samsaya + conversationswithbianca + art by Bianca Valentino

Talking to Samsaya made me really happy. She’s super genuine and down-to-earth, which I find to be a refreshing thing in the realm of pop. Her perspective on how she looks at the world is very in tune with my own, it’s so nice to meet like-minded people from the other side of the planet. The India born, Norway-based magma pop (as she likes to call her music) artist cares about contributing positivity to the world and helping others with her art which draws from pop, dance, hip-hop, funk and soul. We spoke for the premiere of song “Bombay Calling” from her forthcoming self-titled EP over at Rookie (click through to read). We were having so much fun talking that we went overtime! Here’s the extra chat.

BIANCA: The joy in your music definitely comes through loud and clear. I was watching your film clip for “Stereotype” and you guys look like you’re having so much fun!

SAMSAYA: Thank you that makes me so happy that you’re saying that. It’s so great that transcends because that’s what it is to me. I never really know how it is going to be for others. The first time I started doing music I got that joyous feeling but I remember someone saying, you look so aggressive when you’re doing it. I didn’t care though because it just felt really good. They were like, it’s kind of you, I guess. I was like, yeah! [laughs]. That was when I was twelve or thirteen, I really had an attitude. I always keep going back to my feelings because I think that is a really important part of us that we should be in touch with. When we have such a visual world I think we start being maybe more of what we see than what we feel and really are. I’m always trying to balance that.

We had so much fun making the clip for Stereotype. I wanted to shoot it in Delhi or Bombay so Mumbai, but it was so hot at the time we went over there. Everyone was telling me that I was crazy and that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I was the only Indian in our crew of five people and I thought maybe it might be too rough for everyone. We ended up shooting it in Goa, it was my first time there and I loved it! It was everything that I hoped it would be. I had hoped to go somewhere where I could recognise people that could almost be like my family; I was born in Hamirpur which is in the north of India. It still has that village feeling, people are out doing their thing, there’s truckstops…all the places reminded me of stuff from growing up, like when I’d go with my uncle to the shop to get candy—I love that. I really wanted to capture that. I wanted it to be natural. I didn’t want to choreograph it all, I didn’t want to tell people what to do; I just wanted to turn up and for us to do our thing, to perform. I wanted to capture something real. I feel like everyone you meet in India, the people, are very curious and genuinely happy in life which is such a great thing. That’s what I wanted to capture.

B: I think you definitely did that. You write songs from an emotional place; what emotions can we find on your self-titled EP that’s about to come out?

S: There’s a song called “Good with the Bad” and to me it’s very important because that’s exactly what I think that a lot of people that don’t have much are good at seeing in life—taking it as it comes. Growing up in Norway you are so fortunate to have almost everything and sometimes you just don’t see that, you stop seeing that. The days turn from something that is colourful and beautiful to something that is literally grey to you. I’ve had friends experience that a lot, friends are judging an experience and being too hard on themselves. I wrote “Good with the Bad” about that, with it I’m also talking to myself. I was in that situation where I felt I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s like you’re on a track and you’re just running but you just want it to stop, you don’t want it to continue. You need those stops, you need to see and feel those things again. “Good with the Bad” is about that, it’s about stopping when you feel like you’re in a bad cycle like that; changing your perspective and seeing life in a new way.

samsaya lower east side

I’m lucky that when I was younger that some of our family vacations were to India. I remember seeing people that I didn’t believe they could live like they were. I grew up in Norway and I hadn’t seen a lot of stuff. My first trip back to India when I was when I was five years old…there was a lot of extreme things that you could see in a day. You’d see people that didn’t have any legs, I’d never seen kids like that before. I remember seeing people too though with big smiles and really appreciating something as simple as a bowl of rice in such a big different way. Seeing that kind of thing really turned everything for me. When I came back to Norway I felt really different, I had a whole new appreciation for things like my skateboard [laughs]. It sounds childish maybe, but I feel it’s so important to have that respect for those small things that you have in life. I don’t think anyone should ever think of those things as… [pauses]…I think sometimes when we talk about these things it’s difficult because people, we, feel the need to be very politically correct about every emotion but I think it’s more important that we keep feeling and that we say what we feel even if it seems childish or coming from somewhere inside and you’re not sure yet what that feeling totally is. All those trips I’ve taken to India and then coming back to Norway and how different things are has inspired me a lot. I think a lot of that comes through in the EP that’s coming.

samsaya live

Music is powerful. One of the best things is when you can chant and sing together, it’s a good way of relaxing when you’re in a stressful situation. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than just singing out loud together. I do that a lot with my friends. When you do stuff like that, it’s like you stop time for a second. You can just be where you are and be present. That’s what “Good with the Bad” does.

B: I’m so glad that you commented that it’s important to say what you’re feeling and thinking even if you’re not totally quite sure what it all means yet, that you should express yourself and that what you say matters. I often find people get scared of voicing their opinions because they don’t want to be wrong or they don’t want others to judge them.

S: Yeah. I’m trying to tear down those kinds of expectations around myself and people around me. I love if my music can contribute in a positive way. I do a lot of great work with charities around the world and I think they’re amazing at what they do. I’m good at music so I try to help out how I can. Whenever I find projects where I think I can help or things that touch me and move and make me think, that’s not fair, I try to help. My music comes from that same place in me where I’ve thought something was unfair. Every time I feel that feeling it’s like a fire building inside of me. I never want to have to ask myself, why am I not writing today? When you force that it doesn’t feel like it has that realness there. I’m trying to trust myself more.

B: I feel there’s also a rebellious streak to your music, songs like “Stereotype” and “Jaywalking”.

S: Yes! It’s interesting that you noticed that. My friends call me Ghandi Junior! [laughs]. He’s one of my biggest heroes, I think he was really rebellious. There’s a lot of great people out there that I refer to as…

samsaya road jams

B: Keepers!

S Yes, Keepers! They keep seeing people with their hearts and they inspire. Inspiring people towards doing good is something that will always motivate me and keep me inspired. That will always be the lava in this volcano [laughs]. That is the energy in me. If just one person can come see my show or listen to my music and feel just even a little bit stronger to deal with their uniqueness or feelings of loneliness and feel empowered to handle their day a bit better, that means everything to me. I want people to have fun at my shows and to be present, to feel a bit stronger and that they can handle things; to inspire them to ask their neighbour for help. My music does that for me, I want to share that feeling with those around me.

B: On your Facebook you recently posted about a documentary called Light Fly, Fly High that is about an Indian girl that is born outside caste and who leaves home at an early age to avoid an arranged marriage, she tries to box her way out of poverty. You said that you were really inspired by that.

S: Yes, she is amazing. I hope you can see the documentary. Thulasi is an amazing boxer. Her story is so inspiring. These days we hear a lot of stuff about things in India like the rape issues and how it is it be a woman in areas where there are fewer woman than men, that is very scary. Women’s and girls’ issues have always been a very important thing for me, I thought a lot about that stuff growing up. I know that a lot of people wish for a son…my dad didn’t get a son though he got me and my sister [laughs]. We can talk and laugh about it now, my dad says that I turned out to be a son anyway because I do everything that I want to do and I made hell for him [laughs]. I can laugh about all this now but that way of thinking, it is a very serious issue and we’re seeing the results of it now. It’s so hard to understand it all, it’s extreme. Nobody is born good or bad, it’s what we do with this heart and what we see in this world around us, what we are taught to do and think. It’s great to use music as a way of talking about these things, to inform about these differences and make people deconstruct their walls. It’s important to know that if you have pain, if you do mean things to someone else they too will have pain. To realise this is to have a strength, it’s a super power.

When I saw Thulasi’s documentary it gave me strength, it’s everything we’re talking about. This one girl made a whole difference in her world. At the point they made the documentary she was pretty broken down by everything because there was so much happening in her life. She was fighting from every angle, feeling like no one understood what she was going through with the system being corrupt all. She fought back saying that she wasn’t going to sleep with anyone to further her career. That is so unfair! I think everyone can learn from that when they find themselves in whatever career they are doing and come up against stuff they don’t want to do. I was inspired how she fought and she told others around her at home that she didn’t need to be married that she could fight for herself and survive on her own.

B: I’m excited to check it out.

S: It really is great. It’s not a big Hollywood or even Bollywood kind of story where everything turns out great though. From talking to you before about some things about yourself I think you might even recognise some of you in it, I know I did. It was such a wow moment for me when they wanted to use a song of mine for it!

B: How cool! Before you mentioned super heroes, with your heart painted on your eye, that’s what you remind me of.

S: [Laughs] Yay! Woo hoo! That’s what I want people to think. There’s a lot of focus on weapons out there. For me, I’ve always felt that a weapon could never give life. What is more powerful than giving life? My heart represents everything there is about life: love, making love, making wonderful babies and then seeing them for who they really are – the individuals they became and cherishing that—all those things are real power! I’m going to do what I can to paint the world in that heart red colour. In India as you know, red is a powerful colour (you marry in red)…it’s such a beautiful thing, a reminder of what power lays in that. It’s a beautiful, strong colour that represents that the heart is much stronger than any weapon in the world. It can change things that really seem impossible.

samsaya bombay calling

B: You’re such a positive person and you’ve made no secret of the fact that enjoying every moment of your life is super important to you; have you always had that outlook?

S: I can say that because I’ve had a career here in Norway for a while and when things starting going well with my music in the beginning things went a little quick. I found myself back in the situation, before music being my best friend, and I was kind of putting on a face—I didn’t like that at all.

B: I kind of got that feeling when I watched some older clips of you from years ago and you’re styled in more of a traditional pop star way. I watch your clips from now and I get the vibe that it’s so much more you, if that makes sense? It’s like the true Samsaya is shining through.

S: Yeah. I think that good girl intention from my parents and my upbringing came out as music in a situation where I kind of started to go, well there’s a lot of things in the industry, the record label and all these people to please. They all want the best of course and for you to succeed but, you gotta ask yourself what you want. There was a period of time where I thought it was difficult to manage all of those things. The second I felt like that was when it all became too much. I stopped for a second and I listened to myself, that’s where the heart comes from.

B: Is there anything else you’d like to raise awareness of?

S: Oh there is so much! Animal rights, I feel strongly about that. I have a dog I love so much. Generally the link between everything that I care about now days is the same, it’s about respecting other living beings. Stopping and just seeing people with your heart. I read a thing about the fact that you don’t really see anything with your eyes, they transmit just like TV, it’s the brain that sees. I would like to move that focus from the brain down to the heart—to put a heart filter on that brain. You might see a beggar on the street and look at them and think, oh they’re so lazy or, you could look at them with your heart and think, why are they sitting there? You won’t know that reason until you ask them. You have to have the guts to go up to them and ask! You have to reach out and make a connection, like I hope I do with my music. I’m not perfect at this but I try to constantly remind myself that I have this strength to do this. To come from the perspective of seeing things with your heart is very important.

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*Photos courtesy of Samsaya’s IG. Samsaya art by me.