Meet A R Rahman's Canadian-Italian Bollywood singer
Canadian-Italian singer Natalie Di Luccio caught India's eye when she posted a video of her singing Tu Jaane Na from Ajab Prem Ki Gajab Kahani on YouTube. It got over million hits in a day.
Then the 21-year-old caught A R Rahman's eye when she posted her rendition of Kahin Toh Hogi Woh from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, an ARR composition, on YouTube again.
She is now touring with the Oscar-winning music composer's troupe, and will be next seen performing in Bengaluru on May 29.
Natalie talks to Patcy N about her fascination for Bollywood songs and her big break.
How did you get into singing?
I have been singing all my life; I was singing ever since I was six. I have trained in Western classical. By the time I was 18, I decided to go to university to study opera. After that I had a hard time, as now I wanted to be a main stream artist and not necessarily an opera singer. I was getting lots of singing opportunities, but I couldn't take them because I was in the school.
Image: Natalie Di Luccio
'My parents thought I was crazy to I want to come to India'
Why did you decide to come to India?
One day I was in my school library and got a message on MySpace from some Tusshar Pandey in India. He messaged me about coming to India. I wasn't even going to respond because you get random messages on MySpace, but I did, saying, 'Thanks so much, may be one day'.
A few months later he messaged again and said he was working on a project and wanted me to sing from Canada. So I recorded and send him what he wanted. After a few months I got a CD. My voice was on Sonu Nigam's Maha Ganesha album. That time I did not know who Sonu was.
I have an Indian aunt [married to her uncle]. She saw the album and told me how big Sonu is in India. I started looking for Sonu and his music and I loved his work. Then I also started researching more on Indian music.
During this time I decided that I wanted to leave my school. I messaged Tusshar with whom I had stayed in touch, and asked him what I should be doing. His wife is a singer and he wanted to do a fusion album. That's when I thought of coming to India, not for a career or anything, just for fun. I was 18. My parents thought I was crazy to I want to come to India, so my brother accompanied me.
Where did you live when you first came to India?
I came to India in January 2009. I lived in Mumbai and Pune most of the time and I fell in love with the place. I felt like I had been here in a past life. Other than my aunt I had never been exposed to anything about Indian culture. I roamed here for few weeks and went back to Canada. But I started missing this place.
I was in touch with Sonu on Facebook. After Michael Jackson passed away, Sonu was doing a Jackson tribute and he asked me to be a part of it. He asked me to record my version on video and send it to him. That was my second job in India. I posted that on Facebook. I guess lots of music composers saw me and my work. One day I was talking to Sonu and I told him I wanted to come to India. He asked me to come. This was in October 2009. The next day I booked my tickets. I didn't even know where I would stay. Every one thought I was crazy, as I had some stuff going in the West as well as, but something kept pulling me back to India.
Image: Natalie Di Luccio sing Tu Jaane Na from Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani
'I love Bollywood films and I love Hindi'
When was your next trip to India?
I came back last year to meet a few music directors for a month, but I kept extending my stay, and my poor mom kept worrying. I ended up living here for three to four months.
Bollywood just sucks you in, I love Bollywood films and I love Hindi. I got a tutor to learn Hindi, as all my friends were speaking Hindi, and I was frustrated because I could not understand anything. I started getting shows and singing projects. I did ads and some acting stuff (Jaane Kahin Se Aayi Hai). I did all this for fun and some experience in Bollywood.
Then I went back to Canada. This time in Canada was the toughest time. My whole life I had wanted to be an Italian classical singer, but once I came to India I completely lost touch with it. I did not feel like I was Italian any more, because I was talking about India, going to Indian restaurants, watching Bollywood films.
During the same time I got a chance to work with Universal Records on an album. If this had happened two years back, I would have been on cloud nine, but when this happened I was not passionate anymore. I was asked to practice Italian songs and I would be listening to Bollywood songs. The album was taking lots of time to happen and it had been a while since I had returned from India. I was really missing it.
Why did you think of singing Tu Jaane Na?
My brother is a guitarist. He told me to do something on YouTube. He suggested an English cover. On YouTube I heard Tu Jaane Na and loved it. I found an instrumental piano [of the song] uploaded by a 14-year-old boy from Chennai [Sanjay Das].
I called my brother and told him I know this song and can sing it. The next day I sang the song on video. I was scared to post it, as I didn't know whether my pronunciation and my accent were right. I also posted it on Facebook, but when I went to remove it, as I did not wanted it to become a laughing stock, within four days it was the most watched video in India. I wanted to comeback to India, but I did not know how. After this video I got lots of opportunity to do shows in India and small acting offers. I figured that if I come back, I have seamless opportunities. After I came here, my life really changed. I am in India since last December.
Image: Natalie sings Kahin Toh Hogi Woh from Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na
'Hopefully I will sing a song for Rahman'
How did you get a chance to join Rahman's tour?
His manager saw my YouTube video Kahin Toh and showed it to him. Apparently every body liked that, so they called me to join the tour.
What are the other assignments that you did?
I have worked with composers like Salim Sulaimain, Amar Mohile, Pritam, Vishal Shekhar. Hopefully I will sing a song for Rahman. My parents are happy with my achievement, though they think there is so much more still to do.
I got a chance to sing in Chalo Dilli [Moments In Life]. I have recorded a Hindi song, too. I am still taking Hindi classes. My Hindi is good now; I mean I can understand it. I am forcing myself to speak it now. I have told my friends to speak to me only in Hindi. When I sing a song I translate each word to understand it better. So far I have sung three Hindi songs and uploaded them on YouTube: Tu Jaane Na, Kahin Toh and Pehla Nasha [Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander].
Why Pehla Nasha?
One of my goals is to decrease the gap between the East and the West. Lots of people have this vision of Slumdog Millionaire in America because that's what they have been fed. They don't know how amazing India is. It is one of my goals to show what India is. It is not just poverty and slums; India is about spreading love to all types of people. I thought of Pehla Nasha, because to me it is just not about first love, but about love for India and love between different kinds of people.
Image: Natalie Di Luccio sings Pehla Nasha from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander
'I like the family values in India'
Which places in India have you seen?
I have been to Shimla, Agra, Delhi, Goa, Pune and Kutch. I will be going to Chennai, Nagpur, Bengaluru with my tours with Rahman. I loved Goa and Pune, Lonavala, Amby Valley. Every place is so different; it has different language and different cultures. I like something about every place.
What are the things that you like about India?
I like the family values in India. Now when I go home, I love my parents so much more. I realised that for Indians parents are very important, but there everyone is so busy that we don't appreciate our family. [I also like] The value people here have for friendship. I have better friends here than I have had in my entire life. There we are in bigger houses, so we are different from one another. Also since it is very cold, we stay indoors most of the time, and there is no social life. In Mumbai everyone is in close proximity.
The food here is too good. I love spicy food; my favourite food is Sabudana Khichdi, Butter Chicken, Chicken Tikka, Mutton Rogan Josh. There is so much good food here that it is a problem to stay slim.
Do you miss home?
I do miss home. I speak to my parents every day. My brother came and stayed with me for a month
I haven't planned anything, but I am sure I will be here for some more time. I don't see myself soon in Canada. [But] I don't know where I will be in my old age. I am talking to directors for a few film roles. I am also working on a Hollywood documentary about my journey to India. [Filmmaker] Shekhar Kapur is associated with it.
Image: Natalie Di Luccio sings Moments in Life from Chalo Dilli