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British Indian Pop Star Rika On How Her Multicultural Upbringing Shaped Her Music

The 21-year-old recipient of the Artist of the Year Asia award wants to collaborate with a bunch of Indian artists.

Deepali Singh

Chandrika Darbari, better known by her stage name Rika, was barely nine when she wrote her first song. Born to an Eastern European mother and an Indian father, the singer-songwriter grew up in North-West London and is one of the few people to break into the vibrant Western music scene as a British-Asian artiste. For the singer who describes her sound as ‘cutting edge pop’, including her heritage in her music comes naturally. For instance, her track Hold on to Me gently blends in a bit of Bollywood influence and she has also sung a few lines in Punjabi in her single Left to Love. Last year, she also dropped a single Love to You with singer Ankit Tiwari. Sporting glittering bindis and bangles in many of her music videos as well on her Instagram posts, this girl sure is proud of her heritage.  

Recently, the 21-year-old won the Artist of the Year Asia award at the 18th annual Urban Music Awards 2022, where she was nominated alongside talents such as B Praak, Neha Kakkar, Jasmine Sandlas, and Sidhu Moosewala among others. “I had not gone to a proper event since the pandemic began. I took my family with me and it was so lovely celebrating the win with the people I love and hold dearest to me,” she says.

Here are the edited excerpts from a conversation with the musician. 

1. What are your earliest memories of making music? 

I’ve been writing songs since I was nine years old, and I always felt like music was the best way I could express myself. I studied music in high school and have done courses with the prestigious Berklee College of Music. I taught myself how to play the piano when I was nine, and when we had our first lockdown due to Covid, it gave me the opportunity to hone my guitar skills. I also bettered my understanding of the production side of music. One of the first songs I ever wrote became my first ever single called No Need’. It was released independently and I was taken aback at how well it did. It was played on MTV India and B4U Music, and it charted top 80 in India too! I have not looked back since.

2. How and when did you decide to make music your profession?

I always knew my destiny was with music. Even when I was in school, I was the most academic person in my class, but I always had a passion for the creative arts and music. When I was younger, I would get the main role in our school musicals. I played Nala in Lion King, Nancy in Oliver Twist, and Mrs Crabs in Hairspray. Even though it was always something I connected with, it wasn’t until I realised how much my parents loved and supported me by coming to these musicals, that I realised I was destined to pursue this career. Their love helped nurture my confidence in music and take it seriously as a career. 

3. How has your multi-cultural upbringing formed your music?

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I grew up with a lot of different influences and cultures around me. You would hear ABBA playing in one room and Bollywood music in the other. I grew up listening to a lot of my parents’ favourite music, like The Carpenters, Lionel Richie, ABBA, and Guns and Roses—and they’re my favourites now too. I hope to pass down the classics from their generation and mine on to my children. To me, music is the easiest way to communicate. My songwriting is very personal and without it, I wouldn’t know the right words to say. Music gave me a voice that I’m still learning how to use every day.

4. Who were your inspirations when you were growing up? How have they influenced your music? 

Growing up, there were quite a few artists I looked up to. I look up to Rihanna and the empire she built for herself. She is an icon in any venture she pursues, and I want to dominate globally like that. 

They say you should never meet your idols, but when I met Demi Lovato, who is one of mine, it proved that notion wrong. She has such amazing vocals and I loved watching her sing and act when I was younger. I met her when I was 14, when she was doing a show on BBC Radio 1 in the UK called The School Run and I was picked out of thousands to meet her. Our episode has almost 2 million views on YouTube. She was super sweet and gave me great advice on being a singer and pursuing music, which I cherish to this day. I also really admire Ed Sheeran. He has vulnerable lyrics and is such a master of his craft, and has built a career by being his most authentic self. He puts his authenticity in his music and I do the same in mine, as I write or co-write all of my songs.

5. In 2016, you came up with the track, For Peace in Syria, that went viral. Do you think musicians and artists have a social responsibility when they create art? 

I feel it’s important that people have a choice. A lot of people support causes, and help however they can, without it ever being publicised on social media, and a lot of people advocate for really important causes loudly, and I feel that balance is essential. Personally, I couldn’t believe what was happening to such young kids, children who were barely the same age as me. I felt the need to make the song to tell them—I hear you. My brother and I produced the music video, and we actually shot it in a piano store in Delhi! It is something I am very proud of to this day as I had gotten a lot of messages from Syrian children saying how much it had meant for them to be heard. 

6. Which Indian musicians do you admire and would you like to collaborate with any one of them?

Bollywood music has a very special place in my heart. I grew up listening to a lot of Bollywood music. Some of my favourite Indian singers are Jubin Nautiyal, Armaan Malik, and Neha Kakkar. I would love to collaborate with them. 

7. What are your plans for this year? 

I have made so much new music recently, and I can’t wait to share it all with you. However, I believe in divine timing and that the best things in life take time and hard work. I only want to put out something which has my whole heart and soul in it, otherwise, it is unfair to the listeners. I plan to release some special projects in the next coming months.

Photo: Rika
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