Jonita Gandhi left none Canadian idol rejection keeps her from finding her voice.
In 2006, in Brampton, Ont., the singer was 16 years old when she was sent home from her audition. She was told she was not an R&B singer.
A judge told her to come back when she found out what kind of singer she was. Seventeen years later, she is one of Bollywood’s greatest playback singers.
Now based in Mumbai, the Indo-Canadian singer’s voice can be heard in some of Bollywood’s biggest films such as Ae Dil Hai Mushkil And Dishoom.
Gandhi says she has been influenced by many different music genres, singers and styles. Despite her Bollywood success, she doesn’t want to limit herself to just one sound.
“I like to record anything that feels good, feels natural. Bollywood comes naturally to me because my family is from India and I grew up listening to Bollywood music,” said Gandhi.
“I just absorb all those influences now. I just like being fluid.”
Gandhi started her musical journey by recording covers in her bedroom in Brampton and posting them on YouTube. She then exploded to fame after being featured in the soundtrack for Chennai Express.
Last week, Gandhi was in Toronto to play to her hometown crowd at DESIFEST, a South Asian music festival.
Playback singers become world famous
Playback singers pre-record their performances to use in movies. Singers like AR Rahman, Shreya Ghoshal and Lata Mangeshkar have become as famous worldwide as the Bollywood actors they lip sync in movies.
In 2001, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, directed by Karan Johar, became one of the international highest grossing movies to be from Bollywood, according to The Indian Express.
The song of the movie Bole Chudiyanperformed by singers like Alka Yagnik and Udit Narayan, has been viewed more than 780 million times since it was posted on YouTube nine years ago.
Yagnik and Narayan, who both started their careers in the ’80s, have millions of listeners every month and their discographies consist of thousands of songs.
More than a singer
Last month, Gandhi performed in front of an audience of more than 125,000 at the closing ceremony of the Indian Premier League in Ahmedabad, India. That throng of cricket fans was her biggest live audience to date.
She sang a song called Sitarawhich she co-wrote with Indian rapper DIVINE.
“I was not just the singer of my melody,” said Gandhi. “It was very special to be able to represent myself in that way.”
Her singing skills don’t stop at English and Hindi. Gandhi sings in several South Asian languages including Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Gujarati, Punjabi and Kannada.
She learned to sing in those languages by listening to music. Some languages she didn’t even know existed, let alone speak them, before she moved to India.
She says the reach of Indian music worldwide, apart from Bollywood hits, amazed her the most after she joined the industry.
“I’m now reaching an audience that I probably couldn’t even have a conversation with. But they connect with me through my music,” she said.