Mana Dhanraj Spills The Beans On Her Eccentric Band, Her Music School MELA And All That Jazz
- IWB Post
- June 29, 2019
Ever listened to a voice so sonorous that it flows with the sound of instruments in an alchemy where it appears that there is no saturation point between the sound of metallic strings and the singer’s voice? It is like the two coexist and sweep through your soul in a perfect harmony. That is exactly how Mana Dhanraj’s voice appeals to me.
To get a taste of what I am implying here, you should listen to the song ‘Mallika’ by Chandbibi & The Waste Candidates.
Here is a video of the song:
Vocals: Mana D Contractor Guitar: Sidhant Jain Bass & backing vocals: Kavita Kannan Drums & backing vocals: Navneet Rao Arranged by Chandbibi & The Waste Candidates Mixed & mastered by Navneet Rao Executive Producer – Sumesh lal Direction – Ajan RS Production – Sujith Unnithan DOP – Vipin Chandran Camera – Viju, Ranjith, Manu, Sarath, Vishnu, Mahesh SR, Aneesh CS Editor – Jobin Sebastian, Alby Nataraj, Janson Paul Associate producer – Hari Krishnan Sound – Melody Recording Engineer – Prasanth Valsaji Sound Engineer – Suhail Lights – Gowri Vision A Mathrubhumi Kappa TV Production.
Chandbibi & The Waste Candidates is the band formed in 2013 by Mana and three other musicians who met at music school. The band went on to concoct music so fresh that it should now be used in toothpaste advertisements. (Do not judge my old school soul for that expression as I try to incorporate Mana’s cool aesthetics and all that Jazz into my writing.)
Mana is the co-founder of Music Education and Life Arts (MELA) in Bengaluru and aims to bring about an innovative, structured and creative learning environment for music and theater through the school. “At Mela, music and theater transcend being mere hobbies. Students learn to use the creative arts as life tools that help with focus, discipline and imaginative thinking.”
Here are excerpts from an interview with Mana:
The name of your band sounds quite intriguing. Can you please decode it for us?
Unfortunately, there isn’t much to decode. It was one of those late night conversations that turned into a band name.
Tell me about the construction of your band, as in the sex ratio and who does what.
There are four of us. Two women and two men. ‘Chandbibi’ has always been and always will be part of my closest family. We had a very special connection and the music came together effortlessly. We put out an album we are all still very proud of and unfortunately have drifted apart to pursue music further. Who knows maybe there will be something later!
Please give us a visual picture of your classroom.
My classroom is a very intimate space as the idea behind MELA is to give each student personal attention. All our classes are one on one and we intersperse them with group theory classes once a month. I teach students between the ages of 5-50 and I love every second of it!
Who are the teachers? How many of them are there in total?
We currently have 10 teachers and over a hundred students. My partner Karishma and I are in the fortunate position where we have been blessed with an amazing set of people/musicians who work with us. We are still very young as a school and are constantly learning and striving to grow. Our teachers have been with us every step of the way, from the attention they give our students to helping us with logistics and administrative work.
What would be the one advice that you would always give to your girl students?
Sit straight and listen before you sing! I treat my students equally. Learning environments can be quite discriminatory and I want them to know that there should be no difference.
Why do you call yourself a “late bloomer”?
I have found that starting MELA allowed for me to have a few life experiences and gain perspective. it was very clear that this was what I wanted to do. It also helped that I was mature and aware when I entered the scene.
What would be your advice to late bloomers like you so that they can succeed?
My advice for all the ‘late bloomers’ would probably be: Your lady bits will blossom when they have to, as will you. There is no such thing as ‘late’. All your life experiences will have important roles to play in the future. Your journey will be full of obstacles but, then again, what journey isn’t?
Did you have to face any challenges as a woman artist?
Sometimes. Most of the spaces I work in are male-dominated. Being a singer and a woman you’re almost always stereotyped. Looks matter and actual talent is sidelined. It’s up to us to stand up for ourselves and I do feel like it is changing.
Do you have a #MeToo story of your own?
I have a few and I have been blessed with an incredible support system made up of family and friends that have helped me through all of this. I’ve tried to speak up on most occasions and have felt that it helps to make yourself heard.
How are you preparing your students for real-life careers?
My students are between the ages of 5-16, so most times I’m preparing them for high school and college!
Many musicians think of teaching as plan B. In your case, there is no lack of stage opportunities and I think you have a great voice. Tell me how are you challenging this mentality and turning it upside down?
Well, for starters, thank you! I am someone who prefers teaching to performing! Nothing makes me happier than watching people grow. That feeling you get when you see someone hit a note they have been working to reach or discovering a song that makes them feel something special is one of the best in the world! I grew up in a time where learning Jazz or any kind of western genre in Bangalore was pretty much unheard of so I also feel that in some way I need to give back.
What is vocal freedom for you as a woman?
I’m not sure how to respond to this. Music to me symbolises freedom. It serves so many purposes in my life, it heals, it gives me an escape and it allows me to communicate with people at a much deeper level. Singing is a freeing act.
If we catch you humming alone at home then what melody would it be?
Right now? It oscillates between Lianne La Havas and Zayn Mallik.
Would you like to share some of the fun moments from band rehearsals with us?
There are so many! Rehearsals can be a mixed bag emotionally. I think it’s especially funny when you’ve rehearsed for so long you are no longer productive. People just deteriorate into a babbling, giggling mess. Also, of course, when there are technical issues like our drummer’s stool (drummers like to call it a throne) gave out from underneath him whilst playing. To give him credit we didn’t notice because he kept playing!
As a woman artist, how did you establish creative leadership in the band?
I don’t. I find that I work best when everyone around me is contributing. I love working on other people’s musical ideas.
What would be your advice to girls who are trying to create a band of their own?
Practice hard, work on your original music and find people you’re comfortable working with. Bands are like families, messy, loud and unbearable on most days. The thing about family is, however, that in the end you love them and will do anything for them.
How do you maintain your individuality as an artist when you are performing with your band?
I feel like when you’re in a band you’re striving to reach a particular sound together as a unit. Where one’s individuality truly shines is in parts where you are left to improvise. I also like to think of adding a certain amount of my aesthetic to music I’m covering instead of copying musicians outright.
Would you like to share the idea of your dream gig or dream stage with us?
Wow, this is a hard one. I’m not sure it would be a stage but perhaps to featured on the YouTube channel COLORS.
What young talents in the industry do you look up to?
Gosh, there are so many! When it comes to other singers: Sentirenla Lucia, Shreya Bhattacharya, and Smiti Mallik are all people I look up to and aspire to sound like one day! Gouri Ranjit and her band Run Pussy Run, Sandunes, and Blushing Satellite are all incredible projects. There is so much fantastic music coming out of this country. I’m really excited to see what the next few years have for us.
Picture Courtesy: Gayatri Ganju
This article was first published on March 18, 2018.