As an Indian-American artist, with roots in New Delhi, New York and Mumbai, Subhi has been on a quest to discover and define her sound, who she is, and where she belongs — using the music she creates to figure it out. The Chicago-based singer-songwriter, who has become known for her blend of Hindi folk with elements of American jazz and pop, has just released her latest single, “Wake Me Up.” It’s a followup to the first English single she released earlier this year, and it comes with a new music video, as the singer ventures into a new way of sharing the music she makes.
“For a long time, I struggled with my multi-cultural identity,” Subhi tells American Songwriter. “Being an Indian American artist, I have lived my life in two worlds. It’s like I have two identities: the Bollywood-loving Indian and the Chicago-based pop-loving American.”
Born in New Delhi, India, Subhi lived in a joint family with her grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. “When I was 8 years old, encouraged by my grandmother, I started learning Indian Classical music,” she says. “Every evening, my grandfather would recite some of his favorite poems and explain their meaning. My childhood instilled a love for poetry and music in me.”
She moved to New York as a teenager, and became part of her high school choir, singing Christmas carols at senior citizen centers and churches. At home, her father would listen to the Beatles, Carpenters, Abba, Pink Floyd, instilling a love for lyrics and songwriting in the young singer. It was at this time that Subhi started writing her first English songs. Coincidentally, it was also when she attended her first music concert, Roger Waters.
“New York is a city full of artists and creatives,” she says. “The city really helped me explore my career paths by trying out different creative fields.” Spending time in the Big Apple made one thing clear to Subhi — she wanted to be a full-time singer-songwriter.
Subhi moved to Chicago soon after she married her husband and there, she continued to find ways to fulfill her dream. She started exploring jazz and world music and that led to her Hindi pop jazz album, Shaitaan Dil (Naughty Heart), her debut in 2018. It earned here a nomination for Best Asian Entertainer 2019 by the Chicago Music Awards. “I immersed myself in Chicago’s diverse music scene, learned new techniques (like improvisation and scatting), and refined my musical language,” she says.
But her dream continued to take different shapes, and a desire to create music for Bollywood led her to Mumbai. “I loved everything about the city — the busy lifestyle, meeting folks in Bollywood, exploring different parts of the city. The hustle and bustle on the streets of Mumbai were like music to my ears,” she says.
She created the song “Bachpan” while riding a rickshaw in the bustling streets of Mumbai. “Mumbai truly helped me be an independent artist as I understand a lot about how the Indian music industry operates,” says Subhi. “It helped me realize the power of creating music with stories about life, my experiences, and emotions. Mumbai helped me be true to my craft and myself as an artist and a human.”
All these influences have shaped Subhi, who’s now ready to release more music in English. After initially only putting out songs in Hindi, because she felt she needed to pick one language for her music, the singer is embracing this new way of opening up to fans. “It took me years to accept that I don’t have to choose, and I don’t have to ask anyone. I needed to be vulnerable to be comfortable.”
She released “In My Way” in October and now comes the next single, “Wake Me Up.” Written in the first week of March, when she traveled to LA to work with producer Taylor Sparks, the song captures the fear that Subhi felt just as the pandemic started shutting down the world. “There was a sense of sadness, worry and hopelessness,” she says. “’Wake Me Up’ is a song about wanting to emerge from the darkness created by the fear of being lonely and lost in this pandemic. I was hoping things don’t get worse but they did. I hope we can all wake up and pull ourselves from the dark.”
Through her songs and her stories, Subhi wants to empower those who listen to her music to resolve any inner turmoil they may have about their own identity. “America is a land of multi-dimensional identities, and just like me, everyone has their own stories and internal struggles,” she says.
“As an Indian American artist, I have been on a quest to discover my sound, who I am, and where I belong. Through this journey, I am learning a lot about myself and accepting who I am. That’s the message I want to give out. Embrace who you are. Don’t be afraid to take risks. No one is born with all the truth inside them. We discover. We grow. In this process, we learn to be the best version of ourselves.”