When you listen to singer/songwriter Maalavika Manoj aka Mali, you aren’t merely listening to another musician. Her music makes you want to confide and confront matters that bother you. One of the few musicians whose songs centre largely around mental health, Mali’s latest single ‘Absolute’ speaks about the misuse of power by the hands of the privileged that leaves the hapless suffering. Suffering that can be physical, emotional and social.
For Radio City Freedom, I caught up with the young musician who spoke candidly about how musicians can help in creating engaging conversations around mental being. Read on.
What was the foremost thought behind penning ‘Absolute’?
Mali: Absolute was written at a time where I felt powerless listening to all the injustice that people in positions of power were inflicting on the poor and less privileged.
You had written ‘Mango Showers’ in the memory of a dear musician-friend whom you had lost owing to work pressure? Do you think musicians can help a lot in ensuring dialogue around mental health?
Mali: Musicians and artists are crucial in being advocates of mental health, second only to mental health professionals. This is because of two reasons - the first is that artists are constantly battling mental health issues themselves and the second reason is that we are capable of finding creative ways to create awareness about it. Mango Showers is not only about mental health, but also about how many up-and-coming artists are more willing to take risky decisions which might jeopardize their own lives and careers. Its about seeing the signs before things get out of hand.
For fans who are reading this but are unaware about your story, how did you discover that music was your calling, despite having an illustrious corporate career ahead of you?
Mali: Music has always been a big part of my life. The only thing I debated was whether it was going to be my full-time career or a side-hustle. There are many people who manage to do music along with a day job, but I’m the kind of person who is all-or-nothing. I had to choose to commit to this as a career in order to give it my best. I’d studied business administration in the faint hope of eventually landing some high-paying corporate job, but being an artist keeps me on my toes - constantly seeking, learning and living an adventurous life, which I much prefer.
You are one of the few singer/songwriters in the country to be successfully dabbling between an independent career in music and singing for mainstream Tamil film composers including the likes of Harris Jayaraj and Anirudh Ravichander. Where do you weigh in on the fact that most indie musicians stand their ground about staying away from mainstream opportunities?
Mali: If an indie musician takes a stance on staying away from mainstream music opportunities, it either means they are making enough revenue from just their independent pursuits or they have deep pockets to begin with. As someone who’s projects are completely self-financed, I have to do a fair share of commercial projects to fuel my independent music content creation.
Since the Sweater Weather tour was cut short due to the ongoing pandemic, how do you intend to reach out to your listeners for ‘Caution To The Wind’?
Mali: The Sweater Weather tour happened well before the pandemic but was instead affected by the anti-CAA-NRC protests at the time. The pandemic has kept a lot of people at home and tuned into social media, and on-demand content, so it has been a little helpful in promoting my last two releases. That said, I have no idea when I will be able to tour with the album and so I have been thinking of staggering the release of it and giving my fans more content to engage with.
Indian singer-songwriters whose writing awe you?
Mali: Bruce Lee Mani from Thermal and a Quarter, Tejas, Short Round, Komorebi, Meera Desai, Aditi Dot, Dhruv Visvanath
Lastly, Indian bands that you’d recommend our readers to listen to?
Mali: Easy Wanderlings, The F16s, Blackstratblues, Thermal and a Quarter, Peter Cat Recording Company, Soulmate.
'Absolute' is now streaming on Radio City Freedom.