Ani Choying is first a humanitarian, nun, spiritual leader, ambassador of the Himalayas to the UN; and then a renowned singer. In this interview we take a peek into her mindset, the intersection of spirituality and music; and why music is just one of the ways in which she spreads her message of peace and love. Excerpts from a chat:
1. Being a nun, the expectations of being a mainstream musician might usually raise an eyebrow. How do you usually work around that, and how do you react to it?
Well, I never really sang to become a singer- what (songs) I sing are all spiritual. And it is for meditation practice, either for myself or while performing ritualistic ceremonies at the monastery. It was only much later that I started singing newly-composed songs in local languages. Again, the subjects of these songs are spiritual with aspirations to serve my fellow brothers and sisters. And of course, to be reminded of the indisputable truth of importance in practising simple kindness and care for all in our day-to-day life.
I know people raise their eyebrows, but I am stubborn. I do what I believe is good to do, which harms no one and brings meaning to my existence.
2. I’d imagine composing, rehearsing or practising music to be a largely personal experience - how does that practice transform when working with other music directors or musicians?
Composing, rehearsing, or practicing music makes me happy because music has an inherent ability to soothe a very disturbed mind. Especially if it is carried out with best intentions, or if you are sincerely into it. And it makes others happy too- not only humans. It has the ability to please the ears of divinity, animals and plants too!
I feel it is a true blessing when I receive opportunities to work other great musicians and music directors.
3. Personal is often political, and in our times, needs to be. As someone who is on both sides, how do you achieve the balance via your music, and does that play out in your performances?
For me, it’s very simple. I believe in the fact that every being on Earth or in the universe desires to be happy - no one wishes to be hurt or unhappy. I try very sincerely to incorporate that in everything I think, speak or act out. Everything is done with the best intentions of spreading happiness through music. Music is the most effective tool for it.
4. Working with A R Rahman has been a dream for many people, but almost seemed like a natural fit for the both of you. Tell us about how that came about.
Again, it’s one of the most fortunate things in my life to have the opportunity to work with such a blessed being. I prayed for it, and my prayer has been fulfilled by the Almighty.
5. Coke Studio, as a property, has garnered many fans across continents - does that translate for you across your travels? Do you find people to be aware of the music that comes from it?
Yes, definitely! I am very grateful to Coke Studio, and I deeply rejoice in the kind of efforts it makes to bring together many different musicians from varied cultures. It gives a clear understanding that music is the only universal language of the heart. I have met many people around the world during my tours expressing their joy in listening to the music of Coke Studio, especially A. R. Rahman’s edition.
6. If you were to make a return on an edition of the show again, who would be a dream collaborator for you?
I have been working and performing with another famous music director in Bollywood, Mr. Shantanu Moitra. It is a musical project called ‘Songs of the Himalayas,’ and we’ve been on the project for the past few years now. We will perform the music in concert at the NCPA, Mumbai on October 6, 2018 - which will make it our third year in succession performing the music.
I think it’s a very special concert, which would be very worthy of presenting on Coke Studio.