Sayanti Chatterjee

By Ben Doy

This week the Prayas Theatre Company presents their latest show 'Love N Stuff'. The play is set at Auckland International Airport, and brings together a cast of fourteen actors for a touching story between Bindi; and Hindu doctor and Mansoor; a Muslim engineer. 

I sat down for a chat with Sayanti Chatterjee, who is leading the band for 'Love N Stuff' and found out some more about the show, the Prayas Theatre Company and her own solo work. 

How did you first get into performing music? 

I figured out that I could sing when I was a kid and I come from a family of singers, dancers, academics… all of that, all rounder people. So growing up my sister and I; she’s directing the play, we’ve been performing on the stage since we were 4 or 5 years old. We’d go up on stage and sing, or recite poetry or dance. So have been doing that a long time and was in the school choir and all of that. 

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had this wild ambition of being one day in America being a singer for a profession. But I never thought it could become a reality because I was in India growing up and it’s very removed from Hollywood, not so much anymore but back then it was. 

So that’s sort of how it started We came to New Zealand when I was in school, that finished and then I went to University, My Dad said "I realise you want to take singing as a career, but you have to get your education sorted first in case it doesn’t work out". So I got my degrees and all that stuff and after I graduated I think I worked about a year. But soon afterwards I decided that desk work is not for me and I really need to pursue the arts. That’s when I went back to India to discover the music they have over there; because that’s my roots. But I’ve always been into English music ever since I can remember, growing up in the 90s with influence like Mariah and some pop and rock music.

So who were your main influences? 

Growing up it was all that I could hear on the radio or MTV. So when people talk about Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson; all the greats, I can’t really put my hand on my heart and say they were my influences because they weren’t… they weren’t introduced to me at that age. But pop music back then was Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and lots of pop rock. 

But now I’m very much influenced by Brooke Fraser, I love her work! I love Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae… all very sultry voices. And of course Aretha Franklin, Etta James. 

How did you get involved with Prayas Theatre? 

One of the co-founders of Prayas, Amit Ohdedar, he is part of my Bengali community. My parent’s are Bengalis, West Bengal. The first production was in 2005. He called my sister and I and asked if we wanted to usher it; everybody is a volunteer. So we said “Yeah, sure”. I just loved the community side of it, and to be part of something that is not just school or study or work. Ever since then I’ve always been part of it, starting as an usher then doing backstage help. They weren’t doing any live music for the shows back then, but eventually they started talking about live singing and music. They turned to me and said “ Hey you write, you sing, what do you think, do you want to lead a band?”. So that’s when the journey started of me forming the band. 

How many in the band? 

In it’s full capacity I think it’s about 10. But it keeps growing. For instance at the moment we have two tabla players who are brothers, and both have their own way of playing. The younger one is very cheeky with his playing; he’s fun and very intuitive. Where as the older brother us more composed and goes by the book and is very methodical. So They;re both different approaches to playing.

How do you put together the music for play? 

For the play we do a mixture of cover songs and originals. Usually if it’s an original, most of the time it’s an English song; and that works with Prayas because the Prayas name means 'attempt'. An attempt to bring out all the Indian playwrights to the wider New Zealand audience. So when you try to do that you are either taking plays that are of Indian origin and written in English or you’re taking a locally written local language play or script and converting it into English. So that way English music works because it’s predominantly an English speaking audience. 

How have the rehearsals been going? 

Oh great! It’s close to crunch time, the show is here. People are being very resourceful. We’re also running a fund raiser online just because this time around I think the Government has taken a lot of funding from the arts sector; three of our main funding bodies have not funded us this time round. So we’re being creative about how we put together the show. 

I think we all look forward to this one production every year, and of course it gets crazy towards D-Day but once it’s finished we miss it like crazy. 

What other projects are you working on? 

I’m signed with a label; Affiliated Records New Zealand. So there’s always music going on, but as with any label to can’;t really decide to release it, it’s up to them. But we’ve got some music happening behind the scenes that I can’t really talk about, but it’s happening and it;’s exciting. There is a pending American trip soon hopefully, but these things take time. 

But other than that Prayas has always been a top priority for me. It’s a beautiful platform to express. They always give you the space to be creative and they respect that. So that’s always very satisfiying and humbling as well. 

But I also perform at a few music festivals. There was the International Auckland Cultural Festival that happened in May. I usually call upon my Prayas band to appear. 

LOVE N STUFF 

Thu 23 June – Fri 3 July, 2016
Venue: TAPAC, 100 Motions Rd, Western Springs
Tickets: $25 - $30
Booking: http://www.tapac.org.nz/