Ambika, Sadhana and Swarupa have two things in common: a musical career and being a mommy. In this article they will shine the light on their most intimate motherhood journey and how mothering impacted their career in music.
Six years ago vocalist Ambika Jois came to The Netherlands to perform with British composer Shammi Pithia. Born in Bangelore, India she is trained in Carnatic vocal and her musical journey revolves around the fusion between cultures of music. Ambika is strongly influenced by jazz, soul and Indian classical music. She is also the founder of VoxBox Academy. This is a training initiative for novice learners of singing, specialized styles, techniques and vocal maintenance for professional and semi-professional vocalists.
These days Ambika has turned her home into a stage where she hums lullabies and plays the guitar for her baby girl Vismaya Kalyani, who will be 1 years this February. “I had wanted to have a baby for about a year, and without any sign at all, one day I took a test and found out that I was pregnant. I just got booked to join British singer-songwriter Navin Kundra on his first UK tour for Voice Of Legends and just before we began, I found out that I was pregnant. This news was so overwhelming for me. Even more after seeing the doctor in the hospital, and hearing my due date, I couldn’t contain myself and burst into tears of joy. It was finally happening!”
Sarnami-Hindustani vocalist and influencer Sadhana Lila from The Netherlands is specialized in Hindipop and covers popular Bollywood songs and has shared the stage with international artists. For a few years she was part of the band 2FamousCrew and now she is continuing her musical journey as a solo performing artist. She became a mommy in 2016, and her daughter Arohi Himani (5) changed her life completely. Sadhana was a social butterfly before she got into a relationship in 2013 with boyfriend and now husband Aniel. She was happily single, dedicated her time to her music career, and wasn’t into serious relationships or planning to have a family life. Sadhana thought that she would be single forever and would end up adopting children. Then one day love knocked on her door and she fell head over heals in love with Aniel. When Sadhana found out that she was expecting it was the best surprise for the two love birds.
“I’m so in love with my husband and the idea of having a family was something we both were dreaming of. We did not plan on getting pregnant, but we weren’t trying to hold it back. At the time when we found out about my pregnancy we were unmarried, but this good news was our incentive to get married as soon as possible.”
Swarupa started learning the Indian percussion instrument tabla at the age of seven. She started off as a child artist in the professional performing world. Over a course of 15 years she played tabla and percussions professionally for the biggest names of the music industry: Grammy winner A.R. Rahman and music director Ram Sampath.
Together with flautist Shriram Sampath she initiated a music project named Filter Coffee. Their duo performance won the hearts of thousands of music lovers and the only thing that mattered for Swarupa were her gigs with Filter Coffee, but her priorities changed when she gave birth in 2018 to a healthy baby boy.
“Just like any other first time parent, for me too it was a moment where I was happy, excited, nervous, elated, scared and all other emotions you could feel at the same time! The only thing that mattered to me at that moment was Filter Coffee and the thought of what will happen to Filter Coffee and how would we manage a break at a time when we were traveling the world for gigs. But at the same time my heart knew that this is a decision that will only and only be supported by not only of course Shriram, but everyone who is part of my musical journey. And it turned out just like I imagined! There was only love and support and loads of pampering from all ends, be it colleagues, bookers, fans, oh and the priorities at airports.”
A little superstitious
Ambika didn’t tell anyone that she was pregnant, until her bump spoke for itself.
“I come from a very superstitious upbringing and can’t help that I felt a bit cautious so chose to keep my pregnancy as private as I could. On tour with Navin Kundra, the bump only showed itself at five months, which was just a part of me, so I didn’t talk of it. I felt I’d spent a lot of my life showcasing my work through videos and photos on social media so held back on publicizing my pregnancy to give this experience an exclusivity for myself and our families. I announced our baby’s arrival on our wedding anniversary.”
Vlogging baby news
Sadhana was so in love and thrilled about the new arrival that she announced her pregnancy with her fans and followers. “I didn’t find it difficult at all to tell people that I’m expecting. I announced this news on social media by vlogging about it. I got massive response from my fans and supporters. They were very positive and responded enthusiastically. I even did a couple of Q&A vlogs about my pregnancy, which was fun to do!”
Motherhood & Lifestyle changes
Motherhood comes with mental and physical changes. The body gets stretch marks, wrinkles and mentally a woman realizes that she can create and sustain life. Motherhood also has an effect on a woman’s lifestyle… it certainly affected the lifestyles of the three vocalists Ambika, Sadhana and Swarupa. They cannot practice whenever they are in the mood or they have to create the mood and make time for it. Then there are these ongoing daily duties that happen in order for the baby to have a clean, safe and timely environment.
“Of course there are many things that change. I’m now responsible for another human being! Who looks at me for pretty much everything. That realization in itself is life changing. Motherhood comes with the odd hours, lack of sleep, adjusting to his needs and wants. Also my own bodily changes….Let’s just say there is a lot of change happening. But as time passes I realize that my baby boy is here to stay. My child is a part of me for the rest of my life.
Pregnancy and motherhood are sacred emotions and I’m blessed as a woman to go through this wonderful phase. As cliche as it may sound, the moment I looked at my baby – I didn’t care about any changes that may have occurred in my lifestyle! I cannot really pinpoint any such drastic change actually. I still do everything I used to do and I like to do, sometimes I include my lil one and sometimes I find other family members as a support system to help me,” explains Swarupa.
An individual experience
According to Ambika no matter how many women share their childbirth stories nothing could’ve told her what she was about to experience post childbirth. Ambika had a traumatic labour and is still suffering from physical pain which has been requiring medical attention a year down the line. Her psychical condition slows down everything in life. “I spent 37 hours in labour, and two days after Vismaya Kalyani was born, I tried to sing prayers for her. I found that my voice had damaged so badly that I couldn’t sustain a note down for more than three-seconds. It took me two weeks to be able to sing a bit more without having to struggle.
I didn’t have the love for music as I always portrayed myself to have. Especially these last few months I realized that I had dedicated my life to music as a gift I was given, but mainly based on the expectations that others have of me. Nowadays I hardly sleep, and I lack the energy to keep up this facade, so I took a break from even listening to music, let alone singing,” says Ambika.
No more clubbing
“My pregnancy was great, I didn’t have any medical complications at all. During the pregnancy my body changed a lot and I know that it will never be the same anymore. Even though I didn’t have any complications while being pregnant, but after childbirth I did get some pyshical issues. Nowadays my legs hurt after walking or standing for too long.
And regarding to my lifestyle, I used to go clubbing a lot, now I hardly do and I can’t travel abroad alone anymore like I used to. My priorities definitely changed and now I can’t spend more than two days apart from my daughter. Motherhood changed my priorities and I have had to come to terms with my new responsibilities, like ensuring financial stability,” tells Sadhana.
Returning to music
Going back to work after a maternity leave is in general challenging for most women. There are so many things to think about: childcare, coordinating schedules with your partner and the emotional transition, the fear of leaving behind your baby. Performing female musicians have their own set of challenges that they face.
“Due to the ongoing pandemic I have not done any shows. My main focus besides being a mother is teaching for now, which gives me that burst of ‘me time’ in between. My husband spends quality time with our baby when I teach classes online or I take classes with the baby in the background over her breakfast and playtime and when I’m lucky, during her nap time. This is how it’s been going so far. I have no idea how it will go as she starts walking and becoming unstoppable!
When I have projects that require me to leave the house for a recording session in the studio for example, my husband and baby either come along with me or he stays at home to watch her. Lately, my husband has been incredibly supportive of me getting back on track in putting out music online by giving me valuable feedback and suggestions.
It took me a lot of reasoning with myself to make the effort to put on a little makeup and wear something pretty to do the videos that I have been sharing online since the baby arrived. I have not yet had to stand in front of a crowd or present myself head to toe for me to worry about the way I look. I do have moments where I feel incompetent as a vocalist as my stamina and vocal texture have changed since I’ve been through pregnancy and labour. This luckily has been motivating me to find ‘my new voice’ and helping me focus on what my strengths are, rather than what I should be embarrassed about.
Music is not just my career, but my life. I tried to take a break from music, but it followed me. It is divine enough to give me what I need just when I need it. I hope other music mothers can find themselves through their own journeys too”, says Ambika.
Family helps out
It took a while before Sadhana could combine her motherhood with her career as an artist. “It’s very important for me that my child is looked well after. I only trust my mother and mother in-law and sisters (in-law) with my child. I want to ensure that I spend quality time together with my child and have a stable base at home. And this means that I have to juggle with my schedule. I am happy that my parents, in-laws and husband are always ready to help out. Without them it would be impossible to keep my career going like this.
I always take Aniel and Arohi with me on a recording session, interviews or on tours abroad, That is really fun. Arohi saw me perform live in Suriname and that was a great experience. She really looked up to me and she was so impressed. And over the years I’ve noticed that she inherited the same passion for singing and dancing.
My husband always supported me with my music. When I met him he knew that my music career is very important for me and he never tried to hold me back. He really lets me be who I am, and that makes him the best husband for me”, says Sadhana.
Joint family effort
Since music is important to Swarupa and she would never give it up she tries to find a balance. The very first gig that Swarupa did post her childbirth was when her baby was 6 months old and of course she took him along. “It was one of the best moments of my life! Seeing him see me on stage doing what I love doing the most. And when I can’t take him with me to a gig I have the most precious face to look at who is waiting with his arms wide open for me – his mommy- to come back and give him a hug and kiss. I think this is precious.
I also conduct my classes at home, so yes he is definitely a part of my workplace. There are simple ways in which things have to be managed like I try to squeeze in most of my work at times when he is asleep like early mornings, afternoons etc. Without my partners’ support and the entire extended family’s support I feel nothing is possible really. A mother continuing her career post her childbirth is the joint effort of the entire family in a way”, says Swarupa.
Music Education & Children
The last question that Ambika, Sadhana and Swarupa answered is related to the music education of their child and how they respond to music. They all agree that music is a very important part of a child’s life and educating and influencing them with rhythm and melodies from as young as possible will have long term benefits.
“Arohi loves singing and dancing. I see that she really gets inspired by it. I just let her listen to what she wants. She goes on YouTube often to listen to music that she likes. She has some favorite artists which she discovered herself”, tells Sadhana.
“I sing lullabies to my baby every single day and she responds very well to some of the religious songs and prayers that I sing during prayer time. She recognizes the songs and moves her body to the music! Since I started learning to play the guitar and practicing, she loves it and has a massive smile on her face whenever I pull it out of the case. She spends a lot of time with my in-laws who watch music shows and listen to music everyday, so she has also started dancing to it!
When I noticed that my child started to respond to music on television, I started playing her Christmas songs over mealtimes for a festive feel. And this helped me as well, I slowly started to find love for music again, but this time it feels really different. I feel like it belongs to me now, not to those who have expectations of me.
So far it’s been that my baby is exposed to music by watching me as opposed to some special scheduled activity or a forced discipline with lots expected of her, as was my experience while growing up. I much prefer she finds herself to love music and find peace and fun in music than feel the need to turn it into a binding ‘job’ which a lot of musicians go through, including myself”, says Ambika.
“I have recently launched my music school under the name of ‘Tablanaari’s School Of Music’. This is an online music school that promotes Indian Classical music with rich traditional material taught in a holistic manner. So I do believe that music education is extremely beneficial.
Initially I did try to sing specially for him but later I realised it’s not really needed that I go out of the way doing this. If music is in the room, next room, or just happening around, that’s super enough for the kid to enjoy and live it. My son has his own playlist. I’m not allowed to choose for him. He likes a variety of music from the usual rhymes to lots of old Bollywood songs.
And he also loves listening to me play the tabla and then of course doesn’t let me play for too long, because he wants his turn to come soon! So in most cases I’m asked to get up from my seat and give it to him in under 2 minutes!”, says Swarupa.
If there is one thing that we can learn from these three musician mommy’s is that every woman has her own motherhood journey. This life changing event comes with its own shares of challenges. Balancing a family life and a music career is an ongoing process and it really helps if you have a caring partner and a supporting family. It’s absolutely OK to concentrate on raising a family and taking time for yourself. And the narrative that you cannot grow in your (music) career once you become a mother is a myth. Ambika, Sadhana and Swarupa are leading examples that if you are passionate about your career you will find a way to make it work.
And if you are also interested in activities for your baby or toddler check out our Yoga Nidra video for some inspiration.