Like many artists, Avanti Nagral can trace her musical beginnings to an early age—specifically, as she often jokes, “in vitro.”
The Harvard student and singer-songwriter spent her early childhood in Boston before moving to Bombay, India, and recalls growing up “surrounded by rhythm.” After learning to play the piano at age five, Avanti continued to gain music experience across a variety of styles and genres throughout her time in both countries. Before the end of her high school career, the singer had already made her professional debut as a performer.
These days, the 20-year-old star has just wrapped up a summer on tour in the Philippines and is making headlines for the release of South Asia’s first ever virtual reality music video for her single “I Like.” Meanwhile, the sophomore Psychology and Global Health double major also happens to be one of the first students to pursue a dual degree from two of the nation’s most prestigious institutions, Harvard University and Berklee College of Music.
The multi-talented artist and global health student is also an activist in her own right, and is actively involved in numerous campaigns, seminars and research efforts involving health and social issues. Split amongst many passions and talents, the impressive multiplicity in Avanti’s life mirrors her music itself: a unique brand of pop-soul she has cultivated from a wide variety of cultural and musical influences.
Heart of Bombay, Soul of Boston
The singer credits much of her stylistic evolution to the creative influence of a diverse childhood. “Having lived half my life in India and the other half in the US exposed me to different art forms, and music is such a universal language that it would be a shame not to imbibe different styles and learn from them,” she says.
Over the years, those influences have included everything from Indian classical and Sufi to church gospel music and even Broadway tunes. “My musical style has most definitely evolved over the years with the seemingly random but eclectic styles I’ve performed,” says the artist.
The result of all these influences and evolution? A unique sound the singer says she ultimately gears toward American pop. “To be perfectly honest, with such an amalgam, I’m not sure where a particular influence is coming from – I just know that it is subconsciously drawing from my varied experiences,” Avanti says of the multiplicity behind her style.
Having performed in Boston as well as across India and the Philippines, the singer has shared her sound with diverse audiences and cultures. “I’ve realized that it really doesn’t matter where you are, you just need people to connect honestly with the music.” In order to best help her audience make that connection, the singer makes sure that her style is still constantly evolving. “Creativity is fueled by growth, so it’s super important to keep growing,” she says. “There is always so much room for growth.”
Queen of VR
In June, Avanti released her debut English single, the upbeat self-empowerment anthem “I Like.”
“’I Like’ is a song about following your dreams, your passions, and being independent in your thoughts, irrespective of public opinion. It portrays the individuality of empowerment, and to me is just really about doing what you like,” the singer says of the catchy track.
The single also marked the release of South Asia’s first ever virtual reality music video. Directed by acclaimed New York-based director Blake Farber, whose credits include working with Beyoncé, the video is a huge step not only for Avanti, but also for the as-yet relatively non-existent world of Indian pop.
“Unlike K-pop, C-pop, and other such Asian pop industries, India doesn’t have a parallel pop industry,” or at least not yet, she adds. With youth on the rise in the country, expected to be the youngest in the world by 2020, the singer expects English-inspired pop culture and music will soon see an increase in India, “but it still has a long way to go.”
Paving the way with her contributions to the genre, Avanti had a significant role in the planning and production of her groundbreaking VR music video. “It was important to both Blake and me to create something unique and immersive—and that’s how the idea for VR was born,” she says of the video’s conception.
For Avanti, this kind of video provides the audience with an entirely new way to connect to her music. “With music videos, VR is a great option for novelty, and for enabling the viewer to engage more with the content,” she explains. “VR is not a new concept,” she adds, noting that while the technology has been used in the tech and gaming industries for a long time, it is just recently coming into popular use in art and music. “In the case of music, there is so much potential for VR,” she says.
Meanwhile, in her academic career, the Harvard student is not merely a student of Global Health, but an activist. While still in high school, Avanti founded YCPR, a Youth Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation campaign which aims to create a network of bystander CPR trained youth empowered to save lives in their communities.
Since then, the singer and student has continued her efforts across various fields, including music therapy, anemia/thalassemia, organ donation, cardiac disease and CPR/emergency care. Currently, the student is also putting her Psychology major to work, conducting independent research on mental health disparities and the potential for tech and media-based interventions.
While all this may seem like a significant departure from her success on the pop-music scene, the star maintains her passions are related, united by what she calls “the power of the voice.”
“As an artist, you have multiple voices—your musical voice is a given, but you also have a platform which gives you a voice to affect change. I try to have everything I do motivated by both purpose and passion, and intend to keep writing, making music, performing, hearing people’s stories, and enjoying the journey. I hope to keep learning the different ways in which I can simultaneously use my voice and be a voice.”