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This Electronic Artist Is Questioning Male-Dominance In A High-Pressure Music Industry

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By Diya Gupta for The Wild City:

Sanaya Ardeshir’s got the kind of rare self-awareness, reflexivity and casual (borderline oblivious) verity that makes interviewing her particularly enjoyable. As one of the few artists and certainly one of the thimbleful of women producers who have successfully managed to navigate the independent music space; she managed to make a living without compromising on her own sound and image.

Her training as a pianist led her subsequent electronic production under the Sandunes name to be (unsurprisingly) punctuated with heavy synth work and lots of melody, which initially took inspiration from UK garage after a stint in the UK. Her latest album “Downstream” moves away from the more emphatic melody driven work to something more adventurous, playful and improvisational with its vibrant bursts of melody and percussion. It might be her best work so far – audacious, effervescent and all the while, completely unaffected.

I call Ardeshir and congratulate her on the album (a nicety that she says she’s never understood), and we go on to talking about the processes behind “Downstream”, the pressure to cater to the dance floor, her position as one of the few female producers in India and more.

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“It Really Was Something That Superseded My Expectation… ”

Our conversation took place soon after her album launch, which kicked things off with an RBMA style lecture with frequent collaborator Jivraj Singh. “It really was something that superseded my expectations. In fact, it just came together over a couple of conversations about wanting to do something – whatever that something was – to drive traffic to the link when I got it up. A few spaces had offered to hold different workshops and performances, and then it got fleshed out, not just as a Facebook live thing, but actually like a full event.”

The performance at G5A was preceded by a conversational workshop about production and then a sort of demo by Ardeshir about constructing live sets – “We had a really amazing turnout, and I think at lease 50-70% of the people who came were actual music makers and producers, and for me that was amazing, because there was a core community of people who were either into the music or into the philosophy of live music (or whatever you want to call it). It was indicative because I think there’s an interest towards bridging the worlds of live music and electronic music.”

The Facebook live link got a fair bit of traction (it’s still up if you want to watch it) but what interested me was Jiver’s approach to the live visuals – “We were really calling an ‘anti-visual’ show in the sense that it was a narrative (but nothing too abstract at all). It’s hard for me to describe…you know that term in movies – ‘suspension of disbelief’? He wanted to create something in which there was not a moment of suspension of disbelief. Rohan Ramanna put it in a really great way yesterday; something about how every now and then he was gently reminded that he was not immersed in the world that he thought he was in… “

“I Really Just Wanted To Clean Up The Energy Around That And Not Succumb To The Tedium Or The Work And Effort Aspects Of The Process.”

I tell Sanaya that the album, for me, was the most effortlessly cohesive so far and very organic – “It was exactly that actually. The process was very organic and what I mean by that is that I definitely tried to go back to the feeling of playing in a band. I would enact all the different players of that ensemble in my head. Technology is limitless these days, and as a creator, you have so much freedom to infinitely think, so I wanted to come at it with a more traditional approach, I guess.”

In an attempt to become the one band she aspires to be, Sanaya told us after the release of ‘Crystal Pink’ she has even started to learn the drums (likely another impact of her work with Perfectiming). The need to feel like she was in a more traditional space of live performance was imperative: “It didn’t necessarily have to sound like a live band – it was more about the feeling of being a part of it. The word that always precedes music is “play”, you know? You play music. And I think over the years it just started to become work. A lot of musicians resonate with that – how you have to drag yourself into the studio to finish something, and your ears are fatigued, and your spirit is fatigued, firstly because of the pressure also the weight of judgement that’s come into any creative process. I really just wanted to clean up the energy around that and not succumb to the tedium or the work and effort aspects of the process. So I played, and I recorded it first without judging it or falling into that trap of self-doubt and lack of worthiness. And I think what unfolded was a very bold sound because of decisions I have not allowed myself to make in the past.”

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“I’ve Really Struggled With It And Let It Become A Big Bane To My Existence In The Past Because It’s Demoralising… ”

With pressures from venues and performances wanting ‘banging’ performances where they go, it’s becoming harder and harder to make music that doesn’t cater to a club. The pressure from the fact that Sanaya will have to make a living as a musician is real (this isn’t just a side job, and that means the majority of her income is through live performances). And that can compromise sound and integrity of her work.

She tells us about finding a balance – “I made a conscious attempt to construct the music in a way in which I’d be able to translate it live. It’s tough to not give a shit about getting gigs at clubs and playing to people’s expectations. I’ve really struggled with it and let it become a big bane of my existence in the past, because it’s demoralising when your sets are not “banging” enough (or whatever the word people use these days). For me, there are so many layers involved in enjoying a live set, and I never understand why it’s not ‘banging’ enough. But I try to focus on what I would care about in a performance. I was very influenced by the whole journey I had last year with Perfectiming in that sense, it taught me that it’s OK if the tempo is down and its ok if the bass is not destroying or “killing”…the audience can engage anyway, not just through tempo or volume or whatever…”

” …The Process Called For Singularity… “

What was strange about the “Downstream” LP was that this was probably the first release she’s had with such few (well, zero) collaborations, especially after a year of shared work in ‘Sybounce’ and with Perfectiming: “Ya I mean, this is totally non-collaborative. Even at the mix stage, I held back from reaching out to anyone. I think that the process called for singularity and I think that’s maybe a result of the fact that Perfectiming was very shared.”

About Perfectiming – “We’re tied up in our own work these days – Jivraj with Parekh and Singh and the hotel and all his other work. We consciously decided to give it a bit of time, but recently we’ve been able to reconnect with certain ideas we’re excited about. So hopefully we should have another EP out at the beginning of next year.”

“I Think The Longer I’ve Been Around The More Seriously I Get Taken Which Feels Good Because I’m Being Undermined Less And Less Especially On A Technical Level Which Used To Happen All The Time… ”

How this question doesn’t come up more is a mystery to me, but the pressures of being a woman in the Indian music industry can’t be ignored. The fact that we can count all even our semi-successful female producers, on the one hand, should be considered ridiculous.

So I ask Sanaya about it – whether it makes the way she approaches things different from her male counterparts and about the pressures (if any) she faces as a woman: “I think the longer I’ve been around, the more seriously I get taken. Which feels good because, I’m being undermined less and less especially on a technical level which used to happen all the time – it was really harrowing because when you’re not at a level when you’re self-assured then you will begin to question yourself when somebody says ‘are you sure you know what you’re doing’? It’s complex – it’s really tough. But I try not to talk about it too much and just kind of activate projects around it, and it’s nice to see that women are definitely encouraging each other these days. I will only change with time.”

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The pressure, Sanaya tells us, hasn’t taken a negative toll on her as much as pushed her towards actually doing something to bring about change – “The pressure is actually just becoming aware of a feeling of responsibility. It’s very jarring to me that there just aren’t enough women doing music, and I was kind of oblivious to it before because I had never been in a circumstance where I was operating with peers of my own gender. And I had the opportunity to do that as late as 2014 where the majority of people that I was working with at a particular residency in the US were women, suddenly hit me like, holy hell, everyone here is female! I realised how ridiculous it was that I’d never been in that circumstance before…because genuinely the energy changes – I don’t think it’s a result of like, female energy and all of that – I think it’s positive to collaborate with peers of the same gender, who then became role models. So what I still hold is that there need to be more role models of our gender, there needs to be representation.”

“Recently I was trying to get off a lineup because I thought that what I was booked for wasn’t a good fit. But the thought that creeped into my head was fuck, but I’m the only girl on this whole lineup. So I should do it. There’s a sense of – sometimes I don’t know how I feel about it – responsibility.”

We end our conversation with a little bit about what Sanaya wants to do for the rest of the year: “I’m looking forward to taking a break after the tour because I’m definitely on my last leg before getting burnt out. But I am trying to take this live performance version of ‘Downsteam’ to a new level. And I need to find the right venues, so people engage. I am definitely more inclined to grow a little bit out of the state of focussing on just music – the potential of building a bigger world of which music is only one part is very exciting.”

“I think I’m in a bolder place now, and for the rest of the year, I just want to nail it.”

This post was first published here on The Wild City.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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