We had the good fortune of connecting with Amira Gill and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Amira, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
Every interest of mine is creative or artistic – so at some level – I don’t think I had an option but to pursue an artistic career.
Sometimes I entertain the what ifs that crop up in my mind: “if not music, then what else would I have chosen as a career?”
I weigh my options.
I love to read and I really enjoy writing – so I started writing a short story novel last year based on five female protagonists. Their lives are inspired by real people in my life, but for the most part they’re imagined. In other words, the trajectory of their lives are created by me and the world I paint for them.
I love to dance, so sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I had a dance company that told stories through movement? I immediately start visualizing all the possibilities. We are a dance crew on a large auditorium stage, the music starts playing in my head, the instrumentation comes alive, the costumes start stitching together and the stage lights switch on as the thick red curtains part. In this scenario, people are invited to a world that has been created by me and they can experience it through a visual medium like a performed dance-drama.
I love interacting with people and getting to know them. I am an empath and a compassionate person. So when I think of work that I could do that involves working directly with people – probably children who are bullied or come from troubled backgrounds – I cook up ideas revolving music therapy and how creative writing and music could be merged to find a space for the child’s frustrations to be redirected and heard. This is inspired by my work as a student and professional music therapist as I did my bachelors in Music Therapy at the Berklee College of Music.
My whole being and the way I perceive the world is artistic/creative. Therefore, I feel like I was made to follow this path.
The thing that pushed me most in that direction was music. I cannot go a day without singing. I started professionally singing when I was just 14 years old and I haven’t looked back. Nothing makes me feel as fulfilled, excited, or connect with as many new people as music does. Whether it’s exploring a new artist or musical style or it is collaborating with someone I haven’t ever met on the other side of the globe. I can’t imagine a life where listening to music or singing doesn’t consume most of my time. If I’m not actively doing music, I am listening to it. If I’m not listening to it, I’m writing. If i’m not writing, I’m thinking of ways in which a particular experience or thought I had could be written down and expressed through words or music. I feel like I wear creative lenses all the time and every life experiences is filtered through those lenses. It’s impossible to live a life then, that isn’t creative.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
I started singing soul and r&b music when I was really young because I was really taken by big voices and how emotive they were. Beyonce, Aretha Franklin, Leona Lewis, Alicia Keys. I would practice for hours and hours at home without really thinking it’s “practice”. I just couldn’t get enough of it. I learnt every song of every album I heard and the only thing I could think about at the start of a school day would be when I would get done, get to go home and sing. When I realized I needed to formally train and wanted an avenue to perform, I joined Perfomer’s Collective – a school for music that was performance based. I met the members of my first band through that school.
I was 14 years old when I joined as the lead vocalist of my first band ‘The Incredible Mindfunk’. We were a four piece band with vocals, electric guitar, bass, and drums. We performed music that had a very distinct sound. It was a combination of all the members’ musical influences. There was rock, psychedelic music, soul, funk among other sounds. We were an indie band and performed at venues across Delhi 3 or 4 nights a week. We were booked for shows and concerts and won one of the most prestigious competitions held in the country called ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. We released our own album of our original music that is still remembered in the community today.
Once I graduated school, I realized I wanted to do music but expand beyond performance. I was very involved in academia as well and I loved to get to know people, listen to their stories and engage with them. I wanted to be able to reach people directly with music. I was intrigued by the music therapy program at Berklee and spoke to people there who had studied it – so I chose to go that route. I completed Berklee’s undergraduate degree with two partial scholarships and one fellowship for my music therapy internship. It was the most fulfilling experience but it came with its own set of lessons and difficulties. I was used to being the big fish in a small pond where every body knew what I did and who I was. When I came to Berklee, I had to introduce what I do and who I am. There were skill sets I had to develop on the go, to make the most of my time there.
I was exposed to music from all over the world. I was listening to instruments I had never heard of, let alone knew what they sounded like. I was being exposed to cultures and languages all around. The best musicians from the world over were in a little bubble that was Berklee and I had the incredible opportunity to learn with them. I got exposed to middle eastern music, Latin American music, jazz, greek music, and even found myself digging into folk music of my own country. 3 years ago I started training in South Indian classical music because I was so deeply drawn to it and now I know it will be a life long pursuit to understand it. All of this exposure has helped me build versatility and curiosity. I can work in a room with many different musical styles and e comfortable and curious. They’ve also seeped into my own composing and show up in my melodies or harmonic choices in ways I could have never anticipated.
At Berklee I also did music therapy. I worked with adults in assisted living facilities, in-patient psychology wards of top notch hospitals, at the pre-op and post-op of another top children’s hospital in the US and, worked with immigrant women at the oldest women’s shelter to help them learn English through song. I also interned at the UCLA chidlren’s hospital as a music therapist and worked with children on the pediatric ICU and oncology-hematology wards as well as mothers in prenatal and postnatal care. The same year I traveled to East-Africa with Umoja Global Community Music Therapy to do music therapy with children and young women at different institutions, hospitals, organizations. To know music of so many different regions and in so many different languages helped me at UCLA because I could interact with the huge international patient population that came in. Having someone who could make them connect to home and do music that they knew and felt comforted/ happy with.
I feel like my voice is the tree and every creative/musical endeavor I have undertaken are the branches. They all are connected to my singing. Whether I do music therapy, whether I sing as a session vocalist, compose my own music, sing for other people’s projects, sing jingles and do voice overs – everything comes back to the voice and what it can do. My creativity and my vitality comes from my voice.
I would say to every artistic person reading this – trust your curiosity. You don’t know where it leads you. You won’t know how it comes in handy in the future or the satisfaction you get from learning something new and carving a new path for yourself. Trust the timing of everything and when you feel stuck – just ask yourself why you started in the first place. When you feel afraid of the future or uncertain, just write it down and find solutions to it. The work will reap fruit. Most times the possibilities of what we can do are beyond even our imagination.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Im currently in New Delhi, India. So when Covid wasn’t in the picture, I’d love to go to the historic Khan Market and sit at one of the most famous cafes there – Big Chill – and have conversations over some coffee and deserts.
I also love the historic Mughal architecture like the Humayuns Tomb, a picnic at the Sunder Nursery gardens right next to it. Maybe we would go watch the Qawwali music night at the Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah and then go to Auro near Hauz Khas Village for some drinks and live music.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Community is everything and especially for a person like me, my support system deserves much credit.
Starting with my parents who encourages me to be whatever I wanted and supported me in my decision to study music and sing full time. It’s such a rarity and privilege to have not only their support but also their encouragement.
To my friends – who show up for the concerts and are the best audience. Who lift me up and out of dark places and remind me why they think I am on the right path.
To my mentors and teachers for going above and beyond to pour information, knowledge and love into me every chance they get.
My brother – the voice of reason in my life and my rock.
Rohith Jayaraman, Kaushlesh Purohit, Kristina Cassale, Raphael Martin, One World College of Music, Shuchi Prasad