Tina Sugandh is on a roll. Could 2005 be her year?
This California Girl is signing deals in Hollywood left, right and center! In a world where young wanna-be stars are pounding the pavements, Tina Sugandh, who writes her own songs, has signed with the publishing company Warner/Chappell Music; she’s also been signed on by CAA, the leading talent company in Hollywood – the babe loves to act too!
And before we finish, Hollywood Records, a division of the Buena Vista Music Group, will be bringing out her first album titled Tabla Girl. Known for a repertoire that includes artists like Hilary Duff, Queen, and Los Lobos, the label plans to position Tina at the forefront of the global music craze.
“I happened to get a meeting with Warner/Chapell and was signed instantaneously. They were amazed with the tabla, because no one has really seen it before!” recalls Tina.
That landed her a meeting with Bob Cavallo, chairman of the Buena Vista Music Group, and former manager of such entertainment legends as Prince, Alanis Morissette, Earth, Wind & Fire. After hearing her sing “Mast Kalandar” and play the tabla, he offered her a deal on the spot.
He says, “Tina is a unique and exceptional talent. Her exotic musical influences coupled with her artistry make her very special. There is nothing like Tina in the music industry today.”
Indeed, Tina’s got quite a thing going with the tabla. It’s what sets her apart from the crowd. With her swooshing curtain of auburn hair, exotically made up eyes and a angel-like voice, Tina is all set to intrigue music fans in America. When she sits down to play the tabla, it’s an immediate sensation.
“I started playing the tabla when I was eight,” recalls Tina, who comes from a regular “Sound of Music” sort of family. Her father, a senior professor, her mother who is a marketing manager and her older sister Seema, all sing, play various instruments and were quite a family draw in their hometown in New Jersey.
Says Tina about her parents who are from Mumbai: “My mom used to sing on All India Radio and then she met my father and she taught him to sing! They look so cute together. They used to go to parties before we were born, I believe, and they would be just so entertaining to everybody, because my dad is just hysterical. He’s the greatest emcee I know, he does great mimicry and he’s a great actor.”
The family would do shows for the community and once, when her father wasn’t feeling well, eight-year-old Tina took over for him and played “Rang Barsay” on the dholak. Her parents were so impressed that they upgraded her to the tabla.
She says, “Afer the show, a lot of people would come up to us, mostly mothers and daughters, and they would say, ‘You know, I never thought of enrolling my daughter in tabla classes. Now I think I will!'”
The very first ghazal that Tina learnt was at the age of five – “Dil Ke Arman Ansoon Mein Bahegaye.” Interestingly, she doesn’t know how to write Hindi and learns the songs by jotting them down in English. Her parents would help her with the Hindi, Sindhi, Gujarati and Punjabi pronunciations. Her life was all-Americana at school and pure India after school, performing with her family in concerts and traveling to different cities to perform with them.
“I was very blessed to have the childhood that I had, where I was performing Indian music every weekend, and because of that, my vocalizations are just a little bit unique,” says Tina. “When I sing mainstream pop, I kind of bend my notes in a slightly South Asian way. You’ll see what I mean when you hear me sing. And of course, the tabla is something nobody in mainstream has seen before!”
Like the true daughter of immigrant parents, Tina is an academic wiz too. She has a degree in biology from Rutgers University and graduated on the Dean’s list. She loves biology and has more doctors in her family than she can count.
She devoted her weekends to making demos with friends and through these demos she managed to get a five minute meeting with her current manager: “I had just those five minutes to prove myself to them. I sang 15 songs for them, I played the guitar and showed them the tabla – and a little bit of hip-hop meshed with Indian dancing. They loved it and they recognized the need for the South Asian flavor in the mainstream. I was lucky to be signed with them right away.”
Sean Sullivan, who along with Jay Jay French, represents Tina through their management company, Rebellion Entertainment, says: “There is wide acceptance of multicultural female pop singers in the U.S.,” such as J. Lo and Beyonce.
Tina formed her band two months ago and has yet to go the club route. She says, “I think mainstream American music right now may be going through a bit of a female phase, but it definitely goes back and forth. You have a lot of male artists who are up and coming.”
Did the big craze for all things Indian have anything to do with her success? She says, “I couldn’t be more grateful to be doing it at the time I am. It all seemed to come together a few years ago – you see little nuances of the South Asian flair everywhere. I’m really grateful for every little thing I see, from Missy Elliot to Bombay Dreams.”
Tina says of her album, “The whole theme is mainstream pop with a flurry of Indian touches. My image, my look, my music, my instrumentation, my vocals, my dancing, everything. So it’s a very unique combination and I’m so excited to show it to America. It’s a very upbeat album and I think people will get a very positive energy from it.”
Tina has just finished mixing the album and putting the final touches to it and is busy with the video and yhe worldwide promotion will follow later this year.
So why is her album called Tabla Girl? “When I used to play the tabla, I used to have these little fans who would write to me and address me as Tabla Girl. It was so cute, I had to name my album that, because I was so grateful to have people even write to me!”
Tina now lives in Los Angles where her record company and family are located, but commutes regularly to New York where her band and her business manager are based. She’s also meeting with casting agents for roles on TV shows through her talent agency in Los Angeles.
“I have so many ideas in my head!” she says. ” I wanted to start a clothing line with a little Indian flair. There are so many rich gorgeous colors in South Asian clothes. I think they are just laughing – they need to be thrown on some beautiful clothes here and I think the combination could be very striking.”
You’ll be hearing from Tina at Christmas, since she’s performing on Hollywood Records’ “Christmas with the Kranks,” the companion album to the upcoming Revolution Studios comedy. She’s performing White Christmas in her own way, and she’s in great company, as the other singers on the album include Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee, the Ramones, Raveonettes, and The Brian Setzer Orchestra!
“This is an exciting opportunity for me, both as a musician and as a South Asian, to be a part of the holiday tradition this season,” says Tina. “Most importantly, it is artistically very satisfying to be able to convey my biculturalism through my work, especially by incorporating instruments such as the tabla, harmonium and sitar in an American Christmas classic.”
Tina is now featured on Walt Disney Pictures 13-song Ice Princess soundtrack. Tina has also been featured on both Around the World in 80 Days and Raise your Voice soundtracks. On Ice Princess Tina combines her mainstream pop music with a hint of Indian flair by adding Hindi lyrics to her diverse track.
The track entitled, “T.here I.s N.o A.lternative” mixes rock, pop and Hindi to create an upbeat song that goes along with the Ice Princess theme. Tina says of this track, which was written for her upcoming debut album, “It’s so exciting and encouraging to hear the Hindi language placed right in between this great ensemble of mainstream pop songs. My dream of exposing the world to the South Asian culture is finally beginning!”
She dispels the notion that it’s all been like a fairy tale, because she says it’s been a lot of work and a lot of risk. “Every time you try to do something that is a little bit new – I’m not trying to go out there and be Brittney Spears – she’s great – but I’m trying to add something a little bit different to a market that doesn’t have it yet.
“So any time you try to do something that’s a little bit daring you’re going to get a lot of doors slammed in your face. So it was not an overnight success at all. And there’s no way you can succeed in the business I’m in right now unless you have a strong sense of focus and discipline.”
One of the tracks on the album is called “Aaja,” a sort of come hither to all those American fans who may know nothing about Indian music. Yes, fairy tale or not, 2005 may well be Tina’s year!