PHOENIX READY FOR FLIGHT
MONICA DOGRA X TBG
Singer, actor, performer, designer; many words describe but can’t define Monica Dogra, a multi-dimensional, holistic artist. She’s been making waves in India as part of electronic music duo ‘Shaa’ir + Func’ but is now rising to be an all-around icon.
TBG caught up with Monica to understand the experiences and thoughts about her journey so far.
1. We love what you do and admire your courage in pioneering the Indian indie music scene! We want to learn more about your journey, as two brown girls. Why did you decide to move to India from America?
Hey, thank you! I really appreciate that.
I moved completely on a whim, totally unplanned, and shocked the hell out of my family. I studied musical theatre in NYC and afterwards got my first show in a union production of Fanny at the Citigroup Center. After that, I was the arab dancing girl in a production of Love’s Fire. I was baking cookies at an ad agency in the afternoons, and bar-tending at night. I like to think I am pretty smart, and I definitely didn’t feel like I was in a position of value all too often.
I was sort of stuck in an artistic identity crisis. I didn’t know how to be a Brown Girl in a world that was constantly pegging me as “Brown”, “exotic”, “ethnically ambiguous”, “sexy”, “hot”. What did that mean? I just wanted to be a hippie chick, rocking torn jeans, crying while I laughed, spitting poetry, writing mash up music that represented how mashed up I felt. I’ve never been just one thing…but I desperately wanted to fit in and slot in to a world that made me feel pretty lonely.
So, in that space, I went to India and took time away to explore it on my own. In about five days, my world turned upside down. I was around Indian people in Bombay, with tattoos, in metal bands, people who grew up listening to ABBA and The Beatles - and they were all Indian. No one could say they weren’t proper Indian. They lived in India. In a way, India emancipated me from being chained by an Indian Identity that was imposed upon me, and allowed me to create a new Indian Identity that was rooted in truth.
In ten days, I quit all my projects, wrapped up my life, and moved to India. I crashed on strangers floors, and hopped around Bombay, finding my first band-mates along the way, and playing my first ever original shows on the road. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. But, I could feel in my gut, that I was on the right track.
2. What have been the highs and lows of adjusting and settling in India over the years?
This is a tough one. It’s been 8 years! I can site a recent high…I was on the cover of Maxim, and the very same week the magazine came out, I played a show for Women’s Day in Bombay. It was my band-mate, Randolph’s idea that we all go cross-dressed. It was a sort of in your face reaction to all the objectification, gender pressure put on people these days. I felt so loved and confident in my boys clothes, in my home city - after giving a short speech about watching all my peers in the music fraternity crowd surfing, and feeling left out because I’m worried I’ll get felt up I finally jumped into the arms of my people, and it was ALL GOOD. I don’t think a woman in India has ever been able to do such a thing. I felt so clear about who my tribe is. We represent a new and pervasive energy that will take over.
A low point would be in the beginning when S+F played quite small venues that didn’t have proper sound. I once got badly electrocuted on stage. I sweat so much - so my body was basically a conductor. The audience kept shouting for me to sing and I had never felt so alone. I realized in that moment how much of an object you are. You aren’t a real person to your fans. I suppose, it is a major theme in my work, to be a REAL person…relatable…attainable…touchable…flawed…but still, special I guess.
3. Your music and film work has gone from strength to strength. How do you balance these two aspects of your creative self and what are your aspirations for the future?
I don’t know how I balance. I do know that I don’t allow myself to stop. It’s my job to keep innovating, to keep trying to improve. I’m not the type who is content in one thing and my artistic efforts reflect that diversity in creativity.
I’m releasing a line of clothing in a months time. It’s street wear that aims at being affordable. It’s grungey, rock and roll and pays homage to the concept of Bombay. Not Mumbai (whatever that means).
Also, I have a solo record releasing in August and I’m releasing my 5th album with S+F in September! I just finished shooting a short film in LA, and India is up in arms about it’s “lesbian content” (uh. whatever). I just shot a music video that I conceptualised and cast myself in NYC, which is being edited as I type this. It’s going to be a crazy year! I feel like a cloud is lifting. 2013 was a tough one…and I’m ready for flight.
4. Last but not least, what advice or guidance would you give to young, brown girls?
ah! I’m so honoured that I can even be in a position to give advice man! Uhhh.
I’d tell brown girls around the world to spend a lot of time with yourself. Be comfortable with alone. Alone is an awesome thing…don’t get it twisted.
Once you know yourself so well, once no one can shake you, chances are you’ll know your path and you’ll have the courage to walk it. Be relentless. Be resilient…and never measure time. It’s a useless obsession.
Remember this quote as well…I love it. "All this worldly wisdom was once the unamiable heresy of some wise man" - Thoreau
We really admire the work that Monica does and can’t wait to see where her journey will take her next!
- A&S x
1. Akshay Sawant
3. Veda Raheja
4. Monica Dogra
5. Cory Goldberg