Tina Sugandh

16 Aug

“When magazines started labeling me ‘The World’s First Bollywood Popstar,’ it really surprised me” – Tina Sugandh

You can call her Tina Sugandh or the “TablaGirl”, either way the singer-dancer is one heckuva talented diva. Not only can she sing in a number of languages but has numerous credits to her name including playing teacher to Ringo Starr of the Beatles. In her music listeners can hear hints of Rock n Roll, Bollywood, RnB and even some classical Indian music. And while she sings, she dances too. Most interesting is the mere fact that Tina keeps her roots close to her heart as she prepares herself to climb up the ladder to achieve her dreams – a Grammy and even an Oscar. With her degree in Biology in hand, she is set to take over the music world with a storm with her debut album, TablaGirl which released to much hype around the country. Lots to say and even more to do, Tina Sughandh speaks to Roshni Magazine about being a pop star and her adventures with her faithful Tabla.

Start at the beginning, how did it all begin?
I finally just released my debut album, “TablaGirl”, but the journey to my debut release actually began when I was five which is when I started performing with my family, The Sugandh Family! My mom, dad, sister, Seema, and I all sang in seven different languages and played instruments and my dad is also a hysterical mimic, comic, and MC. My parents worked at their full-time jobs during the week, and my sister and I studied very hard in school, and then every weekend we would all take off and have this magical family-bonding Bollywood weekend! After graduating with a Dean’s List Biology degree, I got my first record deal. I had to throw in the “bio degree” part for any aunties and uncles that may be reading this (laughs). That led to my songs being on soundtracks such as Around the World in 80 Days, Christmas with the Kranks, Ice Princess, Raise Your Voice, and The Clique, as well as singing the theme song for Kelly Ripa’s ABC sitcom “Hope and Faith”, and my songs on the Billboard Charts. It’s definitely been a long road with many ups and downs, but I’ve recently had many unreal experiences that I’m very grateful for. Actually, the most recent unreal experience was singing and playing on Ringo Starr’s album, and then going to Ringo’s again for lunch-which was home-cooked Indian food by the way! There is actually footage of Ringo being incredibly funny as we mess around with the table on my YouTube site.

How would you describe your music?
It’s mainstream pop with a strong Indian flare. My debut album “TablaGirl” has tons of ancient India live instruments on it as well as the typical instruments you hear on pop albums. I wanted it to have a heartfelt, organic sound even though it’s pop. In fact, a lot of people that have downloaded the album comment on how they like the fact that it sounds very rich and powerful, which means the world to me to hear since it was a very long process to get all those instruments on it – and I put my heart and soul into this album.

You’ve been given a few names: “TablaGirl” and the “World’s first Bollywood Popstar.” How do you feel when you hear these titles and does it add extra pressure or expectations on you?
The name “TablaGirl” is actually really precious to me since it was given to me by these adorable young fans when I was very young! To be perfectly honest, when magazines started labeling me “The World’s First Bollywood Popstar” it really surprised me. I am always looking towards the future and never really take the time to reflect on any of my accomplishments. No matter what I accomplish, I will always feel like “success” is yet to come. I could be sitting in my house years from now, staring at my gold records and Grammys and have an Oscar and would still be wondering when I will achieve success. So titles like this confuse me a bit, although they are obviously incredibly flattering. They definitely do not add pressure though since all I can promise is to work very hard, and to be 100% genuinely “me”, both of which I am definitely doing this year!

How did your family feel when you decided to pursue music as a profession?
I honestly thought they would object since education was always very important in our house, and I was getting straight A’s in Biology with the intention to be a doctor. Although, when I told them, they actually were fine with it only because they knew that I would graduate college with top grades, and also that I was a very sensible kid in general. Also, they knew I had the experience and that I have been on stage every weekend since I was five and experience in any field makes a huge difference. Basically, my parents have always wanted my happiness before anything, as they have always recognized that life is short and it’s important to be internally happy without worrying about societal pressure and gossip. I am so grateful and extremely blessed that I have always had a family that was 100% supportive of my happiness.

Where do you draw your musical influences from?
Everywhere! Since I grew up singing with my family in more than seven different languages, we would listen to everything from ghazals– Hari Haran, Jagjit [Singh] and Chitra [Singh] to Bhangra to Garba to Sindhi Ladaas to Bollywood soundtrack songs and much, much more. Although, during the week, I would listen to everything from soft rock, pop, heavy metal, and urban music. So there are really way too many influences to name. I think that’s why my debut album, “TablaGirl” is mainstream pop but it veers off slightly in every direction. You can hear influences of rock, hip-hop, ghazals, bhangra, and more!

You began on the Tabla and slowly moved on to a whole range of other instruments. How easy or hard is it to incorporate these instruments into your music?
It’s actually so helpful when I write songs to be able to play instruments as well as sing! If I’m finding it difficult to write a song off the Tabla, I can switch to guitar, or just vocals, or something else. For example, “Jao” came from me just sitting at my Tabla and coming up with beats that inspire me, “Bollywood Girl”  came to me from a vocal line in my head, and “You Without Me” was inspired by a chord progression on guitar that brought out emotion in me! There are probably 50 instruments that were played on this album, so incorporating the few that I play were very easy and very fulfilling!

It has taken you 3 years to finally come out with your album. Why has it taken you so long?
I wanted to make an album that’s very different than what you hear on mainstream radio so we relied a lot less on computers and went for a more organic, heartfelt sound by using tons of live Indian instruments. I went to India and brought home two crates of instruments like the Tumbi, Ghatam, Ghungharu, Damru, been, as well as the more well-known South Asian instruments such as the harmonium, Dholak, Sitar, Santoor, Bansuri, and Tabla of course. I’m so very proud of the album and I am so very grateful for everyone that has given me positive feedback after downloading it! It gives me goose bumps every time I read emails about the album, and one girl actually made me tear since she said that listening to my lyrics helps her to feel better about herself which helps her deal with a bully at school! That email meant the world to me since all I want to do is self-empower people and make them smile!

You’re a dancer, singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, and actor. What is one thing you can’t do that you wish you could?
Hmmm, fly maybe? (laughs). I don’t know! I am pretty fulfilled as far as the entertainment industry goes. I’m working towards all the things that I love doing! As for something totally unrelated to my career, I would love to play basketball like an NBA player. That would be awesome! Unfortunately, I ‘m not exactly “supermodel” height!

You also recently won an award at the Sony Entertainment Television’s South Asian Excellence Awards. How did that feel and how much extra responsibility does that put on you?
It was absolutely amazing!! I have so many exciting things going on this year, and like I said I don’t ever think I will consider myself “successful” since I’m always striving for more, so awards like this really force me to realize that maybe I am possibly doing something right! My mom used to sit me down and force me to reflect on my accomplishments since I never would think that I have done anything worthy of pride! Anyway, there’s no extra responsibility since I really am working harder than I ever have before and I really do have the best intentions and everything I do is 100% genuine reflection of who I am. That’s really all that I can offer and I truly am so grateful for those that actually do appreciate my work!

How was your Tabla session with Ringo Starr and how good of a student was he?
It was amazing and surreal of course! I got to go to Ringo’s house and sing and play Tabla on his upcoming album, and it was obviously a huge honor! I was actually invited back to his house again as a “thank you” for the album a couple weeks later! We actually had home-cooked Indian food which really blew me away. He is so wonderful and humble, and totally hysterical as well! If you are a Ringo/Beatles fan, you need to see the footage of him on my youtube channel as he is a true “star”!

How many languages do you speak and sing in? Which are you most comfortable singing in?
I’ve been performing since I was five years old in many different languages: Hindi, Sindhi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Telegu, Madrasi, Balluchi, Urdu and more. Besides English of course, I guess I would say I am most comfortable singing in Hindi since the majority of our songs were in Hindi. There is actually some Hindi here and there on my debut album, and my entire family makes appearances on the album as well!

Do you feel that Indian music or hints of it even will be accepted in America?
Absolutely! It’s just a matter of time. Actually, I’ve heard my song from the movie “Ice Princess” on the radio before and the entire opening is in Hindi! That was a proud moment for me since you don’t really hear Hindi too much on the radio yet. Although, I really feel that soon we will hear Hindi interspersed on the radio with mainstream even more! The Latin explosion was a beautiful culturally-enriching movement, and now it’s time for the “Indian explosion.”

Which Bollywood star would you like to sing for?
All of them! Actually, I did sing for Bipasha Basu, Karisma Kapoor, and more at the Zee Awards a while ago. I would actually really love to dance in a Bollywood film as a special guest. That would be lots of fun! I’ve been dancing forever and have always loved the dancing moments in Bollywood movies.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?
Husband, kids, a winter house in Mumbai, a few Grammys, a CL63amg, seriously, I could go on forever. I’m a huge dreamer! Aside from my music career, I really hope to also have a successful acting career, clothing line, and most importantly, I would love to have a biannual cancer charity that just gets bigger and bigger as the years go by, so that eventually we hold it in a huge arena and have the biggest stars on the planet performing. Although, I do charity shows now, I would really love to help others on a larger scale as my career grows.

What do you hope listeners will take away from your music?
Positivity and self-empowerment are huge inspirational themes that are prominent throughout my debut album. In general life, these two themes really inspire me and this is reflected in my lyrics. I hope that this album makes people feel good about themselves, makes them smile, and just creates positivity overall. If I can make a few people smile, then I consider that “success”!

~ Roshni M.
(August 2009)

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