January 24th, 2012 12:44 EST
SOP Battle of the Bands Featuring Senani with 'Voodoo Girl'
Renowned On Sydney`s Underground Soul Scene and For Her Many Festival Appearances, Senani`s Songs Have Received Extensive Airplay Down Under, While the Video For "I Am Gone " Aired on Australian MTV and the Music Program "Rage "
Unabashed about and completely receptive to the deep spirituality that lies at the core of her emergence as a recording artist, Senani (www.senani.com) is, in every possible way, all about soul.
A mainstay of Sydney`s hip and happening underground R&B scene for the past five years, the Sri Lanka born, Australia based singer/songwriter (whose name means "leader of an army") is fearlessly cool as she explains the feeling that she was truly channeling some of the songs the world is going to hear in the Spring of 2012, when she rolls out Infinity, her first international full length album.
"I`d sometimes wake up at 3 a.m. with an idea in my head and then the music and lyrics would just start flowing through me, as if I were channeling them," Senani says. "I wouldn`t be thinking consciously about the next rhyme - they would just manifest."
The one exception to this spiritual musical flow is "Voodoo Girl," the infectious lead single whose provocative title came from-of all things-the name of a winning race horse she heard an announcer say on a Sydney radio station. It`s a different kind of inspiration, but fitting nonetheless. Odds are that the track and its stylish new video-featuring the black jacket and wide brim hat-clad singer`s sassy, dynamic dance moves are destined for big things in a career that`s just hitting its stride.
While "Voodoo Girl" and Infinity are slated to introduce her on a global level, Senani has been building momentum as a popular force on the Australian music scene for the past few years. While performing with her soul/funk band in Sydney, she worked with pop/dance keyboard programmer Sophie Loizou (Tweak Laboratory) and recorded several self-produced EPs. Two singles, "Everything I Do" and "I Am Gone" received airplay across Australia and favorable reviews in various music magazines, including Drum Media. The music video for "I Am Gone" aired on Australian MTV and the music program "Rage."
Prior to these breakthroughs, in her hometown of Newcastle, Senani won several music competitions which gave her an opportunity to perform on national TV ("The Newcastle NBN Telethon") and appear at the Matara Music Festival on bills with artists like Silverchair (in their early days as Innocent Criminals) and Margaret Urlich.
As she began working on tracks for the album that would become Infinity with several local producers and arrangers, Senani could have played it safe and succeeded simply by following contemporary pop/soul production formulas. Drawing on her rich R&B influences, the album features several writing collaborations with and guitar work by Eric Rasmussen, who played with famed R&B band Heatwave ("Always and Forever," "Boogie Nights"). But tapping into her rich cultural and musical heritage, the native Sri Lankan also opted to mix it up with dynamic touches of Eastern exotica via the dynamic contributions of tabla maestro Bobby Singh and sitarist/Indian vocalist Sarangan Sriranganathan.
Senani`s mother Jeevarani, a well known actress, singer and dancer in Sri Lanka in the `60s and `70s, exposed the singer and her sisters to the sounds of traditional South Asian/Indian music from a young age. Influenced by Indian music but with more Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish flavors (there is even a tabla dance style known as "Baila"), Sri Lankan music is highly rhythmic and intricate, with melodies and scales that complement each other perfectly.
"My mom used a lot of native instruments, and I grew up listening to her singing and performing, so they are part of my collective musical memory," says Senani. "I`m also a dancer so I`ve always gravitated naturally to drum beats, tablas and Mediterranean and Arabic percussion. On my earlier projects, there were elements of those ethnic flavors that came through in the melodies and I used a little tabla, but it was not featured the way it is on `Voodoo Girl` and the new album. I feel like my electronic based earlier recordings were just a warm up for what I`m doing now, which is creating a musical vibe and multiple textures using all live instruments. That`s a natural outgrowth of playing out with my band at all sorts of venues, from clubs to festivals and other musical functions. While I concentrate on R&B/funk when I perform, working with live instruments in the studio has opened me up to fusing ethnic sounds into the traditional Western instrumentation."
The Indian/Sri Lankan touches set Senani`s music apart from that of most pop artists, but it`s just the tip of the iceberg of more mainstream influences who are familiar to anyone who grew up (as she did) in Australia and the U.S. Getting the Motown and R&B bug early, she recalls singing and dancing to everyone from Lionel Richie, Boney M and The Pointer Sisters to Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, The Jacksons and George Benson. She played the piano by ear and began taking lessons at age ten while learning how to sing the blues. Not surprisingly, jazz and blues also played a large part in her musical development, and she cites Billie Holiday`s Lady Sings The Blues as an all-time favorite album from her childhood.
If the black hat and some of the funky dance moves in her "Voodoo Girl" video seem familiar, it`s no doubt by design: she calls the late great Michael Jackson her mentor. The title track "Infinity" and "Superstar" are both inspired by the legendary pop icon. "I loved him from the time I was nine years old and would watch every clip and rerun his dance sequences over and over to get them down," she says. "`Infinity` is a cool and sensual neo-soul song with an Erykah Badu style about the nature of life, the reality that physical life is finite but what continues on is the soul. It came to me a few weeks after he passed away and is a response to the way we think those we love will somehow always be around. `Superstar` is a further reflection on the impact MJ had on me. It`s uptempo and funky, like many of my favorite songs of his."
Many of the other songs that will be on Infinity came to Senani in the period after she experienced what she calls a "spiritual awakening" while visiting her homeland in late 2009. She was doing a three hour spa and herbal bath meditation when a powerful touch on her forehead during the massage created a vision of a powerful bright light and golden sparkles. She became aware of a higher energy that others later explained to her was a "third eye opening."
"This is basically a portal to our spiritual life, and when it opens, we awaken and have the ability to connect with other dimensions," she says. "It comes with the experience of telepathy and synchronicity, and I became aware of the universe going through a shift in consciousness. I didn`t understand how this happened at first, but was later told the masseuse had the gift of healing hands and imparted all this to me. It has had a marked impact on my songwriting among many other areas of my life."
Senani captures some of this increased awareness on tracks like "I`m Ascending," a neo soul piece on which she uses harp and angelic voices, and the tabla and sitar-tinged "No More," whose message promotes peace and good vibes. Infinity also includes straight pop ballads like "I`m A Woman" and jazzier tunes a la "A Special Kind of Girl."
While Senani has been writing and performing music her whole life, her love for helping people and interest in natural medicine led her on a career path to become a doctor like her father, who moved his family from Sri Lanka to Australia (when Senani was three) to make sure his children had access to strong educational and ample career opportunities. While natural medicine is her specialty, she launched her medical career in the related arenas of nutritional and preventative medicine. Trying to minimize the use of prescription medication, Senani`s patients use diet supplements and vitamins, and, believing that the mind contributes to up to 50 percent of people`s health problems, she focuses on healing illnesses on a holistic level. She looks at stress, depression and anxiety and also looks into connections with things that go beyond the physical and into a higher consciousness.
She is currently working part time in the medical field to dedicate more time to her musical career.
"I see so many connections between my work in medicine and the music I write, perform and record," she says. "Medicine is an art form of its own and I have become good at dealing with the public, making friends of strangers all the time-which is what strong musical communication with an audience is based on, those personal connections. I`ve also discovered that a lot of medical professionals I know are also very musical, so I feel like I`m always drawing inspiration from the best of both worlds. I love helping to heal people, and I believe music is another way to do that. I love having the opportunity to work and collaborate with so many talented musicians and singers, who inspire me to do even better than I thought I could. My motivation is purely about my love for music. I hope the album does well but money has never been my driving factor. I believe when people are doing something they love, they will be successful."
Single `Voodoo Girl` now available in the U.S. on iTunes. Here`s a link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6D0kOULdz4&feature=player_embedded