Listening Post 165. Wall Street, Broadway, Bollywood… Legions of aspirants would give anything to work in just one of the places Subhi Khanna passed through on her winding road—from India to America, through finance, journalism and music—pursuing an elusive dream. While commuting between Chicago and Mumbai, where she was composing for film and digital projects, she lamented spending more time networking than creating. One hot summer afternoon in a rickshaw stuck in traffic, she drank in the sight and sound of kids in the street playing the games of her childhood. She started singing a melody, lyrics flowed, all recorded on her iPhone; back in Chicago, more songs written, she wondered how she might integrate her adopted home town into her music. Solution: Take the seeds from Mumbai and water them from the wellsprings of jazz. Shaitaan Dil (Naughty Heart) is Subhi’s autobiographical debut album, exploring individual and global struggles, hope and despair, wonder and insecurity, finding home and self, delivered in her vivacious voice with an irresistible blend of innocence and sophistication. In Bachpan (Childhood), the light-hearted, Proustian song birthed in the rickshaw, the artist’s Hindi lyrics dance on breezy rhythms (video 1). The title track offers a wide-angle perspective on her journey, expressed as a contest between mind focused on the safe road and mischievous heart plotting her unpredictable path (video 2). The mood turns indigo in Fizool (Meaningless), sung in Hindi and Urdu, surveying the futility of everything—money, passion, time, prayer, sadness (video 3). Subhi’s years of commuting between two separate lives are at the center of Hum Hai Kahan (Where Am I?), a retro-vision appraisal with a four-piece Big Band sound (video 4). There’s more to savor in this hip, smart and generous collection. Shaitaan Dil is a delectable thali, unmistakably Indian and American as deep-dish pizza.
Subhi Khanna, vocals, lyrics, music
Joaquin Garcia, piano, arrangements
Rajiv Halim, saxophone
Ivan Taylor, bass
Gustavo Cortiñas Fouilloux, drums
From the artist’s song notes: “… in a rickshaw … in Mumbai… stuck in traffic. Outside, kids played on the street and I was overwhelmed with the feelings, the memories of my own childhood in Delhi. I started singing this melody and the lyrics just flowed with it… This song talks about the fun games we used to play as kids [and] brings a sense of nostalgia as I remember the innocent, carefree days … filled with laughter and fun.”
Shaitaan Dil/Naughty Heart
“… a fun, playful, foot-tapping song that talks about how silly and out of control our heart can be sometimes, as if it has a mind of its own, following its own agenda. Since my musical journey has been quite unpredictable, the heart and its feelings are equally unpredictable.”
“The song addresses some serious concerns in society, such as corruption, rape, racism, etc. When people around us are unhappy, hungry, hurt, everything seems meaningless. It’s a dark song that [also] brings to light the importance of Karma and how what goes around comes around: There is something bigger out there to solve and work towards.”
Hum Hain Kahan/Where Am I?
“I was going back and forth between Mumbai and Chicago. It was such a confusing time because I was literally living two completely different lives. The travel was enough to make me question where I belonged and what I wanted to achieve. This song is all about putting your life in perspective… It reflects on the importance of understanding your journey and finding your own way.”