My musical journey has begun, says Sabi Mahto, whose recent songs on the net are garnering attention while waiting for the ubiquity of a solid hit.
In a world where CD sales are overshadowed by streaming services and YouTube downloads, Sabi Mahto knows where to tap into. The budding singer who has had a few brushes with well-known Indian singers in the past has finished recording her first cover, a fusion of ‘Love the way you lie’ by Rihanna and ‘Aur Aahista kijiye baatein’ by Pankaj Udhas. The song uploaded in June on YouTube this year has fetched her 90k views on Facebook and over 25k view on YouTube so far.
This July end, Mahto will be performing the opening act for the Kakkar siblings – Neha, Sonu and Tony – who have made a mark for themselves in the Indian music industry. The Kakkars are performing in Melbourne and Sydney where Mahto will be belting out a few numbers.
Mahto is thrilled to bits. “I am so excited about performing.” But she is equally happy that her first cover has received tremendous positive feedback. “I have seen people growing massively out of YouTubes, so I hope it eventuates into something big for me as well. I hope Australia is supportive of events for local performers. So far I have been fortunate but there should be a platform for people to launch on a bigger scale.”
Born and brought up in Karnal, Haryana, and later in Delhi, Mahto says she never had any formal training in music but has been inspired by her mother, a very good singer who also taught her. “Singing comes naturally. I am definitely a singer. I have been doing that since childhood, you know taking the rolling pin and jamming in front of the mirror.”
When she was Year 8 in school, Mahto auditioned for Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, a popular singing competition television series which airs on Zee TV in India. “I completed three rounds but failed to make it in the fourth round,” she rues.
But there is a reason why she didn’t quite get to the end. Mahto admits, “I am not a Lata Mangeshkar or an Asha Bhosle. My style of singing is very different; it is more Western, a la Sona Mahapatra (and her exploration of rock, rhythm and blues). This is why I did not make it to the fourth round of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa as they asked me to sing a Lata Mangeshkar song. It wasn’t my style, that has always been challenging.”
Nonetheless, she continued to dabble in singing fusions of Western and Bollywood songs whenever she got the opportunity. But it was after she came to Australia in 2004 to study accountancy at Victoria University that she found a toehold in the world of entertainment, hosting shows for Bollywood actors and singers who came to perform here with a few opportunities to sing as well.
After her studies and after gaining citizenship in Australia, Mahto was drawn back to India due to her sheer love for the world of entertainment. She was back in Mumbai to give one more shot in the world of singing. Accidentally or not she landed up with hosting assignments again. Some of these included reality TV show Music Ka Maha Muqqabla, concerts for Vishal Shekhar, Mika Singh, Adit Narayan and Shilpa Rao. In Australia she has hosted shows for Sonu Nigam, Mika Singh and Gurdas Maan shows.
Alongside hosting she has also been fortunate to sing a few songs with some of the singing greats. With the late ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh she sang O Paalanhaare, a melodious devotional masterpiece from the film Lagaan. She also sang with Mika Singh during one of his performances in Melbourne and with Vishal and Shekhar in Kolkata.
In 2011, Mahto felt she had reached the end of road. “I was working in a small firm alongside hosting shows in Mumbai, but my parents were like ‘you come back and get married’. I went back to Delhi but no sooner had I reached Delhi than I wanted to go back to Melbourne. I do love my family but in India, especially coming from a middle class family, everyone is involved in your life. Even if you are heading to the gym, you are asked ‘why are going to the gym? Or why are you doing this? I thought I am better off in Australia as I longed for my freedom. After a point I didn’t care what everyone was saying so I came back in 2011,” she laughs.
Coming back to Australia meant starting life from scratch again. Embracing change and a fresh environment, she started looking for jobs. “I knew in my head that once I get back I had to start from scratch and prove my worth.”
There was a sense of renewal as she started hosting events again. This year she was part of the Da-Bang show which saw Bollywood heartthrob Salman Khan and other stars rock the Rod Laver Arena. She has also been hosting other community events. Hosting is something she has always enjoyed, getting the adrenalin rush through the interaction with massive audiences. “You do try and prepare a bit but it is mostly impromptu. We are not given a script beforehand. Sometimes just before the show we are told this is what is happening and these are the names you have to take. But I try and incorporate few lines of shayari (poetry) and get the crowd pepped up. Coming to know what people want to listen has been challenging and something I enjoy,” she says adding, “That’s how you get to know people and that’s helped me in in my career too, I am more confident when I am doing conferences in front of delegates if I can do a show with 10,000 people.”
However, given a choice between hosting and singing, it is the latter that she want to climb heights with. “Singing is my passion and past time,” says Mahto who works full time as Program Manager for Southern Cross Care, a not for profit organisation. “I don’t want to host a lot because it takes me away from my singing and there will be a time when people will say ‘oh she does everything’. There is no exclusivity.”
With that in mind, she produced her first cover this year. Released this June, Mahto worked on the tracks herself. “I haven’t learnt music but I have an ear for music so when I am listening to an English song I know the song will mesh well with a Hindi song. I have a studio on hire at St Kilda where I do my recording and once the editing and mixing is ready we do the shoot. I am doing everything myself at the moment, there is no production house involved so I like to keep the cost to minimum. I am not doing singles or originals, just covers.”
Mahto never thought her Rihana cover would be on people’s radar. “I wasn’t sure people were going to like my singing but everyone has loved it, touchwood! I feel very fortunate,” she says, adding, “ I should have done what I am doing now ages back because I had the opportunities. I had met people in Mumbai but since I have started with Rihana, I plan to launch one song every month. Eventually if people like, there are avenues such as YouTube festivals. I will pursue that.”
She believes in riyaz and training and is constantly at it. In the future Mahto dreams of working with good musicians in Melbourne. “I don’t want to prove any point but I feel it’s never too late to start anything you love. I have wasted a lot of years thinking this is what I wanted to do. I only want to be an example for women who have it in them to do something but don’t necessarily have the support. They should start now and not think about it.”
Clearly, Mahto’s musical journey has begun. And she has found the time to do it.
By Indira Laisram