London-based singer Kanika Kapoor rose to fame after her single Jugni Ji went viral back in 2012. Since then, the mum of three who has a cool seven million Instagram followers, has had a string of Bollywood hits and launched her own music company. Here she talks to us about music, fashion and going back to her Lucknow roots
You grew up in Lucknow, known for its culture, food and music. How has the city informed you as a person and influenced your music?
I’m a very, very proud Indian from Lucknow – it’s a beautiful city with so much culture. It is rich in everything – the people, the language, the music and poetry, the food, old-fashioned traditions. I think Lucknow has really given me a lot. I grew up in a joint family, living with my great grandparents, my grandparents, my uncles and my cousins in one home. So I think that has really shaped me into a more rooted, happy little child and that has stayed with me. I’m still that happy little child. In terms of music, it influenced me a lot because I grew up in a family which was very musical and my guru-ji [teacher] used to come home every Sunday to teach my uncle music. So I got into music when I was a six-year-old little girl and started learning one to one when I was eight. I then went on to learn music and do a Masters in Indian classical vocal.
How has London fuelled your creativity?
I would say now I am more British than Indian because I’ve lived in London much longer. It’s amazing that I’ve come from that little girl in Lucknow with a very rooted upbringing to being a family girl in London who has had a different kind of exposure altogether – in fashion, in travel and being with people from different walks of life. You walk down a street in Mayfair and you will find people from every country and that has given me a whole new perspective on life altogether. My first song as a British Asian singer was Jugni Ji in 2012. I experimented and mixed Sufi music with a British rapper called Littelox and came up with something different. It really set the trend of the Indian/Panjabi/Urdu singing but with a more international beat. It was very refreshing and with my song Baby Doll [in 2014], I feel I took a whole new sound to Bollywood. So, yes, I think that is how London has influenced me with my music.
What have been the highlights of your career?
As a 13-year-old city girl winning an inter school competition in Lucknow, going on to be mentored by Anop Jalota ji [Indian singer, musician and actor] who took me around the world on so many concerts, then having a ten-year gap of not singing professionally to coming back and singing on stage at the O2 in front of 25,000 people with [Bollywood superstar] Shahrukh Khan.
I’m very lucky – I’ve sang at the BBC Classical Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, at Buckingham Palace for Prince Charles and was part of the Godiva Festival in Coventry in September. So I feel like I’ve been very blessed to have had some really fun and amazing moments in my career.
What have been the biggest challenges?
My main challenge was being a single mother of three beautiful children and struggling with travelling between three cities – London, Mumbai and Lucknow. Bringing them up was a very difficult and a challenging task.
How would you describe your style?
I don’t know if I have a set style. When I’m in an Indian setting, I love to wear my beautiful chiffon saris with a beautiful piece of jewellery. I love antiques and a very classic style when it comes to Indian wear but then when I go back to western clothes and international fashion, I love very edgy, out-there clothing – a very rock chic kind of style and I think that suits me. I love Alexander McQueen – I wear a lot of that. I love Marni, I love Brunello Cucinelli, I love Fendi. So it’s a mixture. I’ve also walked the ramp for Alberta Ferretti for their Demi-Couture at Milan Fashion Week. So I’ve had great experiences with fashion and attended shows on the front row over the years. I think my fashion has evolved and I’m still learning. As you get older and your body changes, you like different things that suit you – it’s not a set style. It’s what fits your body and how you feel about what you’re wearing. If I’m on a tour, I dress for stage and if I’m hanging out at home, then I love wearing my Indian kurtas and just being very relaxed.
What do you like about living in London?
London is home for me and is what I love. London has taught me to be independent, it has given me a lot of exposure to different cultures, to people from different walks of life.Their lives, their back stories are all so different from each other. London has given me a whole new perspective on life – it has given me a beautiful life.
What are your favourite places in Mayfair?
I love going to the galleries and going out to restaurants. I love Harry’s Bar and some of the old-school hotspots. I love Mark’s Club – I go and hang out there and have a lot of meetings there. Mount Street is my favourite street – and I love going to the Connaught and having a hot chocolate with my friends. The Beaumont is fantastic – it’s a hidden treasure in Mayfair. I would so recommend for people to stay there – it’s compact, it’s luxury and they are very welcoming. It’s a great experience. It’s amazing that in Mayfair you can just walk around – it’s fun and just so beautiful at the same time. I love going to the church by Mount Street – I go there often and I feel I connect with something over there. And, of course, I love Bond Street.
Can you tell me about your new album?
I launched my company KK Music as a way to experiment with things that I’ve not been able to experiment with before because when you work on a film song you are singing for an actor and you sing for a particular moment and a particular scene but when you do independent music, there is a face to the music, to the voice. So I’ve been experimenting doing different kinds of music from Sufi to semi classical. I’ve done some fabulous collaborations with different artists from around the world, so there are sad songs, there are love songs, there’s dance – so just doing a bit of this and that. I’m just trying new things and actually just playing with my voice and my ability to sing and see what comes out. I’m not expecting that every song that comes out will be a super hit and I’m not doing music thinking it has to be the next big thing – I don’t believe in that. I just believe in creating the best that I am able to create and then leave it to people to feel the music. Some will feel it and some won’t.
What’s the best thing about being Kanika Kapoor and the worst?
The best thing about being Kanika Kapoor is I’m still that sweet little girl from Lucknow – and a mummy, a loving, caring daughter and a very caring wife – hopefully – to my future husband. And the worst part of being Kanika Kapoor is she is multi-tasking so she can come across as being a little difficult – that just comes with her.
Where is your journey taking you next?
I feel I’ve come into my own now with my music, with my family, with my life on the whole. It’s a new phase of my life where I’m much calmer and much happier with who I am and I think that’s going to start reflecting in my music. I want to do a lot of quality music and I am taking out time to practise to be able to be a better vocalist and a better artist – that is what I am striving for. I’m just trying to be the best version of me.