"I love crafting melodies that harken to my training"
Singer-songwriter, Nikitaa, is an upcoming star from Mumbai and is poised for stardom.
The South Asian musician now resides in LA, mastering her art and exploring new creative ways to develop her sound.
As an artist, Nikitaa creates a blend of fluid and artistic layers to her songs that make them powerful, emotional and deep.
She combines sassy melodies, rich compositions and impactful lyrics to bring fresh tracks to her growing audience.
Likewise, her fusion of RnB, pop and South Asian soundscape has helped her create a new genre in the industry – “Goddess Pop”.
This fresh and innovative style embodies the message of her music – individuality, empowerment, and authenticity.
Nikitaa’s ties to Indian classical music, which stem from her family, have led the starlet to years of training and education at the Musicians Institute in LA.
Her music indulges in the universal image of the Goddess in all her forms, moods and states.
With such a keen eye for the different elements of good music, the singer released a series of tracks in 2022 that skyrocketed her career.
‘Bad Trip’ and ‘Apsara’ evoke such emotion as Nikitaa’s soothing voices glide across the beat.
Her harmonies play an important role within these songs and ooze with such conviction that you cannot help to put the tracks on repeat.
But, listeners can always feel the warmth of South Asia through her releases too.
For example, ‘Chup’ and ‘Zindagi Hai Abhi’ are full of classical Indian sounds. But, the way these bounce off the pop-infused beats is magical and designs a unique listening experience.
As an artist with such a dedicated vision, it was only right to catch up with Nikitaa on her transition from Mumbai to LA, her creative process and her ultimate ambitions within music.
Can you tell us how your love for music began?
I’ve loved music for so long that it’s hard to recall one particular memory.
But my family always loves talking about how the only thing that could ever calm me down as a toddler was listening to the title track from the movie Rangeela.
I could barely stand, and yet I would get up and start bobbing up and down to the beat.
It was always that song for years and years, and to this day it’s one of my favorite songs.
Music has always been soothing to my soul. I like to think the music we love is the soundtrack to our lives.
Which artists have influenced your sound and in what ways?
I feel like I’ve been influenced in equal measure by so many of the greats across genres.
I count AR Rahman, Lucky Ali, Beyonce, Metallica, and Frank Ocean among them. It sounds like such a wide array of genres, but it’s what is real for me.
I love the way AR Rahman composes; his cassettes (back when we’d collect those) were my brother and I’s most prized musical possessions.
Dil Se and Taal hold such a special place in my heart. The way he utilises percussion and woodwinds always captivates me and definitely influenced my ear.
Lucky Ali was a shared experience.
My cousins, my sibling and I have had countless road trips where all we listened to was Lucky Ali, bellowing at the top of our lungs, going quiet when the depth of Lucky’s words hit us.
I often need to be reminded simply by listening to what Lucky and his peers did for independent music in the 90s and 2000s.
He weaved relatable stories of heartbreak so effortlessly with elements of mystery, myth, and intrigue. That’s something I like to do in my own way now, as an artist.
“I of course love Beyonce for her vocals, I have always loved challenging myself vocally.”
I remember being a tween and almost exclusively singing Beyonce and Whitney songs – pushing and exploring what my voice could do.
Then, as I got older, asking myself what I would do differently.
But I also adore Beyonce for her ingenuity and ability to put on such immaculate, elaborate, and well-planned shows.
I drank up every little thing I could find about her – always inspired by her work ethic and thought process.
Metallica was actually my first musical love. My older brother loved rock music, and of course, he influenced what I listened to.
Metallica was always at the top of my list – a great blend of lyrical poetry and the resolute strength of so much of the genre.
Rock music will always have my heart, partly because it’s the closest English music comes to the poetic beauty of Hindi and Urdu for me. That and the dominance and versatility of the guitar.
And lastly Frank Ocean – my God how this man changed the way I listen to music.
From lyrics to composition to melody and everything in between…Frank’s so unapologetic, so himself, and creates such beautiful and moving music.
I always have to be careful when I listen to him, I always feel like I’m going to drift off in the emotions he drenches his songs in.
His work reminds me to keep that level of authenticity alive for myself.
Why did you choose to switch to LA from India?
I originally moved to LA in 2015 to study music and then of course to work here. I didn’t realise how hard and fast I would fall for this city!
I’ve found that living here in general suits me so much more than living in Mumbai.
LA has been a place where I’ve done a big chunk of growing up – I’ve spent nearly all of my 20s here! And that personal growth reflects very clearly in my music.
I love my home country for its people and culture…But when it comes to living – every day, every moment? LA has my heart.
I’ve really been able to build a community of like-minded individuals who are just as committed to their spiritual and personal journeys as I am.
And that allows me to create from a more grounded and stable place.
Is it difficult to move entire continents on your own? Of course. But it has been absolutely worth it for me.
Do you think it will be harder or easier to break out in America?
The only foolproof way to establish a consistent audience in any particular region is live performance – which I plan to be doing a lot of in the coming year(s).
But I don’t know if it’s about “breaking out” in the same way as it used to be before, to be honest. So, I’d like to answer this question keeping that in mind.
People from all over the world find my music, and my audience switches around so much with every song.
‘Majesty’, for example, had a significant number of listens in certain North African countries, the Hindi music has been doing well in India, UAE, and the US!
We’re no longer in the age of albums (overall, not just from well-established, wealthy, and popular artists – which are usually just a handful).
“We’re in the age where people have really begun to pick and choose what songs they stream from any artist.”
They categorise them into mood and vibe-specific playlists and so forth… And then you add to that the layer of social media and also virtual concerts.
Suddenly the term “break out” in a certain country isn’t as important as having a consistent and growing audience, regardless of where they are.
You’ve coined a new genre called “Goddess Pop”. Can you tell us more?
I started calling my music “Goddess Pop” right after Mukund and I made my song ‘Goddess’ together.
We were trying to figure out what genre we would categorise it as, and we jokingly threw that out there.
But it stuck, and very quickly took on a greater meaning.
A lot of my music and who I am revolves around the original myths and stories about the Goddess archetype.
It’s an energy that is all accepting, that can be dark and light, viscous and compassionate.
It basically dissolves this idea of femininity existing inside a restrictive and oppressive box.
I grew up in a spiritually oriented family that kept those stories and those myths and lessons alive, and it’s bled powerfully into my music.
Sonically though, it’s a blend of all the things I love about all the genres I’m influenced by.
I love being able to blend South Asian and Middle Eastern percussive, woodwind, and string instruments with pop synths and RnB kicks.
And I love crafting melodies that harken to my training in Indian classical music while still staying pop.
I am a modern emblem of that blend that cannot exist in a restrictive box or genre.
I love being very cheeky or petty or just fierce and also very vulnerable in the same song.
You were on a hot streak in 2022. Do you have a favourite project thus far?
It’s so hard to pick from my releases in 2022! I feel like every year I put out music, I grow in my authentic expression.
I love each song for such different reasons.
‘Zindagi Hai Abhi’ – which kicked off 2022 for me – is so energetic and playful.
‘Bad Trip’ (Sitam) is the most sonically beautiful ode to my pain and healing from my last relationship.
‘Apsara’ is hypnotic and sexy and makes me feel like I’m THAT girl. And, ‘Chup’ is a reminder of my own prowess as an artist.
“The video for each is so special and some of my best work visually!”
I was listening to all of them in succession the other day, and I honestly felt so happy and so full of joy and pride.
It felt good to end 2022 truly being in love with my own music, which is something so many of us artists struggle with.
What has the reaction been like to your tracks so far?
It’s been fantastic.
In 2022, I had a desire for two things – to see more consistent listens for my music across the board, and to be as authentic as I can to the emotion and story behind each release.
And I really feel like we got there.
I started seeing a lot of queer folks listening to my music as well.
I got added to a lot of playlists with names that push forward the idea encapsulated in “Goddess Pop” – celebrating and remembering the true essence of the feminine.
And that makes me so so happy!
What challenges have you faced as a South Asian female musician?
This is probably going to rile some people up, but I’ve honestly seen this subtle gatekeeping within the community.
The diaspora seems to brush off those of us who grew up in the subcontinent.
At first, I didn’t think too much of it, because none of it happens overtly; nobody is being disrespectful or using crass language, or doing anything incendiary.
“I don’t even think most are aware that they engage in this sort of gatekeeping.”
But I’ve seen how certain opportunities, events, sessions, etc only stay circulating in specific circles.
I haven’t overcome it, in all honesty. The only thing I have done – for my own peace of mind – is to continue to focus on myself.
Are there any artists that you really want to work with?
I have a long mental list haha.
Some of them are Anik Khan, Jon Bellion, Chloe x Halle, Normani, Beyonce, Frank Ocean, Victoria Monet, Banks, Tsar B, and Iniko.
The list is really really long and I could name a dozen more haha!
The why for all of these is because they are artists I adore, respect, and always feel so excited about, and I think that’s reason enough!
Do you think more attention should be paid to musicians in India who create fusion music?
Oh, I DEFINITELY think artists in India in general deserve more attention, far more than they are getting.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s this divide… And I don’t think there should be.
“The independent music scene in India is exploding, and it is vibrant.”
I would look out for Mizuchi, Suvi, and Rachel Singh specifically!
What is your ultimate goal in music?
Honestly, my goals have been shifting over time.
Of course, I have grand visions of being able to perform on big stages to big audiences, etc.
But my main goal right now is to have fun and to be me.
It’s so easy to lose yourself as an artist and get caught up in the rat race of achieving certain numbers in a set time and all that comes with that.
But I firmly believe you can’t put yourself out there as an artist until you believe in what you’re doing and until you love and have fun listening to your own music.
Also, I will always want to change the narrative on femininity. Femininity specifically because it is for all genders.
I want people to experience the expansiveness and power of embracing the feminine.
And, I want people to have fun when they listen to music.
I want to simultaneously remind people that the entire range of their feelings and experiences is valid, but that nothing is permanent, and that they are strong and resilient.
These are all things that motivate me when I’m writing and creating, and so my art is the act of sharing all of that with listeners!
The other narrative has been the fact that South Asian music is so often sampled or referenced somehow in pop music.
But we never see ourselves actually represented in our fullness. I’ve always wanted to change that.
Can you tell your fans about any exclusive new projects?
I’ve been working on softening as an artist and person.
I often write in metaphors, and I will continue to do that, but I’ve been getting more personal and vulnerable than ever before with my music!
I’ve written about so many bigger archetypes and mythic characters – Goddess, High Priestess, Empress, Wolf, etc.
“But I’ve been working to bring that level of grandeur to writing about my own life experiences.”
A lot of it has been centered around processing emotional abuse from my last relationship while finally feeling ready for new love after years of choosing to be single.
Expect songs about aching heartbreak, pain, delirious joy, and love from me, because I’ve experienced both and I can’t wait to share!
Undoubtedly, Nikitaa is fully invested in her career and the musical path she wants to follow.
Whilst her “Goddess Pop” style continues to break the boundaries of creativity, it does not define her as a one-genre musician.
And, this can easily be seen in her catalogue of songs that bellow out rap, rock, jazz and even soul components.
Although she is still emerging as an artist, Nikitaa has already received much recognition across different mediums.
‘Majesty’ was nominated and won at film festivals across India in the music video category such as Lake City International Film Festival (2019) and Ayodhya Film Festival (2019).
Her self-directed music video for ‘Goddess’ made its way onto Women of Indie and Indiestan playlists, as well as editorial playlists on Amazon Music.
Continuing to defy expectations, Nikitaa’s material and music are transcending culture, language and identity.
Her electric songs are therefore shattering stereotypes and shining a light on the talent of South Asian artists.
Listen to more of Nikitaa here.