Singer song-writer Maalavika Manoj, who goes by the stage name Mali, is quite a household name within India’s independent music scene. Born to parents from North Malabar, brought up in Chennai, and currently based in Mumbai, Maalavika’s tryst with music started early on. Her parents would listen to a lot of ‘80s and ‘70s music and, in addition to that, her grandfather’s jazz influence ignited a spark within her to pursue music full-time after completing her BBA from Loyola College, Chennai. In 2010, she was part of a band called “Bass-in-Bridge”. While the band became quite popular in Chennai, somewhere along the way, Maalavika decided to become a solo artist because she knew that was her calling. It’s 2019, and she has composed and written 23 songs in total, Mango Shower being her latest single.
Maalavika has always been a voracious scholar of melancholic music, infusing personal stories into her lyrics and tones. Her music is emotionally compelling because it makes you empathise with the stories she shares. It takes a sweepingly broad view of her genre to create compelling music that is resonant with her audience. Her songs have been rooted by her collective state of mind, which she felt compelled to share with the universe. The sophistication of her songs makes them even more intriguing. By connecting the dots of her life and her people, Maalavika has emerged to be one of the most authentic independent singers who gives everyone major chills, in a great way, every time she steps foot on stage.
There’s nothing quite like getting to know a person. We got an opportunity to talk with Maalavika Manoj about her influences, inspiration, and the Malayali within her. So have a seat, and read on.
How would your grandfather describe you?
I think my grandfather thinks I’m crazy, but in a focused and determined way. He sometimes finds it hard to understand where all this music is going to lead me, but he’s a believer in perseverance so I think I have his support.
How did you convince your grandfather that you wanted to pursue music?
I can’t say I’ve fully convinced him yet. Convincing parents and grandparents that your career choice is in fact a good decision is a continuous process. My grandfather is not on social media but he secretly tracks how many views and likes my posts and videos have gotten through my grandmother’s profile and keeps me informed once in a while. Together my grandparents have formed an informal backend analytics team.
What’s the most Malayali thing about you?
My taste in food perhaps, and how my name is spelled (double As or nothing).
Can you list down three songs you’re most proud of?
Play, Mango Showers and a new song called Absolute. Play, because it finally gave me a high five moment with my grandpa. Mango Showers because there are so many layers to the story behind it and bringing the song to life took a lot of hard work, but it totally paid off. Absolute (unreleased), because its an open letter to the government and heck, which mallu wouldn’t be proud of a song like that.
If you can have your fans remember one good thing about you, what would it be?
That I always keep it real.
What’s your pre-stage ritual?
Nothing concrete, it totally depends on the gig. I do some vocal warm ups, deep breathing and probably have a drink if I feel the need to loosen up a little. But not more than a drink because I loosen up a little too much then.
Do you have a go-to style of dressing for a show?
I try and stay as comfortable and grounded as possible. I can’t wear a lot of clothes for practical reasons – short dresses if the stage is a little too high, red lipstick because it might smudge if it rubs against the microphone and heels because I might trip over cables and fall on stage. I also have to wear trousers if I’m using a belt pack for monitoring. Given these constraints, I try and dress as best I can, either by accessorizing or wearing a nice top.
The one place in Kerala you’d always visit and why?
I love Kannur and Thalassery because something about it always reminds me about the many generations of my ancestors that lived there and all the countless stories I’ve been told by grandparents on both sides. And also, who would pass on an opportunity to eat malabar food for every meal and get a continuous supply of bakery goodies?
How would you describe the music scene in Mumbai?
I have been living in Mumbai for almost four years and I think its the best Indian city to live in if you have anything to do with entertainment and arts. Being around other people like me, constantly hustling and pushing themselves motivates me to work harder at my craft, and gives me plenty of material to write about.
Three restaurants/cafes in Mumbai you’d recommend
I find that I don’t end up going out to restaurants and cafes too often. I mostly order in. But if you’re visiting Bombay, you must definitely try one of the few Parsi cafes in south Bombay, one of many restaurants in the Bandra area (depending on the cuisine you want to try) and definitely some good old Malwani seafood.
You were influenced by old records & tapes. Can you name three that struck a chord?
Rumours – Fleetwood Mac, Hell Freezes Over – The Eagles, The Sound of Music soundtrack. The first two were very formative albums for my writing style. The latter is probably the first soundtrack I knew start to finish.
What do you love about Kerala?
The fact that most things revolve around food, how clean and organized everything is and how laid back life is there (in most parts).
What is the most useless talent you have?
I keep coming up with random business ideas that I get excited about for a few hours or minutes but never act on any of them.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a full length album and I’m working towards taking my music to a larger audience locally as well as internationally.