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Meet Akansha: A South Asian American Singer in Mainstream Media

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A young woman with dark hair in a headband wearing a white shirt while posing outside her house.

Every day, more and more artists are being discovered. Due to the power of social media and streaming services, all it takes is one TikTok to use a song for a video to become viral. However, if that is the case, where are Asian American artists?

Why are so few Asian American artists reaching Billboard top 100 or winning the Grammys? Where are the South Asians?

Even within the Asian American community, there is a minority in mainstream media; there are almost no South Asian American singers. Why is this?

A possibility might be that South Asian parents emphasize stable professions (law, medicine, engineering) and therefore do not encourage risk-prone, “creative” careers. Another reason might be that mainstream media does not know how to perceive South Asians. 

In an NPR interview, Asha Putli, a Mumbai hailing artist, described her struggles trying to become a mainstream artist in 1960s America.

“In 1969, CBS came to me and said ‘We want to sign you,’ but they wanted me to change my name,” Puthli remembered. “I remember one of the honchos at CBS telling me, ‘You’re not black, you’re not white, so we’re going to find it very hard to market you.'”

Since Puthli, there have been only a handful of South Asian artists who made it big. 

Blendtw had the opportunity to interview Aakanksha Kuchan. Known by the mononym, “Akansha,” she is a rising contemporary R&B artist from Berklee College of Music. Here, Akansha tells her story and challenges of being a rising Indian American contemporary R&B artist. 

Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into singing? How did you discover R&B?

“I started singing theme songs like Hannah Montana and Sonny with a Chance. Then, I moved to India in the second grade. There, I learned Karnatik Music (South Indian Classical music).

Then I moved on to pop music, the Top 40 pop. That was my beginning for getting introduced to Western music. I started to fall more into different cultural music like Spanish and Arabic music.

I’m very intrigued by the vocal aspect of music. I started listening to a lot of languages. Freshman year of high school, I moved [to New Jersey], where I joined choir. I did not know what choir was until I joined.

I thought to myself, “Wow, people are actually in groups together singing?” I did not know what harmony was, I didn’t know anything. It introduced me to choral music, opera.

Then I joined the vocal jazz choir, and that led to R&B music. A lot of friends from the choir listened to contemporary R&B music. I had one friend who was an amazing R&B singer; he would always sing these crazy runs, so I would always ask him to teach me.

The more he sang, the more I adapted to his kind of singing. I used that, along with listening to other R&B artists. Now, it’s just so easy for me.”

When did you decide you wanted to be a singer?

“I went to this NYU summer recording program at Clive Davis Recording Music Institute, where I was introduced to the music business aspect. There, I met a lot of people and made a lot of connections.

That was when I found out that this was what I wanted to do. We went to all the places. Apple Music, Spotify, record labels; I met all these successful people and saw what it was like for them to share their music through those platforms.

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There is more to music than singing. You need to have a brand. During college apps season when I was a senior in high school, I applied to college, but with a different major than I had expected.

I could not imagine being stuck behind a desk, doing something I didn’t wanna do. I still applied to other schools for different majors because according to my family, I needed a backup plan.”

As you know, there are hardly any South Asian origin singers in mainstream media. This is possibly due to the fact that the Asian American community encourages stable professional careers such as medicine, law, and engineering. Did your family have any hesitations with the idea of you pursuing music as a career? 

“My parents always knew I was going to do this, but they didn’t talk about it. They are actually surprisingly very supportive.

During my junior year of high school, I told my dad that I was thinking of studying medicine, but he was the one who gave me the idea that maybe I should do music. He introduced me to the NYU Summer program.

We wrote out a resume, applied, did everything we could, and I got in. After that summer program, I was able to finalize my decision and committed to doing music. I still have that mindset that through everything we do, we are pursuing our career, while still doing what we love.

I think that if you want to do something crazy, you need to find a way to also make good decisions and live a good life. Right now, I am majoring in music business with a minor in songwriting.

It’s entrepreneurship, also known as the management, marketing, and the legal side of [the music industry]. However, at the same time, I am immersed in the creative aspect of the music industry and pursuing my own music career.” 

Who are some of your biggest R&B musical influences? 

“I started by listening to a lot of 90s R&B, so I was influenced by TLC, Lauren Hill, Outkast, and Wu-Tang Clan. These people made a huge difference in my sound and moved me into contemporary R&B.

They had a great vocal influence on me because of their different and unique melodies. People don’t really use that now, but I’m trying to incorporate that sound within my music.

Current contemporary R&B artists include Snoh Aalegra, Rihanna, and Jorja Smith, and their influences are also from 90s R&B. It’s an overall spectrum of artists that I take inspiration from.”

What are some challenges you’ve faced as a South Asian pursuing music? Or just as an artist in general? 

“That happened not in college because I’ve been there for six months, but in high school. We had a lot of South Asians, but not many in choir or musical theatre. They thought it wasn’t my area.

They thought, “why would you, an Indian, be cast as a lead? You are brown.” This cast is white people. I’ve seen a lot of these musicals, they’re often white lead musicals. It doesn’t give a lot of opportunities to people of color.

It just makes no sense. People of color always end up in the background. Every person of color wants to be the lead. They have that fantasy, especially if they’re into musicals.

You would want that attention. I tried out once in junior year and the teacher responded with, “yeah no, you wouldn’t be fit for a role like this,” and they ended up using a blonde white girl.”

“Even in the college I go to, Berklee College of Music, very few Desis go there. People come to me asking me questions like, “What are you? Where are you from?”

I’ve also gotten a lot of questions like, “Are you going to be like Raveena?” but we’ve got different and diverse experiences unique to us. I totally respect Raveena, she’s a queen, but at the same time, we’re telling our own individual stories. I want [South Asians] to be labeled as different individuals.”

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You’ve collaborated with a lot of other up and coming artists. You were just featured on the track Hunnit with Funder. What is that like? How do you think they influence your sound? 

“The track that I just recently was on is very true R&B and has a lot of hip-hop, nuances to it, which I’m not very used to. It’s lyrical rap, so when I had to write my verse it was so new to me.

It was not something that I usually do, but Funder kind of gave me the idea of [the track] as a typical love song. Once we talked it out, I knew what I was going to write my verse on.

It took me a couple days to write my verse because there were so many words packed in a minute. It’s so different from contemporary R&B, which is just a couple words and you sing it over and over again.

It was different, but I really liked that it pushed me out of my comfort zone. Now that I’ve experienced that, I’d definitely try and collaborate with other artists in different genres.”

Releasing your music on Apple Music and Spotify is a huge deal! In 2019, alone, you had 11.7k streams and 7.6k listeners from 65 different countries just through Spotify! Congratulations on that! What was the process like?

“Honestly, I didn’t know that it would be so easy to get on all those platforms when I first started in 2019. I found out that there are distributor companies where you can literally post your track, and they send it to different platforms within two to three weeks.

You just have to pay five to nine dollars. It’s so accessible today; it’s crazy. I just recently read an article that at least 40,000 songs drop on all platforms every day.”

Let’s talk about your most recent single, “Under My Skin.” What is the story behind this song? How do you think your style has evolved since “Goodbye” and “Slow“? 

“The song, “Goodbye” is a good starter song because it is really breaking through and really coming through with my artistry. It wasn’t really about anyone.

“Under My Skin” is a romantic song. I am not a romantic person. I’m not usually in relationships. I don’t do that kinda stuff, at least not yet.

I take experiences I see from others from my friends, people that I know, and incorporate their story within my writing. So whenever I hear a story, I go back home and write the whole thing down and turn it into a song.

That was kind of the basis of “Under My Skin.” Under my Skin was a person who has betrayed you, but you’re not trying to seek revenge. You know that you’ve moved on.

The idea is that they really did get under your skin and took you for granted. It’s your typical “get away from me, I’m a new person.” A lot of artists say that they need to experience this in order to write it. I’d rather just hear someone out and incorporate it into my writing.”

As you know, Indian music has a very distinct style. Do you think you’d consider weaving in elements of Indian culture into your own music? 

“A lot of people ask if I’m going to wear Indian clothes or show off my culture’s music. I am proud of my background, and where my parents are from, but I’m not going to use my culture for profit.

It’s still a part of me, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to wear a lengha in every music video. That’s their perception of me, but I am still an American.

I am pursuing contemporary R&B music, but at the same time, I am Indian. I’m balancing both of these cultures and introducing this balance to America instead of them having this perception that I am just an Indian girl incorporating that weird mix into my music.

I don’t need to bank off of it. It is something that is sacred to me. We do pujas, we go to all these places. That’s when I will truly show that I am immersed in this culture. This is a part of me, but it wouldn’t be used for something commercial.”

What’s a typical day of music production like for you? 

“I usually don’t produce the entire track. I produce the demo track and send it to my producer. Basically, I come up with the melody, try and produce chords, and then just play acoustic for a while. For a couple days, play it.

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It really just needs to sink in for a while. I threw out hundreds of songs like that. There are a couple songs that hit within the first few days, and once I get comfortable with the acoustic version of it, I start using my midi, Logic ProX, and add the harmonies.

That’s just the rough version. I make all the demos, and then [the producer] sends it back and makes it much better. Then, I add the vocals from the studio inside my house.”

What can we expect from you in the future? Any plans for new music? An album? 

“I have a new song that’s coming out. It’s a ballad. It mainly talks about the issues that are going on right now in terms of Black Lives Matter and colorism within the South Asian community.

I’m talking about me and my sister’s experiences — essentially, societal problems. It also talks about how I’ve been stereotyped, and how I’ve been talked about solely using my culture as my identity.

It’s really a pivotal moment in terms of my artistry because it’s just a piano and my voice. It’s more about the lyrics, the voice, and how people feel.

The lyrics are mine, it’s from my experiences. It’s just something that people will relate to especially people from [the Desi] community. It’s different, and I’m really excited to show what I’ve come up with to the world.”

“I’m also planning two music videos for this summer; the song that I just talked about and another summer bop that I will be filming a music video for in August. It’s not as depressing as the one I was talking about before.

It’s very relatable. It’s talking about anxiety, dealing with people as a woman, and not being judged by people. It’s basically about women struggles, but it has a very upbeat, inspiring tune to it. Those are the two things I have for this summer. I’m working on more songs and maybe an EP in the future.” 

Lastly, what’s your advice for aspiring South Asian artists? 

“My parents have been supportive, but other members of my family have not. You only have one life, and if you know that aspect or that thing is what you want to do then there are ways. It’s not impossible.

There are outlets in which you can explain to your parents that this is what I wanna do, this is how I’m going to go about it. Just be strong in where you stand, and who knows? They might go along with it. At the end of the day, it’s your passion.

You don’t want to be living another person’s life. You want to be living your life. There are always things you can do to convince your parents. It did take me a while.

It took me all my life to convince [my parents], but eventually, they knew that this is what I want to do and I have the talent. Prove that to your parents, that you are fully invested, that you have the talent, and they might say yes.

We need more representation. We need to take this opportunity because there is no representation to fill in that spot, and that’s the part that I’m playing. There are not many South Asians in the R&B industry, so it would be cool to see faces like mine.

It’s high time that we follow our passion and do what we want to do.”

You can listen to “Hunnit,” “Under My Skin,” and the rest of Akansha’s music on Apple Music and Spotify. You can also follow her on Instagram @axkansha for more updates on her music journey.

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Spotlight

Meet Dr. Cheryl Robinson: The Entrepreneur-Turned-Model Helping Women Embrace The Pivot

Wondering how to pivot to a new career? Check out the story of Dr. Cheryl Robinson, the entrepreneur-turned-model helping women embrace the pivot.

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Dr. Cheryl Robinson

Dr. Cheryl Robinson is an international speaker, the founder of Ready 2 Roar, a leadership coach, and a regular contributor to ForbesWomen, where she writes about businesswomen who have successfully pivoted through their careers.

She is a clear example of a woman who does not give up when facing any inconvenience because, as she says

“When you get knocked down, you get yourself back up, dust off, and keep going.”

After imagining herself in various job positions when she was younger and trying out a few, she realized her interest in sports was even greater.

So, she went back to the East and worked in sports for 15 years, from the collegiate to the professional level.

That’s when she decided to open her own business. Moreover, Dr. Robinson decided to get a doctorate degree, making her a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership, to give her validity and credibility for the books she writes and the workshops she hosts.

After going through all of these different paths and accomplishing various goals, she set out to become a commercial print model.

 

Cheryl Robinson Modeling

“I set out to become a model, which is something I’ve always wanted to be, and that’s what I’m currently working on.”

 

So, now, at the age of 40, she signed with a modeling agency.

Dr. Cheryl has been writing for local newspapers and journals since the age of 14-15 and continued writing in college and even after graduating.

“Still, to this day, my goal is to be a New York Times best-selling author, and to do that, you have to write.”

 

After starting her own company, she committed to herself that 80% of her time would be spent on her writing and the other 20% on her business.

“Three months after I made that commitment to myself, I was attending an event, and I saw a woman speaking on a panel, saying she was a contributor at Forbes. I sat there thinking, ‘if she can do it, I can do it,’ so after the panel, I went right up to her and asked her how she got there.

 

Then, I spoke to her about my background and who I am. And what I didn’t know was that the former editor was in the room with her.

I introduced myself to the editor, who told me to send her my portfolio; three days later, she invited me for a mini-interview process, then a week later,

she called me and said ‘welcome aboard.’ ”

Based on Dr. Robinson’s experience, the best ways of changing and adapting to a new career are the relationships you make, so that it becomes easier for you to make any move in the future.

 

Dr. Cheryl Robinson holding a cup and smiling

“It’s all about the quality of the relationships you foster. Ask people in the company out for a coffee. Get to know your colleagues and what they’re working on; develop that relationship, so when you are ready to make a move, you have allies to help you in your pivot.”

 

There are many ways to pivot in a career, but there are also mistakes that should be avoided in doing so, and according to Dr. Cheryl, “not doing enough research is one of them.”

There are a lot of industries or companies that sound sexy to work for, but the reality may be the opposite or the learning curve might be more intense than you had thought.

Being ill-prepared can hinder your development and progress.

Take the time to research what you want to get into and meet the people who’ve done it before you. Learn from their mistakes before jumping with two feet in; know what you’re getting yourself into. Dr. Robinson believes that there are some ways to know when it’s time to pivot in a career.

“If you’re not growing or being challenged in your current role, or there is an idea that you just can’t stop thinking about, take the risk and step out of your comfort zone.”

 

Dr. Robinson always dreamt of becoming a commercial print model, and after interviewing over 500 individuals for her column, she realized

“it does not matter how old you are. you can always pivot.”

As we grow up, society tells us that we have to reach certain milestones by a certain age. However, it’s just not realistic sometimes.

So, you have to permit yourself to be okay with not hitting certain milestones as quickly as you imagined.

Dr. Robinson has always wanted to see her face on a billboard somewhere, and as she got older, she gained more self-confidence so, at the age of 40, she said “it is now or never.”

Through networking, she met a model agent with whom she talked, did her photos, and her potential got noticed to the point where she got signed with that modeling agency; and has now booked her first gig.

With all of what Dr. Robinson has already accomplished, she still has her head on plans for the near future. Her new leadership book is coming out at the end of this year.

In the new book, she wants readers to understand that pivoting or transitioning in a career doesn’t have to be scary.

“People might get fired, get laid off, move, and then be obligated to find something else, which can seem scary, but if they see it as a positive experience, it is not. Instead, it is an opportunity to develop a strategy to get to where they want to be.”

Want to connect with Dr. Cheryl? You can find her on IG and LinkedIn.

 

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Spotlight

Meet Scott Hughes: The Entrepreneur Who Built One of the Largest Online Book Communities

Are you a book junkie? Find out how Scott Hughes built OnlineBookClub, a free online community for book lovers with over 2 million members.

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Scott Hughes

Are you a book lover?

If you are, then you need to check out OnlineBookClub.org, a free online site for book lovers around the world.

The online site features book reviews, book & reading forums, and useful tools that enable you to store, track and list books you have read or want to read.

Scott was only 19 when he launched OnlineBookClub.

The idea of creating OnlineBookClub originated after Scott, a book fanatic, realized that there were too many restrictions for in-person book clubs such as tight deadlines on book reading, a limited selection of books, and little freedom to pick books to read. 

Scott wanted to leverage the power of online discussions and create a flexible space where people all over the world could easily find people to chat about any book at any time. That is how OnlineBookClub came to life. 

Building the online platform was a rewarding experience for Scott, but it was far from easy.

For 7 years, Scott ran the business and paid himself nothing from it. During those years, he worked odd jobs to pay his living expenses and put food on the table for his two kids. 

“I remember one month I had to go to the coinstar machine at the bank with my spare change on the 10th of month just so I could cover the rent, but I did it.”

The hardest part of creating the platform for Scott was finding time to run the business while juggling his day job and raising two kids. It was difficult for him to find a work-life balance but he made it work despite the hardships. 

At the end of 2014, Scott finally took a leap of faith, gave up his side jobs, and went full-time at OnlineBookClub. He knew that to make it work, he had to devote himself completely to the online site.

And his efforts paid off. 

The platform is thriving with over 2.7 million registered users as of November of 2021.

Scott’s team recently released an e-reading app meant to compete with Amazon Kindle, called OBC Reader, which is available on both the Google Play Store and the Apple Store.

The revenue of the platform primarily comes from paid online advertising and professional services to authors and publishers, such as editorial reviews and manuscript editing.

Scott is proud of the work he has accomplished so far, especially of the community he has built.

“OnlineBookClub has always been filled with kind people who have a strong sense of togetherness and community. It’s like a second family for us.” 

Scott’s journey has been full of ups and downs, but through it all, he is grateful for all the experiences-good ones and bad ones.  

When asked to advise young entrepreneurs just starting, he has the following to say:

“The journey never really ends. If you make a million dollars, then you might chase a billion. Even if you reach all your financial goals and lose interest in that side of things, your mind will create new different goals. So it’s never about reaching some destination. When you look back on it, in many ways the most challenging times are also seen most fondly.”

He also believes that entrepreneurs need to be driven by something other than money. 

“I’ve found in my anecdotal experience and just from watching the world around me that those who desperately chase money are the least likely to find it. In contrast, when you work hard on yourself and your real dreams, money chases you. Money–and even health and physical fitness–are only really ever a means, not an end in themselves. Without some kind of vision or passion to be the real end, the real goal, the real dream, it’s like driving a car with no gas.”

Scott’s story is a great reminder that anything can be achieved with perseverance, passion, and hard work.

So, if you are just starting, make sure to stay tuned for his upcoming book, “In It Together: The Beautiful Struggle Uniting Us All,” which will be released soon.

You can connect with Scott on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter for more information about OnlineBookClub and get updates about his latest projects. 

 

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‘Halloween Kills’ Cast & Crew Explain the Slasher

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(from left) Karen (Judy Greer), Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Allyson (Andi Matichak) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

Article by Riley Farrell

The cast and crew of Halloween Kills told Blendtw why the latest slasher’s gore is anything but gratuitous in a year like 2021. 

Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Anthony Michael Hall, Kyle Richards, Malek Akkad, David Gordon Green and Jason Blum tell horror fans to expect carnage. After all, Halloween Kills must live up to its title.

Chainsaws buzzing and bats swinging, Halloween Kills is a current-day cathartic catastrophe – and no character is safe – according to producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions.

Halloween Kills is the 12th movie in Michael Myers’ macrocosm, with the 13th, and allegedly final, movie coming out in 2022. When seriously injured Laurie Strode thought she killed Michael Myers after 42 years of trailing him, his annual bloodbath recommences. Sick of living at the mercy of “pure evil,” the town’s vigilantes revolt against the boogieman. 

 

“Subtlety is not this film,” said director David Gordon Green, on fitting in as much bloodshed as possible in 105 minutes.

 

The cast filmed Halloween Kills two years ago and shelved it due to the pandemic, until now.

Picking up where Halloween (2018) left off, the film explores the aftermath of collective trauma, said Green. Given everything that’s ensued in the last two years, viewers do not have to live in Haddonfield to understand suffering, and inversely, resilience. 

 

“We’ve taken a slasher movie and it’s landed in a time of cultural relevance because of our public consciousness,” said Green. “Though [the movie is] grotesque, there are moments when we feel the humanity underneath the surface of this movie monster.”

 

Halloween Kills brought back two characters from the 1978 Halloween in Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), the two children who Laurie babysat during Michael’s initial attack. Hall and Richards did not require much persuasion to hop on the franchise, said Green.

 

Halloween kills

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green

The callbacks of all-grown-up characters, of course, evokes nostalgia. But the twist on the trope is that, instead of running from Michael, the kids now face him head-on, said Richards. Hall, who described Halloween Kills as a “thrill ride” and “freight train,” said the slasher hinges on human resilience.

 

“We summoned something deep in themselves and decided to fight back, we’re not just survivors but fighters,” said Hall.

 

Resilience as a motif snugly fits within the cultural zeitgeist, even earning a title as Forbes’ 2021 word of the year. Though coincidental, the visceral and violent images in Halloween Kills harken to audiences’ nihilistic experiences of the past 18-months. Producer Malek Akkad said the slasher film can paradoxically be pertinent yet escapist for viewers who’ve experienced the horror genre by simply reading the news.

 

“It’s tough for everybody right now and this movie’s just a fun release,” said Akkad. “There’s nothing more cathartic for people watching than to see a final girl like Laurie.”

 

For reference, the final girl trope, pioneered by the character of Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween, represents the heroine left standing at the end of a horror movie who is charged with defeating the antagonist. Film theorist Carol J. Clover coined the term in her 1992 book, ‘Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.’ The final girl has been observed in many films, including The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Alien, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream.

 Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis said she was unaware of the meaning and dialogue surrounding the final girl until recently. She argued, even though the trope has immense cultural significance, the original idea of the final girl is uncomplicated.

 

“The term is just about the tenacity of women to survive because, the truth is, women have survived through a lot,” said Curtis.

 

No characters know survival better than the Strode women. Andi Matichak, who plays Laurie’s granddaughter, and Curtis agreed that their favorite behind-the-scenes moment centered on feminine resilience in spite of harsh conditions.

 

Halloween Kills

Michael Myers (aka The Shape) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green.

It was a frigid 4 a.m. shoot, and the three generations of Strode ladies were alone in a truck, coated in fake blood, with only each other and a camera rig for warmth, Matichak described. This moment was the last time Laurie, Karen and Allyson were on screen together.

 

“It was a powerful moment to lean on each other and feel the weight of the project,” Matichak said.

 

Cutting through the sweet moments is the slasher at the heart of the story, said Curtis on the “high octave, frenzied” plot of Halloween Kills. For audiences who’ve lived through the chaos of the past two years, Halloween Kills should match their fast pace of existence.

 

“The past is irrelevant, you’re so in the present moment,” said Curtis.

 

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