After I accidentally stumbled upon Vidya Vox (Vidya Iyer’s) videos on YouTube, I went on a devouring spree if you will, of her music for weeks afterward.
Every song I listened to demonstrated her incredible ability to meld western pop hits with Indian sounds. What’s more, her music is deeply rooted in her training as a classical musician. She sings in an array of languages: Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, etc.
Even though this blog veers away from the geographic mandate of Toronto Desi Diaries, I hope I can get away with it.
Let’s start with the basics, so, who’s Vidya Vox?
Vidya’s an Indo-American artist and YouTube sensation. Her videos have amassed huge followings (600 million views and over six million subscribers). She made her debut on YouTube in 2015, since then she has had dozens of chartbusters. In 2017, Vidya dropped her debut EP of original songs in Kuthu Fire.
While on a pre-med track at George Washington University, Vidya began to indulge in her passion for music. She did so by posting YouTube videos. Upon graduation, Vidya took the leap and decided to pursue a music career full time.
With over 153 million views, one of Vidya’s most successful videos, Be Free, is an original song from Kuthu Fire. This song is mixed with the Malayalam folk song “Pallivaalu Bhadravattakam.” Vidya’s mashups have since gained worldwide recognition from the likes of Major Lazer, Diplo & Hrithik Roshan.
This Kerala boat song is my favourite. It evokes memories of my childhood.
What’s new with Vidya’s music?
In July this year, Vidya released Mad Dreams. This album features five original songs (songs written by Vidya and composer Shanker Tucker) that exhibit the American desi’s ease in both worlds —U.S. and India.
In her own words: Vidya Vox
About Mad Dreams
Growing up in the west as a first-generation Indian-American, I always felt like I was living a double life.
At home, I was immersed in a traditional Indian culture, eating dosas, singing Carnatic music, and listening to A.R. Rahman, and the second I stepped on my school bus, I would eat pizza and listen to Destiny’s Child and Backstreet Boys. At school, I was an outcast and felt embarrassed about being different. Mad Dreams represents a pivotal time in my journey to reclaim and embrace my bicultural identity while sharing messages of hope and empowerment.
Here’s what she says on each of the five tracks
Appadi Podu Di
Is incredibly personal. As only 1 of 2 Indian kids in middle school, the other kids had many questions for me. ‘Does your house smell like curry?’ ‘Why are your elbows so dark?’ All questions were about why I looked different. To this day, we are sold products and images to cover these “differences.” I took all the things that were said to me and reclaimed them in this song. My favorite line is Dark knees, dark eyes, no powder, my sun-filled skin holds power. The lyric Appadi Podu Di, in Tamil literally translates to “Give it back!” and my uncle often said it to me growing up as a reaction to one of my snarky comebacks. As a South Asian woman, this song is an anthem about loving the skin you’re in.
was inspired by the story of Indian goddess Parvati, who was doing penance to gain the affections of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer and Lord of Dance. The mridangam and chalanga dance bell sound in the chorus are traditional sounds used in traditional Shiva songs. Hearing this story growing up, Parvati’s concentration always amazed me. I always wondered, would this infatuation and chase drive her mad? She’s in her world of mad dreams.
is about the process of taking risks and finding your footing, which is difficult but always worthwhile. I always feel better in the end. I tend to hide in my cocoon when the going gets tough. However, it’s important to be proud of who you are, take a leap of faith and find your wings!
Lose the Night
is about a particular memory of when Shankar and I were visiting New Delhi many years ago. We were in an auto-rickshaw driving around at night. It was hot and hazy, and although the streets were crowded, it felt like we were the only two people in the city.
Look at the Lights
Brings me back to when I was living with my mom. I had big dreams of moving to Los Angeles. Some days, I felt that I’d never be able to leave home. Other days, I was more hopeful. Making the move to Los Angeles was life-changing, but once the lights went out, I still missed home. The instrumental sarangi line that echoes throughout the chorus represents a longing for home, wherever you may be.
Mad Dreams is available on iTunes, Spotify, and all streaming platforms.