Award-winning, multilingual Danish singer, songwriter, composer, and voice over artist, Anita Lerche, has been gaining wide recognition singing popular songs in the Punjabi language; her latest single entitled, Sadke Punjab Ton, has an impressive 6 million plus views on YouTube. And, she is the first non-Asian woman from the West to sing and release a solo album in Punjabi. As a voice over artist, her credits include the Danish versions of Walt Disney Pictures Pixar Animation Studios "Toy Story 2," "Toy Story 3," and Walt Disney Pictures "Planes". Lerche's instrument is her voice...her impressive vocal captures the imagination, with emotion, passion, and strength that reaches and stirs the soul.
I recently had the honor of chatting with Anita Lerche in person shortly before she took the stage at the Cook Theater at Indiana Landmarks Center for her performance celebrating Christel House India in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Tuesday, December 17th, 2013.
William Kelly Milionis: Anita, welcome to Indianapolis. Thank you for this interview opportunity.
Anita Lerche: Thanks. It's great to be here.
Kelly: You have quite a vocal history having released your first album entitled, I Love A Piano, on February 21st, 2005 (a collection of cover songs in English); Heer from Denmark, released on November 18th, 2006 (a combination of Punjabi and English songs) and a series of Punjabi language singles. Will you be following up your recently released Punjabi language singles with a new album in 2014?
Anita: Yes. I will be in India because my largest audience has been Indians and Pakistanis. I'm going to India for the physical release, but it will also be released worldwide on iTunes, Google Play, and other outlets. It will be available all over. And, when I come back to the US, I will market it with more touring.
Kelly: You cover a wide range of vocal styles with your powerful striking voice while concentrating on Punjabi music. You collaborated with rapper Cheshire Cat on your Danish World Music Award winning Indian track, Maahiya. Would you look at incorporating elements of the ever-growing electronic dance music (EDM) genre in your music and expanding your collaborations to include popular DJs/Producers on your new album?
Anita: I don't feel that I have any boundaries. Three singles, Sadke Punjab Ton, Merea Ranjha, and Sammi are videos out already and actually going to be a part of that new album. I have included a few songs which are Bollywood inspired. I think that it's very good to mix genres and make some fusion. The world now is one big fusion. Maybe there could be more dance music as well. I've spoken with DJ Rekha from New York about some kind of collaboration. She has 'Basement Bhangra' in New York which is a club and a place where she is the first Punjabi DJ. She's even played at the White House. Collaboration could be very interesting, but the lyrics have to be good. I don't want a level where the lyrics have no meaning, or are only about sex or drugs. I'm not interested. I want a story that connects people or has some kind of great message.
Kelly: Were you raised in a musical household?
Anita: Yes, I was always singing because my father played the piano. He was my big inspiration. He has a great voice and was always playing the guitar and singing. So, I was just listening and I got inspired by him. I had the chance, when I was seven, to grab an opportunity to start in the school chorus. I kept on singing in the school chorus. I think when I was thirteen, I got into the Girls Choir for Radio Denmark which was a huge achievement. It took some auditions, and that took me on a tour of Denmark with a Children's Opera, so that was a good opportunity. When I reached fifteen, I started getting classical singing training; Opera technique. Because, I sang day and night, I realized that I got hoarse because I did not have the singing technique. I always wanted to become a professional. So, I wanted to get a very good education. I've had around sixteen years of classical singing training and then my formal education was from London's Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Musical theatre is a great way of expressing oneself and I got some great tools for acting and dancing as well.
Kelly: Do you play musical instruments?
Anita: I learned to play the piano. At the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts I had to play piano. I took around five years of piano lessons; Bach, Chopin, all the composers, so it means when I'm creating my own songs I can play my chords and I can accompany myself. I feel most comfortable on stage, not sitting behind the piano. I play a little bit of flute, a little bit of guitar, but it takes a lot of discipline if you want to be really good. You have to practice five or six hours and I'd rather spend them on my singing. So I became better and better at singing because I practiced that more.
Kelly: It's a simple question. But, it's interesting how many artists, who have a musical instrument background, actually find it much easier to write their own music and even find the recording process less problematic and more enjoyable. Those who do not play a musical instrument tend to find it a bit more challenging because of their lack of appropriate 'musical' knowledge.
Anita: You have to get that knowledge in order to be able to relate to it. I've been doing concerts with a full orchestra, up to seventy piece orchestra when I did "West Side Story" as Maria. It's just something that gives you that knowledge. I did concerts with different orchestras and it gives you that knowledge and experience of different instruments. As you say, when you play yourself, it helps that understanding more.
Kelly: You touch so many hearts with your songs. What is your songwriting process? Music first? Lyrics first? What are your inspirations?
Anita: Usually, I always tend to get inspired when there is a full moon for some reason. There is a strong energy. It's often a part of my own experiences, my emotions; if I'm very much in love. Usually, it's the tune that comes to me. Sometimes, I improvise with the piano and some tune comes out and maybe one line of word, then the rest of the words come, so it's like that, usually the tune first and the emotion and theme.
Kelly: You are the featured performer celebrating Christel House India...
Anita: Yes. Underprivileged students, who would not be able to afford having a proper education, Christel House helps them by creating the schools, guiding them, and making sure that they get the foundation they need; but also that they continue in life.
Kelly: Christel House then provides a teacher or a peer mentor to guide the children?
Kelly: I understand you recently lost someone who was your peer mentor and advisor.
Anita: Yes, my great advisor Rattan Singh Rajput, unfortunately he passed away. He was in his seventies and he was a great driving force in teaching me Punjabi. Actually, I lived in Punjab with a Punjabi family. It took me three months to learn the language, to understand my songs, and record an album. But now, I've stayed four and a half years in total and I love the Indian hospitality. Rattan Singh Rajput was one of my main teachers, together with Anurag Sood; these two were my great teachers.
Kelly: It's always wonderful to have a peer mentor, someone who recognizes your talent, believes in you and is willing to take of their time to guide you. So, when you lose somebody special like that, it feels as if a big part of you or your heart is gone...
Anita: Yes, it is really.
Kelly: So tonight, you can also celebrate your peer mentor, what he has given you and allowed you to accomplish on your own because you are performing at a celebration for an organization that believes in that...
Anita: Exactly. Exactly. That is so correct. You know, his word will never be lost because it's being shared with millions of people through the music. Music is so amazing because it unites people across borders, across religions, and it has no boundaries. It's a language of the heart. I like saying that because everybody understands it. And that is what is so unique about it and me being a foreigner singing in the Punjabi language. When I started in 2005, I just went on a holiday to India with some Danish friends. When I heard the Punjabi music for the first time, it just blew me away. I felt like dancing. Somebody heard me sing a few songs I learned in Himachal Pradesh. Maybe this girl can learn to sing in Punjabi. They offered me a record contract and I just decided to follow my heart. That is what I truly believe in, that anybody who really wants to be happy, if you follow your heart and your dreams, it just makes you so you can give so much more to yourself, to your family, and to the world. Everything is possible if you just wish it enough from your heart, and if you work hard. It takes a lot of hard work to achieve anything. So in three months, I learned to sing in Punjabi language. Only when I had my first press conference, I realized that there was no other blonde girl or Western girl singing in Punjabi language. So I stood out and I got a break. Before that, I was into musical theatre, starting in London singing, dancing, acting, from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Basically, I was singing since I was seven years old. It's a whole life. I was asked to sing a few Punjabi songs so it got mainstream. I have been doing "Dancing With The Stars" in Denmark and dubbing voiceovers for the Danish release of "Toy Story 2", "Toy Story 3" and "Planes". It's just fun using my instrument and it's exciting.
Kelly: So exciting indeed. Good luck with your performance and your upcoming album release. Thank you again for this interview opportunity. Have fun and enjoy the celebration.
Anita: Thank you.