Subhi-Shaitaan Dil (Naughty Heart).

On September the ‘15th’ 2017, Chicago-based singer-songwriter Subhi will release her much-anticipated, accidental debut album Shaitaan Dil (Naughty Heart). For Subhi, this is something she has dreamed about all her life. Even when she was working in finance on Wall Street. However, a career in finance wasn’t for Subhi, who remembers: “I would research artists online, reading their Wikipedia pages over and over.” Eventually, Subhi made the decision turn her back on Wall Street, and embark upon a career in arts journalism.

Soon, Subhi was working for a couple of India’s biggest television channels as their arts correspondent. That was why Subhi was riding through Mumbai on a rickshaw with a leading Bollywood producer during a hot summer day in 2106. As Subhi took in the scenes in Mumbai’s streets, memories of her own childhood in the city came back and she suddenly, she started to sing a melody and soon, the lyrics to the song Bachpan (Childhood) started to take shape. This was the first step in Subhi’s accidental album Shaitaan Dil.

Just over a year later, and Subhi will be spending the next two weeks promoting her Hindi pop jazz album Shaitaan Dil. It’s an autobiographical album, and one that documents Subhi’s experiences with people in the places that she’s lived and cultures she’s embraced. Subhi also deals with the choices Subhi has made, and highlights the struggles that she’s faced during her life. The result is a powerful, captivating and enchanting album from one of the rising stars of the Chicago music scene. However, Subhi’s story began far from Chicago in Mumbai.

That was where Subhi grew up and where her love of words began. She can remember her grandfather reciting poetry to her. Subhi remembers: “I had a little notebook and I would write down my favourite Urdu poems.” These poems would later influence her music.

Despite not being from a musical family, Subhi took singing lessons, and learnt Hindustani music. By middle school, Subhi had formed a pop band with some of her school friends. This was something teenagers had been doing since the birth of rock ’n’ roll. Some of these bands went on to enjoy successful careers.  However, a career in pop music wasn’t regarded as a viable career option for Subhi. 

Instead, Subhi travelled to America to study at one of country’s prestigious universities. Having traveling half way around the world, Subhi’s love of music continued to grow during her student years and beyond.

After graduating, Subhi landed a job in finance in Wall Street. This is the financial capital of America, and where anyone working in American finance dreams of working. That was apart from Subhi. It quickly became apparent that she wasn’t suited to life on Wall Street. Subhi remembers: “I would research artists online, reading their Wikipedia pages over and over. I would write songs in my spare time. Eventually, after I got a company award for excellence, I knew I had to do something else.”

Having left her job on Wall Street, Subhi worked for a couple of India’s biggest television channels as their arts correspondent. Her new job resulted in Subhi travelling to Bollywood, Hollywood and Broadway where she interviewed some of the leading lights of the arts’ world. This included Mira Nair, the director of Oscar-winning film Salaam Bombay. The two soon became friends, and Subhi was soon helping with the music for a new project. Subhi recalls: “Mira Ji was staging Monsoon Wedding, the film on Broadway and needed someone to help write a medley of Punjabi folk songs. I started doing that, and it hit me, this is what I love the most. While working with her, I learnt if you want to do something in life, you have to give it your 100%. I had to devote myself to music.” For Subhi, this was a eureka moment. At last, she knew what she wanted to do with her life.

Next stop for Subhi was Mumbai, which is India’s commercial capital and also home to the Bollywood film industry. The only problem was that Subhi was leaving her friends and family behind for the next few years. It was a huge sacrifice, but one that she was willing to make. Subhi was willing forsake the comfort of home for several years where she attended numerous meetings with producers and arrangers and was involved with countless pitches to film directors. During that period, Subhi lived a nomadic existence, moving from place to place, always moving on and never calling anywhere home. Soon, it looked as if the sacrifices she was making had started to pay off.

“While in Mumbai, I composed for various films and projects including the prestigious Yash Raj Films and the popular digital platform The Viral Fever. I did this for four years and never got the artistic satisfaction that I was looking for. All I wanted was to create music and I found myself spending most of my time networking with Bollywood’s who’s who, away from home.” For Subhi the success she had enjoyed was a Pyrrhic victory.

Despite never feeling the “artistic satisfaction” that she craved, one Subhi’s trips to Mumbai during the summer of 2016 proved fruitful musically. That day, the sun was splitting Mumbai’s sky as Subhi rode through the streets on a rickshaw with a leading Bollywood producer. As Subhi took in the scenes in Mumbai’s streets, memories of her own childhood in the city came flooding back. Suddenly, she started to sing a melody and soon, the lyrics to the song Bachpan (Childhood) started to take shape. This was the first step in Subhi’s accidental album Shaitaan Dil.

Eventually, Subhi decided to that something had to change. She couldn’t continue to spend time away from home and not derive any satisfaction from the work she was doing. After wondering what the future held for her, Subhi decided to settle in the Windy City of Chicago with her husband, and look for musical opportunities with the city’s vibrant music scene. Suddenly, this looked like a masterstroke and Subhi discovered a myriad of new sounds and a multitude of musical collaborators. Subhi had hit the musical jackpot.

By then, Subhi recounts:  “I had lots of songs written by that time, I asked myself, ‘What if I can blend Chicago’s music culture into my songs?’” Not long after this, Subhi found herself working with Chicago-based jazz pianist Joaquin Garcia. The pair rearranged the songs, and made music videos. They were nothing fancy, just something to accompany the newly arranged songs which Joaquin Garcia had tweaked.  “Joaquin brought the jazz influences and I realised immediately they worked really well” remembers Subhi.

The partnership between Subhi and Joaquin Garcia proved a successful one, and soon, local audiences and journalists heard Subhi’s music. The song also found favour with many South Asians who remembered the childhood games that Subhi mentions during the song. Subhi had struck a nerve with the song, and won many friends in Chicago, and further afield. 

This was just the start for Subhi. Soon, she was featuring on radio shows, playing at festivals and in venues around Chicago. This lead to Subhi putting a band together. For Subhi it was a dream come true.

“Finally, I was doing what I have always wanted to do; creating music and sharing it with the world. I was loving it. Things were happening organically. One of the session musicians during a recording at the Studio asked if I was making an album. I had six songs. I thought, maybe I should.”

Having made the decision to record an album, Subhi was joined in the studio with some of Chicago’s top jazz musicians. The rhythm section featured drummer Gustavo Cortinas, Ivan Taylor on double bass and pianist Joaquin Garcia. They were augment by saxophonist Rajiv Halim. This quartet accompanied Subhi as she worked her way through the ten albums on Shaitaan Dil (Naughty Heart). By the end of the sessions, there was a feeling that they had accompanied Subhi on a debut album that was something special.

They weren’t wrong. Shaitaan Dil (Naughty Heart) is a captivating and enchanting debut album from Subhi. Belatedly, one of Chicago’s best kept musical secrets showcases her considerable talents on Shaitaan Dil. It features ten songs, which were written by Subhi. Reflecting on the music on her debut album,  Subhi says: “there have been Hindi songs with jazz influences, of course, when jazz was a popular style. But there aren’t many jazz singers who write songs in Hindi.” Subhi is a pioneer, and has been inspired by a myriad of disparate musical genres.

Shaitaan Dil was inspired by everything from Chicago jazz,  Hindi and Urdu poetry, to contemporary jazz,  Dixieland, traditional Hindi music, pop and soul. Subhi who is a versatile and talented singer, is like a musical butterfly as she seamlessly flits between musical genres. 

That is the case from the bright, breezy jazz of Bachpan (Childhood), which opens Shaitaan Dil. Memories come flooding back for Subhi as she and her band take the listener on a captivating musical journey that lasts three magical minutes. It gives way to the contemporary vocal jazz on Ud Jaa (Fly Away), before Lovely reveals its secrets. It’s a truly enchanting song with a feel-good sound that washes over the listener. Very different is the playful sounding Shaitaan Dil (Naughty Heart) where Subhi delivers an impassioned vocal against an arrangement that references old-school Dixieland. Then there’s a sadness and frustration in Subhi’s voice on Fizool (Meaningless). Maybe she’s remembering the years she spent away from home doing jobs where she wasn’t fulfilled artistically?

Quite different is Tu Kaun Hai (Who Are You), where drums rap, and a piano adds to the urgency as Subhi asks Who Are You? Hum Hain Kahan is one of the highlights of the album and features Subhi and her band playing as one. A saxophone accompanies Subhi as she combines power, emotion, and sometimes, it seems, frustration and sadness as if she’s wondering Where Am I? Maybe this is another song written during the years where she was living far from home and wasn’t fulfilled artistically? Despite that, it’s poignant, melodic and memorable hook-laden song.

On Aagosh (Embrace) Subhi remembers the poetry her grandfather read to her, and was inspired to write the lyrics to this beautiful, poignant and heartfelt ballad. Straight away, there’s an urgency on Idea where Subhi delivers a vocal that is a mixture of power, speed and beauty. The band match Subhi every step of the way as she scats, and in doing so, pays homage to Chicago’s jazz heritage. Closing the album is the soul-baring ballad Malham (Cure), which is a poignant and moving song, where just the piano and harmonies accompany Subhi. She’s kept the best until last on Shaitaan Dil.

Throughout Shaitaan Dil, Subhi breathes life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics on the ten songs. It’s an album that to some extent, is autobiographical. As a result it’a deeply personal album that is guaranteed to toy with the listener’s emotions. However, Shaitaan Dil also features music that is variously melodic and playful, and other times poignant and powerful. 

Especially, as Subhi remembers the choices she’s made throughout her life and the struggles she’s faced. Subhi also remembers the cultures she embraced and encountered in her formative years and as an adult. Other times, Subhi remembers the people she’s met and the places she’s been. This adds an autobiographical quality to the album. Sometimes, though, there’s a a confessional quality to the music, and it’s as if Subhi is laying bare her very soul. Occasionally there’s a sadness in her voice, as she reflects and remembers years that could’ve been better spent. Other times, there’s playfulness and vivacious quality to Subhi’s vocal, which other times, is heartfelt, hopeful and soulful. Seamlessly, Subhi can bring lyrics to life and take the listener on a musical journey.

That is what Subhi does from the opening bars of Bachpan to the closing notes of Malham, which bookend her much-anticipated debut album Shaitaan Dil. It will be released on September the ‘15th’ 2017, and will introduce the music fans to Subhi, who up until now has been one of music’s best kept secrets. However, she’s starting to make waves outside of the Windy City of Chicago, and recently, played a sold out show in New York as part of the Brooklyn Raga Massive Series. Having conquered two of America’s musical capitals, Subhi is ready to embark upon the next step of her musical career, and an adventure that began when she first arrived in America as a young student.

Since then, Subhi’s life has taken a few twists and turns. She’s enjoyed successful careers on Wall Street, then in journalism and then worked on Broadway, Bollywood and Hollywood. Now Subhi is well on her way to becoming a successful singer-songwriter, and will soon release her debut album Shaitaan Dil. Hopefully, the release of Shaitaan Dil will inspired other Asian women to follow in Subhi’s footsteps and become singer-songwriters.

Sadly, very few Asian women become singer-songwriters. Subhi is a role model and inspiration for a new generation of aspiring Asian singers Her advice is: “the heart does what it wants. This wasn’t what I planned, but at times, you have to follow your instinct and your heart.  All through this journey, I had no idea where I was going. Logically, it made no sense. But my heart would not let go. It has its own agenda.” Subhi’s decision to follow her heart paid off, and has resulted in her much-anticipated and captivating, enchanting, poignant and powerful accidental debut album Shaitaan Dil.

Subhi-Shaitaan Dil (Naughty Heart).




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