we just started writing.”
Taabah is filled with songs inspired from Neha’s life and experiences. “The album, I would say, has shades of black and white, it is happy and somber. Taabah means destroyed, it is an Urdu word, and basically it was a time in my life where I felt out of the destruction some positive things in my life started happening. Since I am also a writer, for me music is a harmonic source of self-expression. For me it is expressing not by talking but by singing. So, whether it is ‘Apple Bottoms’ or ‘Taabah’ or whether it is any of the other songs, it is talking about expression…what I feel. Since what I feel is honest and it’s real I think most people will relate to it. Because it is not an attempt to make a song, it is just my life, which is turned into a song.”
The album has nine tracks with a mix of hip-hop, dance, house, pop and rock flavored tracks, “Since we made the album over three years and the moods and genres that we enjoyed changed, I think the album has a mixed sound. Like ‘Apple Bottoms’ is a hip-hop song, it is an absolute beat driven song with very minimalistic production. We have two rappers, Abstract Method who are Indians who have settled in America. The song is 50% Hindi and 50% English. ‘Apple Bottoms’ is a fun anthem, an uninhibited song talking about the sensuality and sexuality of a woman without preaching about it. ‘Taabah’ is a song, which talks about getting up, and living for one’s self, which is what I think, signifies the generation of today. We fall in love, but we prefer to write about love or we prefer to love ourselves. ‘Taabah’ is a pop grunge song, leaning more towards pop/rock where there are jamming guitars and slamming drums. A much more guitar oriented song with a much more aggressive vocal.”
As we said it is very rare that a musical artist in India comes out with a solo album and Gaurav says his label Beat Factory Music is taking a new path to get Neha’s album out there, “What happens in India is that Bollywood music is the most propagated; there isn’t any non-film pop industry, which doesn’t exists anymore. The reason is of course that Bollywood has the advertising marketing power. When they do films they have lots of their budget assigned to putting out TV spots and stuff like that. The only way our company, which is Beat Factory Music, is challenging all this is we are starting to get brands in.”
Their first tie-up is with Reebok India, who has made Neha their brand ambassador for their product the EasyTone shoe, Neha explained, “Yes, Reebok is worldwide and I tied up with Reebok India. They are promoting a shoe called EasyTone…which is if you wear the shoe and you walk it will give you the perfect glut muscles. We tied up with them and they have done a TV commercial with Apple Bottoms, which I think is about 30 seconds and they will be playing that on Indian channels. It is unique; usually it is quite painful to get these kinds of things together. (laughs) There was a lot of hard work that went behind these tie-ups.”
Gaurav added, “The idea is to use music as newer marketing. Like Neha’s Apple Bottoms tied-in with Reebok. The idea is okay you wear these shoes and you get apple bottoms. They loved the single and they made Neha the brand Ambassador for their new shoe Easy Tone. They have a TV ad, which is going to feature Neha. It is going to help publicize an artist who is not known back into a television and Internet publicity medium.”
As for forging this new path away from Bollywood, both Neha and Gaurav say it is all about an artist’s individual expression. “Unfortunately we are the only country in the whole world that does not have a pop industry anymore. I love the music of Bollywood and I want to be a part of it, but my only problem is that Bollywood music is not real music. What I mean by that is it is situational based so I don’t relate to it. Unless I have seen the film, I don’t enjoy the music. It is like a play, it is like watching Broadway. It is an audio/visual thing. Whereas pop music is, like I said, a harmonic source of self-expression of an artist, that is something that most people will relate too. A pop song or a rock song, it is a story within in itself; it does not need to have that storyline. I mean that is the reason Beyonce sells millions of albums and Katy Perry is so popular. It is because they are all singing about their experiences and people relate to that. I think there will come a point when people will get sick of not listening to real music, but I do also feel that artists irrespective have to stand up for themselves and be true to what they want to do whether it’s Bollywood, whether it is pop, whether it is rock. It is a little sad that being a modern country we actually don’t have that platform. I think we somehow miss out on that. It is like being taught on to wear only traditional clothes and not have the ability to wear designer wear.”
Gaurav agrees, “My dream has always been to expand on the music that artists can produce. Every time I work for a film it is usually a director’s medium. You are usually told, okay this song is good for film – this is not good. This is what the film is going into so this is what the lyrics need to be. I have been lucky that I have worked with really good directors who understand me, but I have seen other people really struggle and have a problem because directors really command and dictate exactly what they want …Make this song…Make that song. But it is not like that in any other part of the world. You know you go to the UK, you go to the US and everyone has the medium to express themselves in music. So, why doesn’t India have some of that? If I can be so bold we want to exist without the permission of Bollywood. We want to co-exist with Bollywood.”
Adding, “Music is an expression, which needs to come out in the purest form possible. It is meant to be with the artist and that is how it has always been. We are a mainstream label, we are doing mainstream music, our videos are high standard and we have budgets comparable with films. We want to be a Beyonce, we want to be a Mary J Blige, we want to be a P Diddy. Here is a new attempt to do that with a completely new strategy, which involves brands, and that is one of the UPS’s of our company.”
Neha and Gaurav not only want to take on India but also the whole world, “My dream has always been to sing internationally. Gaurav and I thought we should make the release happen in India and see what kind of response we would get and then also maybe do an English version.”
Gaurav adds, “We definitely want to cross over. We are trying to work out something with Mary J Blige. We are talking with her manager and he got really excited with Neha’s stuff. Plus with the US and Japan and everywhere looking for exotic artists that can sing in English. We have to stop thinking that if you are in India you can only make Indian music or just making Hindi music. So, Neha will also be recording an English song, which we will release in the US.”
In the end it is all about the type of music Neha wants to make, “There are avenues, which are opening up, but like I said they are slow in comparison to an American market or a European Market. But I do feel that if artists open up their mind and be a little bit more open to this I think there is definitely a better scope for this. For me at the end of the day, this is what I enjoy doing, I do definitely enjoy singing my own music because it is something that is honest.”
Check out this first video for Apple Bottoms and watch out for more on her official Youtube Channel!