Overnight, the New Zealand Music Awards took place at Auckland’s Vector Arena, with Aaradhna making the headlines for refusing the Tui for Best Hip Hop Album.
“I feel like if you’re putting a singer next to a hip-hop artist, it’s not fair.” she said, before giving her award to SWIDT. “I’m a singer, I’m not a rapper, I’m not a hip-hop artist. It feels like I’ve been placed in the category of brown people. That’s what it feels like.”
Of course, it didn’t take long for her speech to reach the internet and since, there has been an overwhelming amount of support online for Aaradhna and, rightly so. Casual racism and labelling has been something the singer has taken aim at on Brown Girl‘s album track in particular, with “Brown Girl” exploring her own experiences growing up in New Zealand and being of Indian and Samoan descent.
Sitting down with Aaradhna in Adelaide only a few weeks prior to the awards, it didn’t take long before we found we shared a fair bit in common, particularly when it came to growing up multicultural, yet in an environment that wasn’t necessarily welcoming of our mixed backgrounds. For the 32 year old musician, music has become a medium through which Aaradhna can express her hurt, her frustrations and her pride.
“I always felt like that too,” she agrees, as we reflect on periods of adolescence spent feeling on the outer because of one’s skin colour or heritage. Now, she agrees, younger people are taking more pride in where they come from. “A lot of people are more confident and proud about their roots, which is awesome. Music is therapy, that’s why I do it. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane!”
Recently out in Australia with Kylie Auldist, Aaradhna has been able to introduce herself and the Brown Girl album to crowds she hadn’t thought she’d be able to connect with. Of her recent shows, though she was performing without her usual full band set up, it’s the messages behind her songs and their delivery that remained the most important element, for Aaradhna.
“I feel like it’s been a good reception,” she says of the initial Australian dates. “I mean, it’s always scary to do an acoustic set, especially when Kylie or the headliner has a big full band. It’s always scary; I always get this feeling like, ‘I don’t want to bore anyone!’. I feel like there are people out there who are listening to the messages and that’s what I’m really trying to do. It feels good.”
Though Brown Girl has undoubtedly acted as an introductory album for many newcomers to Aaradhna’s music, this definitely isn’t her first rodeo. Releasing music since 2006’s I Love You and being signed to Dawn Raid Entertainment, Aaradhna has been a fixture of the NZ music charts for years now. She reflects on the process behind Brown Girl in particular, which took her to both New York and Los Angeles to write and record.
“It was awesome,” she says of the experience. “I’ve always wanted to just get in a room with a bunch of musos who really know their stuff and just get to creating. I like that whole creative process and I’ve always wanted to start from scratch; I’ve always just written the songs and I’ve just given them to the producer to do what I was trying to say.”
“It was good to have the actual musicians around together, they understood the ideas and actually made it a lot better than what I was trying to do and what I had in my head! It sounded a lot better, which is what I wanted! That’s my favourite part, just working on it organically.”
It’s not been a smooth journey ’til this point, Aaradhna reveals. While she’s got both a Gold record and a #1 album to her name, she remembers times where a career in music almost got left at the wayside. Still, time spent out of an album cycle provided Aaradhna an opportunity to check herself and kickstart the next chapter of her career…and here we are.
“I think it was probably after my first album, when I took the time away from it.” she says. “I felt like I wanted to quit and that’s when it started, because I got bored. I ended up writing and I was like, ‘I don’t have a studio to record at or anything,’ – I bought a ProTools AIR box and I didn’t really know how to work it. I mean, I tried to remember how my producers from the first album did it with theirs, so I only knew the basics. I got my brother to teach me. From there, I started developing it; I used my Mum’s keyboard and then started putting it all together. It took a while but back then, I was really determined. I was like, ‘No one is going to do it for me this time!’.”
Quite clearly, Aaradhna’s striding ahead musically. Feeling confident and comfortable with her own direction and sound, not to mention surrounding herself with a solid network of fellow artists and musicians, has been a big part of it.
“It definitely helps.” she laughs. “Obviously, you have to know what you want. In the beginning, I knew I wanted to be a singer when I was younger and I had songs written, but I still didn’t have the sound in my head. I couldn’t explain it properly, I didn’t even know myself. I had to grow into it to know what exactly I wanted. What sound and note melody, every single detail that I wanted. For me, it took time.”
A recent addition to the Golden Era Records family too, Aaradhna is excited to see where her music goes next, now she has a solid connection with our industry.
“I feel lucky, actually.” she gushes. “They’ve been really helpful; I don’t think I would have gotten on this tour without their help. Being on the tour has taken me to places that I haven’t been able to sing my songs in and it feels good. In Australia, obviously there’s iTunes and everything, but I’ve never had my CD in the stores, like JB Hi-Fi. I was checking with my cousins just to make sure that it was there; I didn’t believe it until they actually went in there and they bought some! I feel really lucky.”
“I can only hope for the best and do my best.” Aaradhna mentions, looking ahead to her Australian return – she’ll be performing at Adelaide’s Clipsal 500 alongside the Hilltop Hoods and Seth Sentry. “Those boys are awesome, so I’m feeling pretty positive about how it’s going to go.”
Brown Girl is out now. Keep up to date with Aaradhna HERE.