Ritika Sahni is a professional singer, performer, composer, producer of children’s albums and a social activist. She has been working with disability related issues for the more than two decades and founded Trinayani, a NGO working with disability advocacy in 2006 with the sole desire to inform, communicate and create awareness, tolerance and respect about the world of people with disabilities among the non- disabled population and explore and create equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.
From Bengali jingles to playback singing, Ritika Sahini has come a long way. How do you see your journey?
A It has been a long journey. Things have changed drastically. We had only cassettes those days. And now we are talking about releasing songs in pen drives. When I started we only had Doordarshan. Then Zee came in and was the first private Bengali channel in Kolkata. There was this influx of
interesting serials. I was fortunate to sing all their jingles. Being a singer and a songwriter was a big phenomenon at that point of time. In the last few years reality shows have become a revolution. Thanks to these shows, every episode throws up some brilliant singers but their timespans are very short. Plenty of singers now, lots of money but less recognition. We are creating vocalists from these shows and there is no stress on creativity. When we speak of Bollywood, we know the hit songs but unfortunately we don’t know the name of the singers. The songs are becoming more famous than the singers. Singers are just vehicles now. The economics have changed. You cannot survive just being a good singer. You better know the business of the game. It’s not just about singing any more.
During the last decade, you have created volumes of music for children, which work as great fun learning aid at nursery schools and developmental workshops. You have also composed prayer Songs and hymns that are derived out of Vedic spiritualism. Please share your thoughts.
I was always passionate about doing music for children. There are no good songs or rhymes left for the children of our country now. In 2002 Happy Day was the first album to be published with a book. Then in 2004, came Tim Tim Tara while Rhyme Time and Akkar Bakkar Bambay Bo were released in 2007. I HAVE THE POWER was released in end November of 2008. It is a special album by me and Shaan with mantras and prayers for kids and helps them understand the importance of mantras. I released GOL GOL GHOOME last year. This year, my new album will again be an original with nursery rhymes written by poets of this country. It took me many years of research. These are in shuddh Hindi and therefore I am going to release a book along with my album HALLAM CHALLAM which is going to have English and Hindi meanings for the words. It has been a hard journey and continues to be a hard journey as nobody wants to produce music for children, They feel it doesn’t sell. But even today people are buying our first album Happy Day! On the other hand parents are forever looking out for new audio albums. In these albums, I sing along with children, it’s never been me singing for the children, rather children singing along with me. These children have now grown up and buy these albums for their own children! And now, these songs are also available online.
You have an exciting dual career one as a singer and the other as a social activist. You have concentrated your talents towards the cause of disability. What has been your motivation?
A Many people are not aware that I did my B.Ed in DeafEducation before doing a Master’s degree in music. I have always wanted to be a part of the disability sector. I have no personal reasons. I was volunteering for Manovikas Kendra when they were in Short Street. I often visited a school for deaf children, which was on the same road. I often saw deaf children using Sign Language and communicating with each other, which really fascinated me. Being a musician I was interested in teaching music to deaf children. I was asked by the school to do my B.Ed for Deaf Education. After which to complete 16 years of education, I took the opportunity to do Masters in Bengali music. I am a gold medalist in music. Thereafter I got into professional music but never left the disability sector. However I tried to keep these two sectors separate as I was an entertainer and didn’t want people to question my motives. I have been in this field for more than two decades. I joined the Institute of Cerebral Palsy and also run my own clinic in Kolkata. When I shifted to Mumbai, I joined the Spastic Society there. Being part of the disability sector for so many years I had a different take on what was missing in our society and what was needed for people with disabilities to lead a dignified life. I started Trinayani in 2006. It works with a mission to include, honour and empower persons with disabilities by advocating their rights, and creating awareness about disabilities among non-disabled persons. It also aims at creating employment opportunities for PWDS. Disability awareness to us is a process of erasing fear and confusion and helping accept and understand people with differing abilities. Most of us are ignorant about issues related to disability. Our reactions are the outcome of this ignorance. We are attempting to expose the common man to a world which they might not be aware of.
Your advice for aspiring musicians.
Integrity is the key. Do your work with lot of integrity. Don’t forget your roots. It’s very important to hear music. Listen to world music. Listen to what’s happening in other parts of the country be it folk classical or pop. Expand your horizons and do not stick to one genre of music.
Contributing Writer, Abhijit Ganguly, is an extensively published journalist based in Kolkata, India. His stories cover the global arts scene and the fusion arts movement with the culture and art of India. Ganguly’s work includes personal interviews with world renowned dance troupes, film directors, fine artists, sculptors, as well as jazz, hip hop and classical musicians. He is known for presenting an inside view of the artist's craft and what motivates their creativity. Ganguly also delves into the artist's take on what a young person in Kolkata can learn from each artist, so that the youth of the city can learn to master these skills.