Take a taxi to Dadar Chowpatty (‘chowpatty’ means ‘beach’), a seaside garden and outdoor music amphitheater with a beautiful view of the Sea-Link bridge over Mahim Bay. “The Revival of the Bandstand Culture” (aka ‘The Bandstand Revival’) is putting on their much-awaited finale of the concert season featuring some of Mumbai’s most popular local bands. Meet Alisha Pais, singer-songwriter and music teacher-extraordinaire who has made a solid impact on India’s indie music scene, with recent appearances at the internationally-renowned Goa Sunburn music festival, among others. You may remember Alisha from my previous blog entry of the “Work-in-Progress” screening of my documentary at the Godrej India Culture Lab, where she gave a fabulous performance for the audience. I had the fortune of being able to catch her in mid-flight during The Bandstand Revival gig to invite her for an interview and home concert. Boy was I lucky to catch her! Here is Alisha, in the flesh and blood:
Music runs in Alisha’s blood. A self-taught singer and guitarist, Alisha’s inspiration largely comes from her father, who inhabits some of her earliest memories. “My father always used to sing me and my brother to sleep. It was the only way we could fall asleep,” she says. Now, when she’s not “wow-ing” audiences in Goa, Alisha shares her childhood love for music to infants in early childhood music therapy classes. “Teaching children music has been the most fun I’ve ever had,” she says. “Now I’m hooked.”
Alisha first began a serious interest in music when, at the age of 13, she was chosen to play the lead role as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. “I didn’t enter the auditions prepared to play Joseph. I had no idea they had their eye on me until they announced the roles,” she says. It was that experience that gave her the drive to pursue music professionally. Just after Joseph, Alisha formed a school band and wrote her first song, called “Reality”. “It was about that typical teenage disdain for real-life”, she says jokingly. Alisha’s writing influences come from a robust and diverse assortment of other singer-songwriters and bands like Damian Rice, Cat Power, and even American country music legend Johnny Cash, picked straight from her father’s record collection.
Now, after years of writing, Alisha is ready for the next stage of her career. “I’m ready to take this to the next level. I’ve got nine songs whittled down and ready to bring to the stage,” she says. While her dream would be to get picked up by a “good record label”, that doesn’t seem to be the main driving force behind her push to the stage. Alisha maintains a healthy balance through focusing on her craft: “Ultimately it’s about the music,” she says.
One thing that’s clear about Alisha, aside from her obvious passion for performance and captivating charm, is her mature embrace of life and understanding of herself. “I am many things…and I’m not afraid of them,” she says. Her self-knowledge is expressed quite well in the song she wrote about (and for) herself, called “I am…” “I wrote it after a breakup,” she says. “I needed to find myself all over again. This song reminds me of who I am.” The song’s power seems to transcend its lyric’s self-reflexive orientation through Alisha’s hypnotizing voice. In her performance to me during the private concert and at the Godrej India Culture Lab (with the image of her projected on the screen behind her), I couldn’t help but reflect on myself and the lyrics I would write in a song about myself.
Alisha’s got her eyes on a new goal: to form Mumbai’s first all-girl band and for a pan-Indian tour. Clearly, Alisha is a force to reckon with. Keep an eye out for her in the near future.