In her book Speech of Angels, Sharon Maas describes music as “the speech of angels”. In the case of Avina Shah’s voice, she has that spot on. A petite bundle of glamour and ambition, Avina is hardworking, dedicated and motivated. She performs in both English and Hindi and has recorded both in the UK and in India to equal acclaim. As a professional singer, Avina has been regularly performing worldwide with the group Eastern Illusion in locations such as Africa, America, The Middle East, and various countries within Europe.
Even with all of this on her plate, Avina felt it was high time to kick her musical career up a notch with a project of her very own. Inspired by the story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia featured in the film Provoked* (starring Aishwarya Rai and Naveen Andrews), Avina decided to create a song with the aim of raising awareness to domestic violence. So for her debut single Tere Bina (Without You) she did just that along with filming a music video for it.
I Crave Bollywood caught up with this amazing busy woman and she graciously agreed to sit with us for an interview.
ICB - Welcome to ICB Avina and a huge congratulation on your soon-to-be-released debut single!
Avina - Thank you so much Simi!
ICB - Just to get started, can you share with us some family history and do any of them have a musical background?
Avina - I come from a very musical family that is full of lots of talent! My elder sister is a fabulous singer and my dad enjoys singing too. My entire family including my cousins, aunties and uncles are very lively – they all either dance or play instruments. So I’ve had a lot of encouragement and support from them to pursue music further.
ICB – I guess you have. That’s great that you have a wonderful support system. I’ve heard that you started performing at a very early age. How old were you and do you remember any details of it?
Avina - My first stage performance was when I was just 3 years old! I did a dance with my sister at a cultural event. My dad took a video of the performance and I actually got so nervous half-way through that I ran off stage and left my sister to finish off the dance by herself! (Laughs) I also started playing on the keyboard before I could even talk, and very soon I was able to play any song by ear. I have videos of me performing songs with my keyboard on stage from the age of 4. It’s always so funny to watch these videos back now…and quite embarrassing too!
ICB – Oh my goodness. That is too funny. I’m sure your sister didn’t think so though. Wow so accomplished by the age of just four. Amazing! So then what made you decide on a singing career?
Avina - I used to dance professionally when I was in my teens and then I decided to try out singing when I was about 15 years old. It just developed from there really. I then spent 3 months in India to train and develop my vocals because I was determined to improve my performance. Over the last few years, I’ve been performing all over the world with the group Eastern Illusion, which has been a great experience and made me realize just how much I’d like to take singing even further.
ICB - Since it is a very male dominated industry with very few female artists, I have to say that you deserve a lot of credit for taking on that challenge and we wish you all the best.
Avina - Thank you…I really appreciate all the support. It’s quite nerve-wracking really!
ICB – I can imagine that it is. Now you’re getting ready to release your debut song Tere Bina (Without You) worldwide next month on iTunes. By the way I love the preview of it and can’t wait to hear the whole song. The concept behind it is to raise awareness on the ever-growing issue of domestic violence. With it being such a touchy subject, why did you choose this for your debut single and what does it means to you personally?
Avina - I watched a movie called Provoked (starring Aishwarya Rai) about the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia who suffered through 10 years of domestic violence. It was a really moving film which highlighted her struggles and it really touched me. I recently read the book as well, which proved to be a very emotional read! Having come across so many stories of other peoples experiences made me realize how common this issue was. I wanted to create a song that would raise awareness and possibly empower people who may be going through it. Also the proceeds for this song will be going to the Southall Black Sisters, who specialize in helping victims of domestic violence (they were also responsible for helping Kiranjit and are featured in Provoked).
ICB – Kudos to you for taking on that challenge and to the Southall Black Sisters for all their tireless work. It is staggering to know that although 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, many of these on a number of occasions, they will often try to keep it from families, friends, or authorities. For those women that do try to escape, the consequences can be fatal and on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner. Awareness definitely needs to be raised so that more victims can be helped.
How did things progress from watching Provoked, to writing Tere Bina, to getting connected with the charity Southall Black Sisters and what was the time frame, more or less?
Avina - There was quite a lot of time and thought put behind the whole concept of this song – I’d say almost a year from the time I had the idea…to right now. It was also important to work with a team who understood exactly what the song was about. My producer Bhavik created the music brilliantly to reflect the emotions of the story, and Navin Kundra (whom you know very well!) helped me to create the perfect lyrics to go with the song. Both guys are very talented and it was awesome working with them.
After reading about the Southall Black Sisters, especially their work in the Kiranjit Ahluwalia case, I knew they were the charity I wanted to support through this single. When they heard the song for the first time (back in May), they were very moved by it. It was nice to also have their support.
ICB – You have an amazingly creative team for sure. Yes ICB has interviewed Navin on several occasions. He is certainly a talented songwriter that you want to have working with you. There is also a music video for Tere Bina. What was it like to do that and how is it different from performing live on stage as a Bollywood singer with the group Eastern Illusion?
Avina – Making the music video for this song was a totally new experience for me as it was my first time doing some acting! I played the role of a young woman who finally decided to walk away from a really violent and abusive relationship – with some pretty crazy scenes to portray. The only other time I’ve had to act before is when I played the lead singer in a theatre production in Africa with Eastern Illusion, but that was totally different as it was more stage style acting whereas the video required more intricacy. It was quite an enjoyable challenge. I’d definitely like to do more of it!
ICB – Not an easy thing at all to do in real life, but hopefully women in this situation will see your video and be empowered to follow your character’s lead. I’m looking forward to seeing it. You’ve written other songs as well; all in Hindi or English too? Any inside information that you can give us in regards with your future singles?
Avina - I’ve written lots of English songs since I was in my teens, and my friends and family tend to help me write the Hindi stuff. It’s not my mother tongue unfortunately! I have got some more singles on their way and I can tell you that each one will be totally different from the other. ‘Tere Bina’ is a track I want everyone to sing along to….so my next track will probably be one that I want everyone to DANCE along to!!
ICB - Where do your inspirations come from?
Avina - Anywhere and everywhere! Inspiration is always all around me – from reading things, talking to people, seeing images, anything really. I’m also quite a late sleeper and my mind is very much awake at night (as opposed to the morning!). And I find that I get lots of cool ideas at night time before I fall asleep, and sometimes in my dreams too (which is weird I know)! (Laughs)
ICB – It’s not weird at all. I do the same, which is why there is always a journal and pen on my night stand. Then all I have to do is remember the dream once I’m conscious. (Laughs) What are your aspirations for the future?
Avina - I thoroughly enjoy what I do and I’d like to push myself to achieve more. Music will always be a passion to me. I look forward to creating more songs and also supporting other charitable causes in the future. Can’t wait to share it all with you soon!
ICB – We’re looking forward to it. What is the best advice you’ve ever received and by whom?
Avina - Over the years, I’ve been given lots of different advice by different people…and I generally try to take a bit of everyone’s advice on board when making decisions. At the moment, I’m just taking on the advice of my family who’ve always told me to pursue something that I enjoy doing and also ‘life is too short, so make the most of it’!
ICB - Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be with us Avina. We here at ICB are looking forward to the release of Tere Bina and will be following you on your new journey. All the best to you and please come back to join us again. Before we conclude, is there anything you’d like to add?
Avina - Thank you very much, I really appreciate the support. For more information about the song, you can visit Avina Music.
Also, if there is anyone who is affected by the subject of this song and requires help or advice, please do get in touch with Southall Black Sisters.
Tere Bina will be released worldwide digitally in October 2010 and will be available to download on iTunes. But here is a soundbite of it for you.
For further information contact Eastern Illusion Ltd on 07958 734 311
Helpline (Free & Confidential) 020 8571 0800 or General Inquiries 020 8571 9595 or visit www.southallblacksisters.co.uk
*Provoked is the true story of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a Punjabi woman who moved to London after her marriage to Deepak Ahluwalia. Her husband seems caring at first, but then begins to beat her. He also starts drinking, having extramarital affairs and subjects her to spousal rape. After ten years of this torture and out of fear for herself and their two children, she sets him on fire while he is sleeping. Deepak succumbs to his injuries and Kiranjit is sentenced to prison for life for premeditated murder. However, the Southall Black Sisters, an NGO which fights against domestic violence help her get justice. After spending 3 1/2 years in jail, Kiranjit is set free and reunited with her two children.
Provoked is available on Nehaflix.com