Pravini, soul singer and songwriter from Netherlands, will be touring the US from April 19th to May 4th with 4 stops in the LA area. I was intrigued by Pravini’s eclectic fusion of soul, hiphop, Indian and South American rhythms and in researching her diverse heritage, I learned that there has been a strong, thriving East Indian community in Suriname, a former Dutch colony in South America, since the 1800s. Many emigrated to Netherlands, where Pravini was born, and she has really broken boundaries there and put a spotlight on the rich, diverse talent of the Dutch-Indian-Surinamese community. Pravini is excited to be performing her new music in the US and was gracious enough to grant me an interview, so enjoy her new single Move Me to Tears and read on!
1.You have a diverse background of East Indian and Surinamese heritage and born and raised in the Netherlands. Such a rich background comes through in your music and your latest album is titled “Diaspora”. How was your upbringing and how does it influence your music?
My parents loved all kinds of music, I remember they used to play these cassette tapes on Sundays that contained songs from Bollywood music to soul to reggae. It was very broad and so my musical inspirations are very diverse as well. Growing up as a child I was mostly listening to pop music, whatever was on the radio or tv. And when I was in my teens I started exploring the more old school soul music, Motown and Atlantic artists. I quickly realized those soul records have laid the foundation for contemporary music. I also listened to a lot of hiphop, initially I was drawn to the power of the beats and then after listening to more and more music I gained so much respect for the poetry and lyricism of hiphop. So soul and hiphop have really shaped me as an artist, those musical genres were my foundation for writing and composing music. It’s only been since I got my own band, which is now 3 years ago, that I also incorporated South American and Indian rhythms into my music, as well as rock influences, because my band members come from those musical backgrounds. But because I’ve always been so used to hearing different sounds in my youth that all felt like a natural development of my art.
2. Who are your biggest musical influences?
Oh man, it’s hard to pick! I actually put up all my musical inspirations in my home studio on the wall, it’s always to good surround yourself with visuals of creative energy. The one that always comes to my mind first is Jill Scott. I saw her performance of “He loves me” on Oprah and I was just blown away by her lyricism and rhyme schemes. When I got her album all the other songs did the same thing to me. So her poetry has had a major influence on how I write and rhyme. Michael Jackson really doesn’t need an explanation, all I have to say about that is that this man has created so many classics, again his songwriting is incredible but also his performance, a true entertainer. I also listened to Bone Thugs ’n Harmony, I loved their tongue twisting and flows and that has really impacted my way of singing as well. I was also inspired by Alicia Keys, because to me she was the first female R&B singer who brought it back to basics by just playing the keys herself and singing. That was very inspiring to me. And so the list goes on haha…
3. You’re known for breaking boundaries and not trying to fit any one label of what your music is or how you express yourself. I think your song, “Armed & Sexy” is a great example of your defiance and confidence and not being afraid to blend different musical styles. Was this an attitude you always had musically from the beginning or has it been an evolution?
It has definitely been an evolution and also my personal quest for my own style. My first album was very much R&B/soul, I was more focused on the lyrics and my message and less so on experimenting with musical styles. I also worked with different producers who all had their own styles, so we all held on to the R&B/soul/hiphop genre as a focus. The same goes for my second and third album. It wasn’t until I got my own band that it was clear to me I wanted to do something different, I never want to do the same thing twice because I get bored easily. I always want to challenge myself, innovate and come up with something new. So looking for ways to blend musical styles was a natural process for me. I was very fortunate to have found my band during that time, our chemistry has resulted in that new sound. My husband is the drummer and his brother the bass player. They both grew up in Suriname and are masters in South American and Indian rhythms. My guitar player has been influenced by rock and kills it with his edgy guitar solos. And I have a soul/hiphop background. But we’re all Surinamese Indian and we all grew up with the same sounds even though we come from different musical genres. So we understand each other and once we started playing it just clicked and made sense. I was always looking for my own sound and when we started playing I realized this was it. But even now we’re writing new material I still want to evolve and try new things that keep us excited as well.
4. You were the first Dutch-Indian R&B soul singer artist to appear on Dutch television in 2006. Was it difficult to get noticed in the mainstream Dutch music scene?
Yes, I think it still is. In my opinion the Dutch Indian community is still very much invisible in the mainstream media, actually a lot of minority communities are still not represented in the mainstream media for that matter. But when the Dutch Indian community does get noticed, it’s often because of a Bollywood-related theme. Bollywood is good and a big part of creative energy in The Netherlands, at the same time however I believe we have much more to offer. And those other aspects are often hard to find in mainstream media. But that’s my humble opinion.
5. In 2012, you founded the Sarnámi Artist Network. Can you tell us about its purpose?
Yes, it’s a network that provides a national platform for Dutch Indian artists and facilitates exchange of experience, knowledge and networks and supports artists in their artistic development. Being part of the community I meet a lot of artists and they often do amazing work, but it rarely gets noticed and we hardly get together. Before this network I knew a lot of artists by name, but never got the time to connect with them and exchange ideas. So I decided to set up this network to facilitate this. I’ve been able to meet incredible artists I didn’t even know of, so one of the goals is also to make these artists and their work more visible to the community. That’s why I set up a campaign Barhanti = Proud of Original Work. Barhanti is the Sarnámi word (Sarnámi refers to Dutch Indians from Suriname) for progress and development and refers to the theme of 140 years of Dutch Indian Immigration to Suriname that is remembered this year. The goal of this campaign is support Dutch Indian artists who create art themselves and to encourage people to recognize these artists and strengthen the appreciation of the Dutch Indian identity. Again this campaign is meant to broaden the idea that the Dutch Indian community is more than just Bollywood.
6. I saw a video of your Diaspora Beats live show, which is more than simply a music performance. I read it’s a collaboration with other artists and performers showcasing an eclectic blend of hiphop, rock, Indian dance. It’s what we would call a variety show here and looks like so much fun! How did you come up with the concept?
Yes, it was fun! Because my album Diaspora has so many different influences, we thought it would be fun to actually take it back to the original influences and collaborate with artists to give the audience that extra something special. It was a great way to bring people together from different genres and get creative with arrangements of the original music of Diaspora, because we mixed it with Bollywood classics and hiphop music. For me it was so much fun to showcase the diversity of Dutch Indian artists and to actually collaborate with them on stage as well. All the artists who contributed were amazing and we all had so much fun together on stage, it was a great experience.
7. I love South America and one country I’ve yet to visit and would love to is Suriname. Have you played there yet?
Yes, I actually did a media tour there last year. That was a lot of fun, I got to perform live at a TV show and did radio performances as well. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do shows at live venues, but I’m going back there in October, so hopefully I’ll be able to do that then. I love Suriname, I think a lot of European countries can learn a lot from Suriname when it comes to the beauty and assets of a multicultural society. And besides that the food is great haha.
8. Besides your music, you’re very socially involved. Tell us about your work as a goodwill ambassador for the Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD).
When I first came out with my debut single, ‘Cuz I’m A Lady, in 2006 I was approached by GHRD to become their goodwill ambassador. It was a young organization run by young people from a Dutch Indian background so that really appealed to me, because I felt at home right away. My parents have always raised me with the importance of giving back, so to be able to do that as an artist was a great opportunity. The mission of GHRD is to raise awareness on the violation of human rights and they’re mostly active in South Asia. In my first years as ambassador I mostly tried to raise awareness by sharing the stories of GHRD on the stages I performed at. In 2007 I went to India with GHRD and got to see the circumstances with my own eyes, so that really had a big impact on me and allowed me to translate those experiences into actual music, which resulted in the song Question. And the past few years I’ve also used my experience and vision as an artist to contribute to the concepts and programming of some of their benefit events. I usually perform, but I also advise them on how to set up a program that is entertaining and informative at the same time. I also post monthly blogs on my website on the work they do. I enjoy working with them very much, they do amazing work and I feel honoured to be part of their mission.
9. What 3 favorite artists are you listening to at the moment?
Bruno Mars is definitely the first artist that comes to mind. I actually had to do a cover of Locked out of Heaven for a radio show and because of that I started checking out more of his music and ended up buying his Unorthodox Jukebox. I love it, he’s an amazing songwriter and I really respect the fact that he’s also experimenting with different styles. He really thinks outside of the box and on top of that I think he’s a great live artist, what I’ve seen so far on tv. Other artists I would have to say Maroon 5, I like their band sound. I actually got tickets to see them live, so I’m curious to hear what they do live. I also got tickets to see Alicia Keys soon, so she’s my number 3 for this question.
10. You left Europe at age 18 to study music in Boston and the last time you toured the US was in 2009. What do you miss about the States and what’s one of the 1st things you can’t wait to do when you return here?
I really really really love the States haha, whenever I’m in LA in need to check out Amoeba, just being there is enough, I don’t even have to buy anything. I just love the vibe and to be surrounded by art. What I miss most is the people really, I have met some great people during my visits and always enjoy the conversations and friendships that I have developed.
11. Thanks for your time, Pravini. I’m really looking forward to your shows in LA! What can people expect at your shows?
Thank you, it was my pleasure! I’m very excited to share my music in LA. I’m actually going to bring it back to basics, with me on the keys and my drummer on SPD. It’ll be a fun show that will make the audience move, we’ll bring lots of rhythmic energy and good vibes. I’m really looking forward to it!
Don’t miss Pravini’s LA dates!
April 27th – Viento Y Agua, Long Beach, CA
April 29th – Coffee Gallery, Altadena, CA – Special guest performance with Tjendol Sunrise
April 30th – Tommy’s Place, Los Angeles, CA
May 1st – Tribal Cafe, Los Angeles, CA