A Dubai Musician's US Debut

Published July 2nd, 2017 - 02:00 GMT
Malavika Das. (Khaleej Times)
Malavika Das. (Khaleej Times)

It's not easy to make a break in America's highly competitive music world. Thousands have tried, and failed. But a Dubai girl is living her musical dream in the US. Raised in the Emirates, Malavika Das, who has studied at Gems Modern Academy and AUD and chased her passion to become a singer, has already tasted success with her debut single, "Jackpot."  

The Los Angeles-based pop-R&B singer's first EP, which was released earlier last month, has been praised by critics as an upbeat, audacious girl power anthem. Produced by German pop producer Moritz Braun, "Jackpot" amalgamates jazz, funk 'n' soul, modern pop, and Indian music—an apt tribute to Malavika's heritage. 

The singer cites Michael Jackson, TLC, and En Vogue as her inspirations and this shows in her music, which features high-pitched vocals and stacked harmonies. Her debut single can be heard on Spotify.

Unlike many other flash in the pan artistes, Malavika is not one to allow success to go to her head. In fact, she is already working on a slew of new tracks (currently in production) and is also working on a plan to tour the US later this year with her music.

"The response to 'Jackpot' has been so amazing! We've been doing work on our next few tracks and will look to build on all of that," Malavika told the Khaleej Times.

"This is a big year for me and I am hoping music lovers will like what I am coming out with over the next few months," she added. 

Having spent her growing years in the UAE, Malavika says she would love to come to Dubai for a gig. 

"The UAE has been my home for so many years and I have so many friends, family and fans here. Surely I would love to do something special for them, perhaps early next year." City Times talks to the budding talent to know more.

Where are your roots from?
I'm originally from Kerala, India.

What made you take up music?
I was always passionate about music. But it wasn't easy for me to determine whether it was just a hobby or something that I would pursue as a career. I was extremely happy living and studying marketing and finance in Dubai, but I used to feel incomplete. Something was missing. I did not want to live with regret 10 years later for not having pursued what I was truly passionate about. Then I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston (after receiving a scholarship). Seeing all those musicians devoting almost every hour of their day to their craft at Berklee made me want to chase my dream even more. It was then I decided to transfer credits and finish my degree in Boston.

From studying Marketing and Finance to Berklee College of Music in Boston, what inspired you to switch to music?
I first decided to study Marketing and Finance at the American University in Dubai because I wasn't sure if music was just a hobby or a dream that I would like to transform into a career. But one summer, I decided to see if I stood a chance outside of Dubai and India so I applied to a music school and I was fortunate enough to win a scholarship to Berklee College of Music. If it hadn't been for the scholarship I don't think my parents would have let me transfer my credits there without completing my degree in Dubai. 

Explain your music style? 
I would say its pop and R&B, but I also like to inculcate elements of different cultures into my music production.

Among the current lot of singers, who inspires you most?
Quite a few, but the top ones are Lady Gaga, Lisa Fischer, the Weeknd, Bruno Mars and Beyonce.

Tell us more about your debut song, Jackpot?
It is an upbeat and audacious girl power anthem with elements of jazz, funk and soul and modern pop.

We have also sampled an Indian folk instrument called the Bhapang and added it to the mix to give the song an Indian twist. It's a throwback to pay homage to some of the greatest funk and soul artistes like James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone and Aretha Franklin as well. The song features some of those big vocals with a bunch of harmonies which is different from what you would usually hear in today's pop music.

Being from Dubai, how difficult was it to fit into the music scene in America?
It definitely had its challenges! I wanted to bring something fresh to the table and it took me a while to dig in deep and figure out what I wanted to do as a songwriter, performer, entertainer and artist as a whole. I have numerous influences and I listen to all kinds of music so I first wanted to figure out who I really was and needed to do some soul-searching in order to find my voice the right way - melodically, lyrically, and on a sonic level. It definitely takes time to get there. Being as a musician is an ever-evolving journey. As far as inspiration is concerned, you can never run out of resources. For me, this is just the beginning. 

And yes, moving to Boston was tough - I didn't know anyone in the city. It was a new place for me with new venues presenting new opportunities. I had to start from scratch and build my way up. I still have a long way to go!

Tell us about your performances in the US?
I have performed quite a few shows in America, including one at the Agganis Arena in Boston for an audience of 7,000 where the attendees included luminaries such as Ray Greene, lead vocalist of the band Tower of Power, Rita Moreno, The Isley Brothers and Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group. Recently, I performed at some premier LA venues like The Mint, Hotel Cafe and the iconic Whiskey a Go Go.

We heard you performed for  A.R. Rahman?
I was part of the Berklee Indian Ensemble who performed for the Oscar-winning Indian composer A.R. Rahman at the Boston Symphony Hall.  The performance garnered over 3 million views on YouTube. The Berklee Indian Ensemble is a performing group from the Berklee College of Music and is made up of singers and musicians from different nations.

Have you performed in Dubai?
I have performed with Pakistani (and Bollywood) singer Shafqat Amanat Ali at the Armani Hotel in Dubai. I have also performed for ex-US President Bill Clinton as well as members of the Dubai Royal Family for events held by GEMS Foundation, Varkey Group as well as other charity events. I also worked with the original West End cast of Hairspray at DUCTAC.

Do you miss Dubai?
I definitely do! I miss my friends, family and the food (Arabic). It's been more than a year since I have been to Dubai, so I would surely love to come down for a quick trip.

What's your advice to budding talents in Dubai who, like you, are dreaming of making their big break in America?
Dream big. Be authentic. Be who you are no matter what the trend is or what you're told to do by people. At the end of the day, you're going to be performing your songs for the rest of your life so you should be able to enjoy what you do, especially if you're trying to make a career out of music and have longevity as an artist.

Tell us about your family?
We are originally from Kerala. My father is the CEO of NBF Capital (in Dubai) and my mum used to be the head of administration in some Dubai schools and other companies. She actually gave up her job up to be a full-time mother, and I love her for that. I am the youngest among three siblings. I have an older brother and sister. My sister is settled in Houston, Texas with two children and my brother Arjun, is an actor based in Chennai. 

So what's next for you?
At the moment I'm working on building up a portfolio of songs. I plan to release an EP later this year and by an album soon after. I will also be touring to promote the EP later this year

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