Gaya: 10 Songs That Inspire Me

By Adam Grundey - UAE

Ahead of her new video release, the Dubai-based singer-songwriter talks us through 10 of her favourite tracks

This week sees the release of the latest video from Dubai-based Indian singer-songwriter Gaya. “Fake It Till You Make It” is just the latest example of Gaya’s ability to produce smart, bittersweet, melodic pop songs with the kind of catchy hooks that stay with you. As does her voice – Gaya is widely considered one of the best singers in the UAE, not just for her technical ability, but also her emotional delivery.
The video for “Fake It Till You Make It” was shot in New York – where Gaya has spent the past few summers. Directed by Brooklyn-based filmmaker Sachi Machlaclan, the video took a couple of days to shoot, but months to prepare, from story development over Skype to location scouting and casting in the weeks leading up to the shoot. Gaya had met director of photography Shane Sigler in New York in 2015, and he recommended Machlaclan. “It’s been a dream of mine for a very long time to shoot a video in New York,” Gaya says. “And this song seemed like the right fit.”

10 songs that inspire gaya
© Waleed Shah

“Fake It…”, she says, is a letter to her 15-year-old self: “It’s really about being who you are and staying true to that, rather than trying to pander to the needs of someone else, or the world. Knowing that, if you do that, things work out.”

We asked Gaya to come up with 10 songs that have inspired her over the years. Her picks take in all kinds of influences you can hear in her music, from old jazz standards, through the Bollywood classics she’s loved since childhood, to off-kilter pop.

“Moon River” – Audrey Hepburn (composed by Henry Mancini)

“It’s a song I keep going back to. I think it’s one of the most beautiful romantic songs out there. There’s just something timeless about it. I love the Audrey Hepburn version in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, where she’s just sitting in her window singing.

“Joga” – Björk

“It has the most incredible string arrangement. It’s basically a quartet and her voice, which is just insanely beautiful. She has a live version on the Jools Holland show which is unreal.”

“1234” – Feist

“Mainly for the one-take music video in a warehouse with all these dancers. When I saw that video it felt like something I was aspiring to do in the future, but also felt very familiar to me, in the aesthetic. Something I could easily relate to.”

10 songs that inspire gaya
© Waleed Shah

“Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo” – Farida Khanum

“It’s this old-school ghazal song sung by Farida Khanum, who has this very bass-y tone in her voice. To hear something like this and to see that women can use all kinds of registers of their voice to sing was so refreshing. Also, the song is absolutely gorgeous and has the most beautiful lyrics about the pain of watching your lover leave. It’s a song that’s always been with me.”

“Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out” – Nina Simone

“First of all, it’s Nina Simone: She delivers things with such feeling. I’m very influenced by her phrasing, her lyrics, and the way she uses melody to break those lyrics. She takes you on a journey when she sings. This is a beautiful song about friendship. There are so many songs about love, but friendships – and adult friendships – are such a complicated issue that aren’t talked about a lot.”

“Vincent” – Don McLean

“You can’t perform this song without emotion – it demands that of you, and I love songs like that. I’m fascinated by the story of Vincent Van Gogh and his struggle and his ability to reinvent himself. This song is absolutely gut wrenching. People know ‘Starry, starry night’ and don’t realise he’s talking about Van Gogh. The lyrics and phrasing are quite complicated, and he really tells a story. What I love about that style is that you’re not writing for people with ADD, you’re writing for people who are there to listen to the music and who are there for a story. The bridge, ‘This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you’, is really the punchline of the song.”

10 songs that inspire gaya
© Waleed Shah

“Ironic” – Alanis Morissette

“I think this remains an iconic moment in pop history. In music history. It’s a song that reminds me of girlhood. And how cool and unaffected Alanis Morissette was. Something about her and her effortlessness was so appealing to girls and women. I was just learning what harmonies were [when this came out]; a bunch of us girls would walk around Karama singing this song. We were a bunch of losers. [Laughs.]”

“Misty” – Ella Fitzgerald

“Ella Fitzgerald is one of my idols. She just stands there in her own world delivering the song about being crazy in love with such confidence. That’s something I really aspire to. She was so dignified and had this aura about her. Just by being who she was, and so comfortable with that, there was a sense of peace every time she performed. This is one of those jazz standards that’s brought to life by the singer, not just the songwriting. It’s got the low notes and high notes and it really goes through a journey in terms of the voice. It’s a very special song to me. I walked down the aisle to this song. And it’s the song I sing in the shower.”

“Let’s Do It” – Cole Porter

“It’s so funny, and such an iconic song. Apparently, compared to contemporaries like George Gershwin, Cole Porter wasn’t seen as a ‘serious writer’. He was kind of a joke. That’s hilarious to me, because his songs are really timeless. So to know that, at the time, he was kind of ridiculed for his style is quite comforting, actually. [Laughs.] And this song just puts me in a good mood.”

“Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai” – Manna Dey

“This is a song I grew up with. It’s this anthem about kindness and what real wealth is, in life. And just being human. The singer’s voice is very distinctive, and he was famously paired [as a playback singer] with Raj Kapoor, because their voices were so similar. It’s a teaching song. And it reminds me just how powerful music is in terms of sending a message. And how you can do it very simply, with very simple melodies, but it can hit you really hard.”

Check out Gaya’s channel here

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