Text By Ashanti OMkar (www.OMkari.net)
Photos By Akin Falope (www.aworan.net)
The first lady of 2point 9 (home to Rishi Rich, Jay Sean, Juggy D and Mentor) finally makes her long awaited arrival, with her album, ‘Theen’. Veronica Metha, who is lovingly known in the business as Sweet V, for her nightingale like voice and known to her many, longstanding fans, simply as Veronica, brings to us her much anticipated offering, which has many tracks that are undoubtedly hits in the making. Having started out in the business many years ago, alongside her then partner, Rishi Rich, who collaborated in the hit duo, VR1, building a family of talents with them, Veronica has moved up in her career, from being one of the 1st Asian R&B singers in the market, the girl who supported acts like UK singer Hinda Hicks and US Rapper, Foxy Brown, the young lady who won the Asian pop media awards and movie awards in 1998, in Birmingham, the voice behind the groundbreaking ‘Voices’ album, which was produced by Rishi himself to having her very own release alongside label mates like Jay Sean and Juggy D. The album ‘Theen’, which has been part produced by Rishi Rich and Mentor promises to enthral audiences, with its blend of three languages and its slick East meets West sounds, not to mention the spot-on vocal stylings of Sweet V. Having been part of a Bollywood movie and having sung on a Bollywood soundtrack, Veronica’s career is definitely set to blow up big, bringing the sounds of ‘Theen’ to the mainstream. She bears all to The Asian Post in this interview.
You were born in West London - where was that and what is your cultural background and heritage?
I was born in Harrow. I’m Hindu Punjabi and my mum is from East Africa and my dad is from the Punjab in India.
What is your family like, in terms of values and ideals? What about religion, does it feature heavily in your life and that of your family?
My mum and dad have brought me up to have morals and values in life. They were quite strict with me as I was growing up, but I’m glad because it’s made me who I am today. I am religious and believe in God. My mum is the most religious in my family, we have a little temple in our house and she prays there everyday without fail.
How did your Parents react to your choice of career, especially in the early years, when you were starting out and it may have seemed that a 'solid' profession like Medicine or accountancy may have been more appropriate? What were you pursuing in education, that you left behind for music and do you feel that you may one day go back to finish?
When I first told my parents about my choice of career they were obviously concerned for many reasons. They knew that I was serious about my music because that’s all I ever did 24/7. They were concerned about my safety and well being. It wasn’t exactly the kind of career that was common, especially for an Asian female. They just wanted to make sure that I’d be able to support myself and also make a living. I was studying art and design in college, but I don’t think that I’d ever go back. Drawing etc is still a passion of mine and maybe I’ll take it up again as a hobby.
Tell us about how and when you actually discovered your musical vocal talents and how your writing skills came into play. What is your actual musical training? Did you ever learn Indian Classical? If so, who were your Gurus? How did you hone in on your Hindi diction?
I must have been about 10. My mum and dad used to have an old sony tape recorder. I loved singing, so I’d sit there for hours recording my favourite songs and try to imitate the vocalist. One of the first songs I ever recorded was a ‘Ghazal’. I was obviously influenced a lot by what was being played in our house. As far as writing goes, I never thought I could do it, not until I tried. I must have been about 14 and I found that the more I wrote, the better I got at it. I actually haven’t had any musical training, but as I got older I had a couple of lessons to help me learn about singing techniques, breathing etc. I’m lucky in the respect that because I’m Hindu Punjabi, I get to speak and understand both the languages and I’m constantly checking with my parents that I pronounce the words correctly.
Meeting Rishi - how, where e.t.c. How did you form VR1 and what was the thinking behind that? What were the 5 albums you did as VR1? What does VR1 mean?
I met Rishi in 1996, he was in 2 kool then and was looking for a female singer to feature on the Flavor album. It was instant chemistry, we really clicked. After about a year, he decided to leave 2 kool and wanted to pursue a more mainstream direction. At the time, we were working on tracks together anyway for my project. He just asked me one day if I wanted to join him and form a group. His idea was on the basis of groove theory, producer in the background and vocalist up front. We went on to brainstorm ideas for the name and I came up with VR1, Veronica and Rishi as one. We went on to do ‘The Next stage’, ‘Love 2 Love Part 4 and 5’ and ‘Voices’.
How and why did VR1/2Kool terminate? Obviously it was on very good terms and you are both at a very high point of your careers now - did you ever anticipate things to go so well?
It was just a natural progression, I got signed to a mainstream company and Rishi wanted to work with other artists but at the same time, he continued to be my main producer. You never know how things are going to turn out. All you can do is your best and hope that people appreciate it. People only see the recent success we’ve had, they don’t know how long we’ve been in this industry and how hard we’ve worked.
'Show me love' - this was a huge underground and urban hit, not to mention 'Girls Gotta have fun' - why do you feel these didn't make an impact on the mainstream audience, although they had all the qualities of mainstream hits, including great videos and a huge amount of Asian and non-Asian press?
Once again you can have loads of money behind you etc but doesn’t mean that you will be successful. I think it’s got a lot to do with the record company and how they see you. They promoted me as the 1st Asian female but they didn’t encourage me to use any element of culture in my music. They wanted me to sound like every other female artist, which doesn’t make you stand out from the crowd.
You have also done some amazing things in your career, such as supporting Charlie Wilson, performing for the Carlton awards and presenting on BBC Asian Network , writing on Roll On for Misteeq, Harvey of So solid, Abs and Jay Sean - what else is there to conquer for our Sweet V?
I want to tour internationally, set up my own band and do more writing for other artists. Maybe find a new artist to take under my wing and launch.
Sister India by DJ Ritu - another fabulous idea from an Asian female - you're the lead vocalist, am I right? What was the concept behind starting it and what parts of the world have you travelled with the group? Who else is part of the group and what is the dynamic between you all?
I’ve had to put Sister India on hold at the moment because of my solo work. It was originally meant to be an all female band but now there’s a mixture. It’s headed by DJ Ritu on the decks, ajay on guitar, pritpal on tabla and dhol, Kiran on dhol, Cat, Seema and Vipal are the dancers and occasionally MC’s. we have a really good bond and we’ve travelled and performed at world music festivals in places like Norway, Greece, Prague, Spain to mention a few.
Now you have become an A list celeb in Bollywood, after singing for Hum Tum with Juggy - tell us about this. Did you ever expect to see yourself in Bollywood? Did you ever have an interest in Bollywood, considering you are primarily an RnB vocalist? What is it like in Mumbai and how do the Indian musicians work with you and treat you?
It was a great experience; Rishi was approached by Yash Raj to do a track for the film. They wanted a male and female vocalist to feature, so Rishi asked us if we’d like to do it. So we sat down, composed and wrote the song and Yash Raj loved it. Never in a million years did I expect to be part of one of the world’s greatest industries, especially because I was singing in English. I’ve always had an interest in Bollywood but never thought that I’d be part of it. Everyone in India is really helpful and pleased to meet you, you get treated like royalty.
The latest album, ‘Theen’ - much awaited - tell us more about the album and the people featured in it. Is it true that Asian female MC, Hardkaur is on one of the tracks?
It’s called THEEN, which means three because I’m singing in English, Hindi and Punjabi. It’s produced by Rishi Rich and Mentor. It has a mixture of influences from R&B, Hip Hop, Bhangra, Arabic, the album features Juggy D and the Mentor Kollektiv. Unfortunately HardKaur isn’t featured on the album but it would be great to work with her in the future.
You have an inordinate amount of dance training - do you get to fuse all those styles you learnt? What types did you master and which are your favourite?
I have dance training in Indian Classical, Kathak, Ballet, Modern, Tap, Street Jazz. It’s difficult to pick a favourite but it would have to be a tie between Kathak, Jazz and Tap.
Practice - it's vital for a musician - do you get time to keep up the practice? How do you do it, in the sense, is it a 1st thing in the morning thing, do you sing in the bathroom, do you sit cross legged and do riyaaz?
I used to practise everyday, not 1st thing in the morning but anytime I could fit it in. Now I don’t as much because I’m in studio a lot and doing gigs, so I don’t want to burn myself out. But I always warm my voice up before I perform and that’s normally back stage.
How do you keep these gorgeous looks of yours and that fab figure? Do you get a chance to exercise? How do you chill out after your long hard days?
Good genes! I do like to look after myself, I try and workout about three times a week and eat well but it’s difficult to stick to a routine when you’re all over the place, long studio sessions or travelling. I like to be home after a really long days work, have a hot bath and just unwind with the family, have some home cooked food and maybe put on a movie.
As an Asian female in the industry, how have you found it? Why do you feel that not many Asian ladies have made a mark on the mainstream? What do you think of the competition? Do you feel it's important to 'sex it up', in order to make a mark on this industry?
I always say that its hard being an Asian female in this industry, people just don’t take you seriously. There are a lot of females coming out now and I think its good but I don’t necessarily think that you have to ‘sex it up’ to get somewhere. For me it’s all about the music, writing, performing and keeping it real. Every woman wants to feel sexy and she can be, without over doing it.
Touring - you perform live a lot and also tour a lot - what's the experience like? What places do you like the best and who do you like performing with the best?
I love performing with the Rishi Rich Project, its always so much fun. We’ve travelled to many places; I think my favourite has to be Dubai. We did a gig there on the beach in the heat, about ten thousand people there and the venue was rigged up so that water would sprinkle out on to the crowd as we performed. It was an amazing experience, the crowd even sang along to the songs.
You biggest influences form a personal and musical point of view – do you have any Asian musicians that inspire you as well?
I love Adnan Sami’s work, I think he’s amazing. I also like RD Burman’s work and used a sample from the track ‘Vaada raha’ on the track ‘Indian girl’ from my album.
What’s in your mp3/Cd player right now? What music do you tend to re-visit in your limited time to listen to stuff?
My album, ‘Theen’. I love listening to different genres of music from R&B, Hip Hop, World music, Soul Jazz, Bollywood etc.
'Kyaa Kool Hai Hum' – you have a role in this movie, along with the other 2poin9’ers…. Tell us more about this and how it came about? What’s it like working with Bollywood stars, stars Tusshar Kapoor, Ritesh Deshmukh, Ishaa Koppikar and Neha Dhupia? What are the roles the 2point9 crew play and what are your acting skills like?
I think it was a knock on effect from Hum Tum. We didn’t really have to act we just played ourselves. We’re performing at a music event, Tusshar and Ritesh come to see us at the gig and end up on stage with us. They we really nice and we were just hanging around with them on set. We perform a track from Jay Sean’s album called ‘One night’ and added some Punjabi that Juggy sings and Hindi that I sing. The tracks called ‘Dil mera’.
There was a racist attack on your guys not long back, on the video shoot for ‘Theen’ – do tell us about it, the motivations and that may have affected all of you. Where was this and do you think that thee sorts of things will continue in Britain?
We were busy filming my video in Bermondsey for my album Theen, when some youths starting shouting out racist comments to me and the guys. It was horrible, I felt awful, angry, frightened and embarrassed. Unfortunately it’s clear to see that these things still happen maybe not so often, but it happened to us.
Last but not least – any messages to the millions of UK fans you have?
Thank you for your love and support. Watch out for my album ‘Theen’ out in May and check out the video on most music channels. Log on to www.twopointnine.com for any information. Keep it real, Love and peace…