Very few independent artists have the luxury newcomer R&B singer Sumeet has. For starters her debut single, a catchy club track titled Agony, is a collaboration with none-other than Dancehall superstar Elephant Man. The importance of a big name is obvious in urban music but that doesnt mean new artists cant hold their own. But many artists in the indy game just dont have that luxury to follow up with a full, completely finished album to showcase their talent. Sumeet is one of the few exceptions, with her debut album ready for release, she clearly shines without a dozen guest appearances.
The album Deeper is a mix of R&B and Soul making it edgy yet emotional, slow yet sensual enough to make you groove. The Dancehall and Indian flavors are obvious as is the Hip-Hop influence. Growing up in Toronto may have something to do with it, as Sumeet later explains. The Canadian city is known for its diverse cultures and its large Caribbean population.
Surrounded by a team of professionals, this 23-yr-old self-confessed old school Hip-Hop fan is ready to take on the challenge of getting her music to the masses. Her fan base grows by the day, as does the interest from labels and management companies. AHHA chatted with Sumeet about the hustle of being independent and the exciting Toronto music scene.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Your first single Agony featuring Elephant Man was critically acclaimed but most music fans have probably never heard of it. Why do you think that is?
Sumeet: Being an independent artist definitely makes it harder to get the music out to everyone, especially from a financial standpoint. Its so hard without all of the promotion and marketing. However, having said that, it has been doing pretty well in the underground scene. Universal Records included it on their Dancehall Hits 2004 CD and AV8 Records and Brukkout Records both dropped it and sold out on vinyl. Weve been getting a lot of love overseas, with Agony in heavy rotation across Canadian and UK radio, as well as Sirius Satellite Radio in the U.S. so I guess its just a matter of time. I think now that the album is finished and available more people will eventually get to hear it, and lovers of real music will find it and appreciate it.
AHHA: What is Agony about? How much of your music do you write?
Sumeet: Agony is a story about a girl at the club, in search of him. She doesnt know who he is or what he looks like yet, but she knows he is there and hes the only one that can quench her thirst, that can give her the agony shes looking for.
I write most of my songs myself, but weve also put together a strong family, where we can bounce ideas around or someone can bring an idea in and well all work on it. It helps to see things from different perspectives; I feel it keeps the music fresh and interesting.
AHHA: The Indian influence is obvious in your music. What is your background?
Sumeet: I was born and raised in an Indian household on a little farm city in Canada called London, right in the middle of Detroit and Toronto. Its two hours in either direction so I got to taste the Toronto Caribbean flavor alongside Detroit, with its booty music. My parents are both artists so there would be poetry readings and music recitals almost every weekend. They taught me to read and write in my mother-tongue, Punjabi, and when I was very young they were always stressing the importance of culture and diversity. There were no other kids around where we lived so I spent a lot of time alone, writing songs for my imaginary friends and so on.
I think I fit that artist stereotype of growing up because I just didnt fit in. I was the only Indian kid at school which automatically made me the brunt of many jokes. When I was really young it hurt but after a while you get used to it. I would write songs and perform them for my fake crew at recess!
AHHA: On your album you switch from Dancehall to R&B quite convincingly. What are your influences? You listen to a lot of old school hip-hop too right?
Sumeet: Let me start by saying Im a fan of music, so my influences are plentiful! Of course, coming from an Indian household I heard a lot of Indian music growing up, especially classical and instrumental. My first taste of soul came when one of my fathers friends left Marvin Gayes Whats Going On cassette at my house. I was blown away. I was too young to understand what he was singing about but there was something about the sweet ache in his voice that captivated me. From there I devoured Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, anything I could get my hands on. My father was a fan of the blues too, so he gave me a taste of artists like Louis Armstrong and John Lee Hooker.
There were no urban radio stations at home back then, but every Saturday night the local college station would play the freshest, newest stuff. Thats where I fell in love with Hip-Hop, from Tribe to Scarface to Rakim, the realest players. I would tape the shows and listen back all week…[sighs] I miss Hip-Hop. Of course there are the reggae influences, from Lovers Rock to Dancehall and Calypso, Beres Hammond, Sanchez, and Beenie Man are among my favorites – and, of course, Prince. I have to mention one of the greatest influences for all music, not just R&B. I feel its very important to study the greats; like Prince and Marvin, Nina Simone, Billy Holiday to understand and be influenced by what real music is.
AHHA: How did you choose the people you collaborated with on your album? And how did you hook up with Elephant Man?
Sumeet: I have been blessed to have linked up with so many great people on the album. Dave ODonnell, who was nominated for a Grammy last year, had worked with my manager, Amil, before and came on board because he believed in us and what we were doing. He produced another one of my favorite tracks, Rush, which is a mid-tempo song with a beat-box infused rhythm.
The Brukkout team also believed in us, for which I am ever grateful. We didnt really have much material to play for them when we first met up because we were just starting up ourselves. Dorian, from Brukkout, left us with a CD of beats so we could pick one and try writing to it. As soon as I heard the beat I knew I wanted it and thats how Agony was born! The Brukkout team also worked with Elephant Man as his producers, and as Ive been a big fan of his from back in the day, we reached out to him. He was feeling the track so he dropped a verse on it while he was in Jamaica. Just like that more fire!
AHHA: You talk about a range of experiences on your album. In particular there’s a track called ‘On’. Can you tell me what it’s about?
Sumeet: This is one of those tunes you want to hear at the end of the night when youre moving with your significant – or insignificant – other, when you slow things down just a little. On is a real sexy song about the one man whos got the remedy for what shes feenin for. Its actually got a very subtle safe sex message that people might or might not catch the first time around.
AHHA: Of course it’s hard being an independent upcoming artist, especially in New York. You seem to get a lot of love from your hometown Toronto so why struggle here? Does the hustle ever take its toll on you?
Sumeet: Ive moved around a bit since Ive been pursuing my career, from Toronto to California and now here in New York. New York is obviously a very difficult place for an independent artist, but its also where I met the realest people, people who believed in the music. I left Toronto when I did because the industry was still developing its urban feel and I wasnt meeting the right folks. California was a bad choice for me I didnt know much about making a record, I was coming from a little farm town to a big city and I got taken more than once. But you live and learn from your mistakes.
New York has a pulse, an energy you have to experience to understand. Theres a drive here that pushes you to work harder, the artists arent hungry, theyre starving, and theyll snatch the food off your plate if youre not paying attention. I love that about New York. Cali had a laid back attitude, whereas New York makes you work, which is what I needed. I was lucky enough to link up with people and now weve finished an album we can be proud of.
In terms of the hustle taking a toll on me, you kind of get used to the ups and downs of the business. I guess you either learn to roll with the punches or get knocked out of the industry. It can get frustrating, but when you know there is absolutely nothing else in the world you would rather be doing, you just adjust and start planning your next moves.
AHHA: What’s next for you?
Sumeet: Look out for two new videos for Wine Me and Agony in the next few months, and a commercial release of Agony in the UK.
AHHA: Where can people get the album?
Sumeet: You can always get it from the website, www.sumeetmusic.com, which also has snippets of all the tracks for those that are curious before they buy. Its also available at Amazon.com and CDbaby.com