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PRAGNYA WAKHLU – New Delhi based Kashmiri singer-songwriter

PRAGNYA WAKHLU – New Delhi based Kashmiri singer-songwriter

New Delhi based Kashmiri singer-songwriter Pragnya Wakhlu’s music is an inspired blend of blues, folk-fusion and jazz driven by personal reflections & causes she feels passionately about. An I.T. Engineer and a graduate of Indian Institute of Management(IIM) Bangalore (Management in Entrepreneurship) ; her passion for working with music and people led her to quit her corporate job in the U.S and return to India to work with music and people to make a difference.

She won the Radiocity Award for the Best Folk Fusion artist for her critically acclaimed Kashmiri folk-fusion album ‘Kahwa Speaks’.Kahwa Speaks is an audio-visual show and movement that aims to help people see the positive side of Kashmiri culture using art as a medium. Pragnya won third place at the international VIMA music awards held in Malaysia for the ‘Best Female Vocalist ‘and ‘Best Genre-Bending song. She has been featured on VH1, MTV, Zee TV, ETV, DD Kashmir for her work and has performed over 2000 shows nationally and internationally in the USA, Hong Kong, and Dubai. Recently she won the ‘Special Jury Mention award’ at the 10th Dadasaheb Phalke Film Festival for her independently produced music video ‘Burning Fire’.

Here is Pragnya Wakhlu in a conversation with GOGO Magazine.

1) When  did your journey as a musician begin?

My journey as a musician began when I was a kid. I would learn Hindustani vocals from a teacher and studied Indian classical music from a young age. When I was 16 I started learning how to play the guitar and started performing in college in Pune. I was quite scared of being on stage initially and would get stage fright but as I started doing more shows, I got more confident. In college, we made an all-girls band and started performing in a lot of inter-collegiate competitions in Pune. We won quite a few as well. Later on, I was working with Infosys and we had a company band called Zephyr. We did a lot of shows in the Bangalore circuit back then. Up until then, I hadn’t begun to write my own songs. It was only when I was sent by my company to the U.S for work that I started working on my own tunes. My first show of original compositions was actually in Seattle to a foreign audience. We received a standing ovation and that encouragement from the audience made me consider taking up music as a career. I quit my I.T. job, returned to India; formed a band back in Pune and that’s when my musical journey began professionally.

2) Which was your first song?

The first song I wrote was a song called “Naive” from my debut album “Journey to the Sun”.It featured Praashekh Borkar on the sarod.The song is about how we all have a lot of big dreams for ourselves as children and imagine ourselves to be all sorts of cool things when we grow up..but somewhere along the journey of life, many of us forget those dreams we had for ourselves and choose to becomewhat our parents or society want us to .This song is about revisiting those childhood dreams.

3) Which has been your most memorable live performance?

There have been quite a few. The first one, of course, was when I played my originals for the first time ever in Seattle at Mainstage Music and Comedy Club to an international audience. I was the only Indian performer there that day and I was a bit nervous. I was accompanied on stage by a Turkish guitarist, Caglar Pir. The two of us would meet after work to practice after working all day in our IT companies. It was magical because it as my very first performance of my own songs and we got a standing ovation at the end of the performance. That was the first time I actually considered taking music up as a career. Another really memorable performance was in Chicago, where I got to debut the Kahwa Speaks audio-visual show at an event by the Kashmiri Overseas Association. It was amazing to play to our own community so far away from home and give them a few moments of connection to their homeland. My first show in New York was also memorable because I always wanted to play in New York and to perform my own songs there was like a dream come true. The final one was in Hong-Kong at a show at Lamma Arts Collective. When I played one of my songs I remember people started meditating in the audience and for a really long time everyone’s eyes were just collectively closed. It was just a beautiful, spiritual moment we all shared together that evening. 

4) Who has been your inspiration?

Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall has been an inspiration. I love her songwriting, her voice and the way she can even perform alone on stage with just an acoustic guitar and still own the stage. I had a chance to meet her in Seattle after her performance and told her how much she inspired me. I am also inspired by India Arie, Tracy Chapman, John Mayer, Stevie wonder. Closer to home I am inspired by Emiway Bantai and Brodha -V. They both have managed to amass such a huge number of loyal fans and make and release consistent music independently without being signed to the label. Also, love Raghu Dixit’s music and drive as an artist.

5) Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I see myself having released 3 more albums and touring across the world with the band playing big audio-visual shows to stadiums full of people. In the present, my next single ‘Whale Song’ will be releasing in Jan 2021 and the album ‘Lessons in Love’ later this year.

6) Which is your most preferred genre?

I personally listen to music based on my mood and the time of the day so I don’t have a specific favourite genre. In the late evenings, I like listening to lo-fi, neo-soul kinda music. In the day I like funk, rock, blues, jazz, folk-fusion.In the mornings I like listening to Indian classical music or chants. It again varies based on my mood.

7) Tell us about your latest track.

My last release, ’Akele hi Sahi’ was a foray into Hindi rock, quite different from my other music released so far. The song and video are about embracing and loving yourself instead of getting into relationships that aren’t right for you just because society thinks that conformity to social standards is what you need to be happy. I think there’s a lot of pressure on people (especially women once they cross a certain age) to settle down and get married. Society needs to embrace the different ways people are choosing to live their lives in today’s times. Happiness can be found meditating in the mountains, living in with a partner, being single or being in a relationship with a same-sex partner. It’s about acceptance of the different paths that people choose that lead to happiness.

8) Tell us about Mousai.

Mousai is an organization I started in 2009 that utilizes music and movement as tools to help people return to their authentic selves. We facilitate transformational workshops for corporates, NGO’s and groups of people across the world. We also facilitate one-on-one sound healing and coaching sessions. Since our inception, we have worked with over 200+people across 3 countries.

9) How was life in quarantine?

I live by myself so I was all alone throughout the lockdown. It was a time of great self-reflection for me. I’m working on my new album Lessons in Love (to be released in 2021) and I felt because of shows and travel earlier I wasn’t getting in as much work in as I wanted to. For me, quarantine was a great time to sit in one place and focus on getting the album done. I recorded and released a music video for Fallin’ (which I shot and edited myself by teaching myself how to use Adobe Premiere Pro), wrote and released two new tunes and music videos for  ‘Song of Hope’ and ‘Akele hi Sahi’ and released an animated music video for our Kashmiri-English song ‘Katyuchuk My Love’. I also invested a lot of time in getting better at playing the guitar and improving my vocal technique. All that work came in handy post-September when the gig season started. I’ve been gigging actively since then.


INSTAGRAM: @pragnyawakhlu
TWITTER: @pragnyawakhlu
YOUTUBE: Pragnya Wakhlu 

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About The Author

Anirudh Chandel

| Lawyer | Writer | Traveller | Footballer |

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