By Rowena Singh
“Fiji is a strong part of my existence,” says ghazal and Bollywood singer Kavita Kalyan.
Kalyan is Australian born, but with strong family ties that take her back to Fiji, and her extended family in Suva regularly.
“Despite living in Australia, I have always identified as being Fijian. Furthermore, my parents’ heavy involvement in the Fijian-India communities of Melbourne ensured that my knowledge of Fiji-Indian culture never seemed very far away.”
Australians have really embraced Bollywood music as a unique and fun addition to their birthday and Christmas parties, she says, noting that this has given her the opportunity to spread the music style in different communities in Australia.
Similarly, she says, the ghazal scene has been growing steadily.
“Being quite a shy girl when I was young, I dwelled on these two genres and used them as a form of expression.
“Music became my voice. The lyrics and words of much of what I sing today has a lot to do with who I actually am as a person today.”
“I started singing when I was seven,” says Kalyan. “My parents were first generation Australian migrants of Fiji-Indian heritage, and ever since I can remember, my parents immersed themselves in music to maintain their Fiji-Indian culture in Australia.
“In my 20s I was blessed to meet my husband who shared the same passion, and taste for music as myself,” she says. “Early into our relationship we invested in learning music, and slowly playing, learning, teaching and performing became a way of life. We inspired each other to grow and learn and with every step we took, our love for music grew stronger. I believe that learning and growing is an ever-lasting process, and I’m currently continuing my learning from an amazing teacher based in Vancouver, Harsharan Singh Ji, and I look forward to continuing this ever-beautiful journey of music.”
Performing original music
“Some of my best experiences of music have been while creating original music. One of our trips to India involved us writing, recording and shooting a ghazal clip in Goa, which was based on the hardships people endure in their lives. Recently, I am enjoying the creative process of making covers of songs to give listeners a difference experience.”
“I was fortunate enough to be asked by AIFAV (Australian Integrated Fijian Association of Victoria) to prepare a song as part of their Fiji Day celebrations this year,” states Kalyan. “This song [Teri Mitti] really appealed to me, as it spoke of how I feel about Fiji.”
The instruments used on this track are ones usually played in traditional Indo-Fijian music such as dholak, electric banjo (bulbul tarang) and harmonium.
In English, the song translates to:
“I wish to merge in your soil, I wish to bloom as a flower
It’s the wish of my heart
That I flow in your rivers, that I wave in your fields (as harvest)
Just that much is my wish of my heart.”
Like many members of the Pacific diaspora, she longs to return home.
“Everything from the food to the smell, to the people, spells home to us,” says Kalyan. “For many of us living away from our original home, we have missed Fiji dearly these last couple of years, as we have not been able to travel there. This song’s lyrics touched on those sentiments, as well as the thought that Fiji, no matter where we are, or how old we get, will always be in our hearts. It was an absolute honour for my husband and I to work on this song and dedicate it to Fiji.”
“Teri Mitti was certainly our most memorable and successful track to date,” says Kalyan, with the video clocking over 40,000 views on TikTok.
Like many musicians, Kalyan and her musical collaborators have been feeling the effect of the pandemic.
“Without performing, we have lost the sense of community and connection we had, and mental health is at an all-time low. In a positive light, music publishing and the recorded music sector is receiving more attention now, than ever before.”
“Live musicians & artists have been hit really hard with COVID. It’s really sad to see my own musical family struggle all over the world. Live performances have certainly taken a back seat for the moment; however I have tried to find new ways to bring music to my audience. One aspect has been truly humbling in this experience, and that is being able to collaborate with many artists around the world. In one of my recent clips (Hum Tumse Na Kuch), we had four musicians from different countries (Canada, India & Australia) all playing on the same track, but using the power of videography, it looks like it was recorded in the same room. This kind of collaboration was only possible through the connections made through this pandemic, and for that I am grateful.”
As borders re-open, Kalyan hopes to be able to perform in Auckland, USA, Fiji and Canada.
“There are amazing musicians residing there,” says Kalyan. “And I really look forward to meeting and jamming with them!”
“The past couple of years has been tough on the industry,” says Kalyan. “So do remember to support artists. Whether it be sharing their work, buying tickets to their next concert, or tuning into their livestreams. I’m so grateful for the audience I have gained, I am humbled by your support and encouragement.”
This article first appeared in the December issue of Islands Business magazine.