Ananya Birla Interview: Meet the 23-year-old musician with a passion for social enterprise
Not content with just writing music, 23-year-old Indian singer Ananya Birla also runs two social initiatives that help women in rural Indian and people struggling with mental health. Here's a quick look at her world
Could you introduce your music in three words?
Young, fresh and authentic.
Could you now introduce everything you do in three sentences?
I am a musician, and I've just released my third single 'Hold On'. I am also a mental health campaigner who founded MPower Minds, an organisation that provides support and advocacy for those affected by mental health issues. And, I am an entrepreneur building businesses with a heart, such as Svatantra, a microfinance organisation that aims to empower rural Indian women.
What's the story behind your social enterprises MPower and Svatantra?
With Svatantra, I was always aware of the income gap in India and wanted to create a vehicle for addressing it in a sustainable way. Microfinance seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
We lend money to rural women so that they can build small enterprises. Our clients have so much potential but have traditionally not had access to financial capital. Usually they are considered too risky, have no collateral, or simply lack financial literacy and access to modern banking.
We're now seeing their growth in self-confidence as they are better able to fulfill their potential and provide for their children is so reassuring and motivates us to continue.
MPower is a mental health initiative focused on alleviating the stigma associated with mental illness and providing world-class care. We educate people and we also have a one-of-a-kind holistic centre where psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists that specialise in various kinds of therapies provide support.
Through MPower, I'm seeing more and more people opening up every single day to talk about mental health without feeling misplaced shame. There is a lot of work to be done, but the change in awareness and public perception is happening quickly.
What kind of themes inspire you most in your music?
I believe that music is a truly universal language, and my songs are based on my own experiences or stories I hear which resonate with me. I try to deliver them in a way which will hopefully connect with people, no matter where they are, and bring a smile to their face.
It makes me so happy, when I read messages from people saying one of my songs has uplifted their mood, inspired them, or just helped them to feel better.
In my latest song, I explored the conflict between love and rejection. It's about holding onto a relationship in the face of circumstances or social pressures that try to tear you apart. I think a lot of us have gone through this in some way; trying to hold on to someone as life seems to be pulling you apart.
Can music also be a way of achieving social good?
I also think music, particularly live music, has the power to bring people together and achieve social good. This was solidified in my mind recently when I had the privilege of performing at Global Citizen in India.
anyone from anywhere can make a difference – people often disregard the power of their own voice, but everyone's voice matters
We're seeing so many more musicians stand up against injustice and I feel really lucky to be in the industry at this moment in time. Music has a way of connecting with people like nothing else on Earth and it's awesome to see that power being used not just to entertain but to create change for the better.
Just look at artists like Jennifer Hudson and Miley Cyrus who came together at the 'March for Our Lives' rally in the USA. They used music to firstly connect with the audience and allow people to express their pain and fear, and then also spread a message of hope and solidarity.
How can the average person help make a difference in day-to-day life?
I think anyone from anywhere can make a difference. People often disregard the power of their own voice. Whether it is speaking out against something that you don’t believe to be right, or using your voice to support a friend in need. Everyone's voice matters. No matter where they are from, no matter who they are, no matter what they do. The more we use the power of our voice, the more likely we are to make a difference.
I also think it is important to always try to be there for each other. If you can make one person smile in a day, that is a big achievement.
What are the three most important things in the world to you?
Love, family and music. I'm at my happiest when my life has a balance of all three, but often one has to give way to another.
Can you share the three most incredible places you've travelled and why?
The northern Indian city of Rishikesh is known by some as the yoga capital of the world, and it has the most tranquil and serene energy. It's really important - religiously and spiritually – to a lot of Indians and I hope it retains its unique heritage as more and more people visit.
Florence is iconic- it should be on everyone's Top Three. The art and history that the city contains are unrivalled. Just walking around the city is an education in itself. There's a masterpiece around every corner.
Ananya Birla's new single 'Hold On' is out now. Listen in our playlist below, which also includes other songs by Ananya, as well as a few of her current favourites. @ananya_birla