“Magma is a Greek word for this lava that builds up inside. I think that’s when I’m ready to record a new song! That’s why I think ‘magma-pop’ is a good way to describe it,” Samsaya says about her music. Born in India and raised in Norway, Samsaya’s music is absolutely reflective of her roots and upbringing. The singer fuses catchy pop melodies with traditional Indian sounds to make music that is not only danceable, but also unique. Drawing from her experience as a teenager feeling like an outsider, emotion is the driving force in Samsaya’s music and it’s evident in songs like “Stereotype” and “Bombay Calling,” which both echo themes of empowerment. “Teenagers have the ability to feel what you’re feeling, so purely. It’s actually dangerous,” she says. “From the first trips you take to when you fall in love, you almost feel like you’ll die if it doesn’t work out. Those emotions are so strong and they still attract me. That’s what makes good music.”
Samsaya dropped her debut eponymous EP in the States earlier this summer in July, followed by a U.S. tour supporting Lily Allen last September. She is currently in the midst of wrapping up her Magmapønk Scandinavia Tour. Check out The Untitled Magazine‘s exclusive interview by Indira Cesarine with Samsaya below.
Indira Cesarine: How was your trip to the US?
Samsaya: It was so amazing. I want to get back again! I had some really great shows and, after meeting you, I went to San Francisco and we had an amazing show out there.
IC: You performed when you were in New York, right?
S: I performed at Brooklyn Bowl. It was fun!
IC: San Francisco went well?
S: Yes, San Francisco was love at first sight. The crowd, the energy… it was just so amazing. We fell in love, the whole band. We didn’t want to leave.
IC: I heard that you used to be an actress before you shifted into music. Can you tell me a bit about how you evolved into your current path as a musician?
S: Actually I’ve been doing music the whole time. What happened was that a producer friend of mine told me to go on an audition. I thought it was a music audition so I said, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ When I got there, it was a scene audition… it was a Norwegian movie. I was like, what? I got so nervous but we were shooting so I did my best in that moment. I think because I was nervous the audition went really well. I got a call back. I was much younger then, so I tried to make the best of it. They liked it so much that I got the role. It was one of the first movies that I did and it spiraled into another movie. I earned some money from that, which I put directly into my music. It was a great side project. Music has always been my first love, so this whole movie thing was a wild affair. But, if it’s something that’s that good, I won’t let go of it. I’m not pursuing the movie route though.
IC: It’s always great to cross over. I’m sure it helps your repertoire.
S: It was helpful and very inspiring because I learned a lot working with different actors. It was great. It also helps a lot when doing music videos, because when I’m writing songs, they’re small episodes – almost like a movie in my head. So when I’m doing videos, it’s great to have that experience from the movie. When I released my music I had a whole German fan-base from one of the movies that I did. They were like ‘Oh my god, it’s you!’ It was cool.
IC: You were born in India and raised in Norway. How do you feel that has impacted your music?
S: A lot. I think it’s a lot of why music became my best friend and why it’s always been there for me. I didn’t really feel like I was fitting in while growing up in Norway. I don’t know if it’s so much that I wasn’t fitting in, but it was more of the fact that all teenagers feel like they don’t fit in. A lot of my fans write to me and feel the same things. When I went into my parents’ vinyl collection, there was a lot of Indian music in there. I think music affected me because that definitely inspired me. I would always try to find my own thing that I liked because I didn’t want to be too much like my parents. I was always mashing their music up. Hindi movies are such a big scene in India and Bollywood, so it was around me all of the time. When I fused it into my thing, I was rapping and adding drums. I think that I added Indian flavor more than I had planned. With this album, Bombay Calling, I knew exactly what type of instruments I wanted from India because I’ve become passionate about that sound.
IC: I understand that you also speak Hindi?
S: Yes. That was fun because I didn’t know how well I spoke it until I went to shoot my video in India. I was the only one who spoke it, but I kind of impressed some people with it. They were like, ‘You have a Norwegian passport and an Indian name, it’s so great that you actually speak the language!’ We had a situation with the bank where we needed cash and I went into the bank and there was something wrong with the paperwork. I noticed that they got very suspicious because of the passport. They were speaking to each other in Hindi, so I jumped in and explained in Hindi. They were like ‘Wow, why do you speak that well? That’s impressive.’ The language is really the key to everything, so it’s great to have that, if possible.
IC: How would you personally describe your sound?
S: I call it “magma-pop.” My music has always been very passionate, with a lot of emotions – it was always like a best friend to me. Right now I’m in this process where we’re playing live and I’m meeting a lot of new people, and that brings up a lot of emotions. I get very inspired by that and I start writing. I wait until I get that built-up feeling inside where I feel like a volcano. Magma is a Greek word for this lava that builds up inside. I think that’s when I’m ready to record a new song… that’s why I think “magma-pop” is a good way to describe it. It’s very intense and very high-energy.
IC: The fact that you’ve coined your own original term is great. So, for Bombay Calling you went back to your roots. Can you tell me a little about the process and some of the sounds that you incorporated?
S: There’s a sound in India that comes from a bamboo flute called bansari. [The sound] is as if peacefulness had a sound. I wanted that in one of the songs – that song is so special to me. There are people who don’t get to love the people that they love. They don’t get to choose it because there are so many rules. Some people even get killed for love, you know? Even by their own parents. I’ve always thought about that growing up. I even felt when I was younger that I couldn’t decide and that I had to fight for what I wanted. I wanted to make a song that had some of [those themes] in it. Many people are in a relationship where they’re not happy, but they stay in it because other people think it looks great — that it’s a good relationship. I think it’s so important to be true to yourself, so I wanted to make a song about it. There are a lot of emotions when you feel that fear and aggression… I want people to know that there is relief. I was looking for a specific Indian performer but I couldn’t get a hold of him for the album. So I got a different name from someone who had an Indian name, but he showed up and he was British! He had spent twenty years in India — it was so amazing. He plays on my album and I think it’s such a great thing. I produced the whole album in London and I thought it was great because I’m so Norwegian and so Indian, and then this guy being British – who is actually a diplomat’s son – all of those elements together turn the album into a lot of small episodes. It’s like a real-life mash-up of what the world is right now. Nobody really comes from where they’re living right now and I love that.
IC: Your song “Stereotype” is from that album. Can you tell me a bit about your inspiration behind that song?
S: I think that we’re very concerned about fitting in all the time. It’s mostly an anthem to myself that I don’t need to fit in. The beauty of who you are is like a bouquet of flowers; I definitely like one that has variety. People rarely find the best thing in themselves and it’s so important to experience that. I think with a lot of the “Stereotype” song, I wanted to simplify that feeling. The same can be said for music. I found that a lot of people want to just like one thing. I love all types of music. I can listen to rap, Italian music… I can feel it all intensely. I don’t feel like we need to label anything. I went back to India because I felt like I had a lot of thoughts about what India was; I wanted to either confirm it or wake up to a different type of reality and gain a perception that would be more real than just something that I read.
IC: You definitely seem to get a lot of inspiration for your music from your own personal history… it’s almost like a road to self-discovery.
S: When I was younger, the growing up process was difficult. You had to choose everything in a box. But with age it excels. What class do you belong to? What club do you go to? What defines you? I think it’s important to rise above that and say “I don’t need anything to define me.” I love that you can choose things that emphasize what you want to say but I definitely don’t like feeling like I’m in a jail – like I have to do something.
IC: What artists do you feel influenced you when you were growing up?
S: A lot of different artists have. When I was growing up, I didn’t feel like I had any friends but I did have one friend and we really loved Jimi Hendrix. We were in seventh grade and my uncle had given me a vinyl. We would listen to Jimi; we would sit and try to figure out what he was talking about. I had a lot of different influences. In my teenage years, I didn’t feel like anyone understood me. I wanted to encapsulate those feelings of anger and frustration… I was really mad at my parents. I felt like they didn’t want me to hang out with the friends that I had, and I felt like it was killing me. Teenagers have the ability to feel what you’re feeling, so purely. It’s actually dangerous. From the first trips you take to when you fall in love, you almost feel like you’ll die if it doesn’t work out. Those emotions are so strong and they still attract me. That’s what makes good music. I think any artist who had music that was doing that – capturing the feelings – really attracted me.
IC: What about Dinah Washington? You’ve mentioned that she influenced you in many interviews.
S: I think that was my first musically sexual influence. There was this ad – I think it was a Levi’s ad – with a man who was wearing just jeans and jumping into pools in backyards. He would come out of the water and see this woman who was married in a boring relationship… the song playing was “Mad About The Boy.” I was eleven and thinking, wow. I got this tingling feeling like, ‘I don’t know what this is but I like it.’ The sound of her voice was amazing. It was like nothing I’d ever heard. Her sexy voice was a triumphant sound. I fell in love in a second… so I think it was all about that song. I actually found out recently that the man who wrote that song was gay and wrote it for a boy. I found that interesting because it was all about the pure emotion. She really got that out in her voice on that track.
IC: You were highly into hip-hop growing up as well… can you tell me a little bit about that?
S: That came later on, during my rebellion years. My parents didn’t want me hanging out with my friends and they set a curfew so I was rebelling. I set up my own hip-hop club at home, busted lyrics and wrote stuff with loud speakers. I was really a pain for my mother. I put her through hell during that period; I would tear my room apart. She’s a really smart woman, though. She knew what she was talking about and she never ignored my outbursts. I hated it at the time but now I understand it and I appreciate it because it made me fight for what I really wanted. It helped me a lot later in life during relationships. It stood out to me – [the idea of] not living under what other people want for you. You need to make sure you live your life the way you want.
IC: How did you come up with your name Samsaya?
S: That was a weird thing as I traveled. My given name is Sampda, which means inner joy in Hindi. I started calling myself Sam as a rapper. I didn’t want to be a nice little Indian girl like my parents wanted; I wouldn’t even leave my room if they didn’t call me Sam. I added ‘saya’ when I was sixteen or seventeen. I felt like I wanted to add that because it means “shadow.” I wanted to explore the sensual side of my sound. It started as Sam-shadow… and later on I found out from a guru that the name means “doubt.” He used to always say that I was the kid who asked many questions. I was just shocked when he told me the meaning. I think the name found me then… to me, it became something, and it’s really resonated with who I am. My mother was really unhappy with my choices later in life, and I said to her, “You don’t need to worry about Samsaya, you made Sampda. Let me worry about Samsaya.” She understood that. I think parents found it hard to see someone that was so much like them, but was also so different. I really didn’t want her to be sad about that – I wanted her to be proud. I think it has to do with your happiness and whether your parents see that. Good parents really want that for you.
IC: It’s good that they finally found confidence in you. Was difficult in the beginning?
S: It really was. But they have found the confidence now. They actually came to my show this weekend in front of a really big crowd!
IC: What is the story with your signature heart drawn over your eye?
S: The thing about the heart is that, like “Stereotype,” it was about reminding myself about the pureness of emotion. In relationships you always want to be the person that you think the guy fell in love with. You start chiseling yourself in a weird way – physically, emotionally – and it’s dangerous to do that in order to fill someone else’s needs. I think that was happening to me musically. I had been so strong-minded with my parents, and then in the music industry, I felt that people were interested because they wanted to make me better – they started chiseling me. That wasn’t what I wanted to do music for. I didn’t like where it was going and I didn’t think that my fans needed to deal with it; they loved me for who I was. It’s like when you’re in a relationship and you fall in love and then the other person tries to start changing you. Basically, it was a reminder about those emotions — to never go away from what I feel. Music was always a live thing for me. Even when I was younger, I would blast the speakers to feel like I was in a show; I never sat there with a headset. I would sing my heart out loud. With the heart, it’s to remind me of that pure feeling of not giving a damn about what people think, and to keep doing what I feel. Sometimes it’s really crooked, sometimes it’s nice – it’s just telling of what I’m feeling. I always wear it when I’m performing live.
IC: So, you have your new album Bombay Calling coming out. Do you know when that will be released?
S: I don’t know the exact date but I do know it will be early next year. I’m very excited about that. It’s great that I’m getting to perform for an American crowd and that America can experience me live.
IC: Are you touring in Europe?
S: Our plan is to come back to America before Christmas. We’re also doing stuff in Scandinavia and things in Europe.
IC: Aside from the new album and the tour dates, what else can we look out for?
S: There is a new video coming out. It’s “The Good With The Bad” from the EP. We shot it in Kansas City and it’s pretty crazy! I love Kansas. Everybody was like, ‘Why are you going there?’ and it was because I’ve never been. There are a lot of creative people there!
Don’t miss our behind the scenes video with Samsaya, on set with The Untitled Magazine:
Photography and Video Direction by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Fashion Editor Indira Cesarine
Make-up by Ronnie Peterson
Hair by Anthony Hernandez
Video Capture by Max Longo
Video Edit by Kimo Kim