Natalie Di Luccio
By Chantelle Constable Trowbridge

1) What is the story of how you first started in music?

My parents put me in singing lessons when I was five years old. I always use to sing as a child and my brother had a fascination with the guitar so they put both of us into music lessons. Music was my only interest while growing up. I never missed a lesson and as I grew older I became much more serious about it. My mom use to drive me around every day after school for music classes, auditions, rehearsals, piano/dance lessons, meetings – you name it. I wanted to do everything. I owe her and my dad everything today. They sacrificed a lot for me.

I remember as a child I had to practice 30 minutes of singing and 30 minutes of piano every day before I was allowed to go outside and play with my friends. I entered singing competitions from the age of 6 and got accepted into a high school for the arts when I was 12. After graduating from high school I went on to McGill University to study Western Classical Voice. A career in music was my only option. I had no backup plan.

1b) Share your first influences?

In my early teens, I was introduced to my current vocal coach, Inna Golsband. She has been my biggest musical influence and has really helped me find my voice and master my technique.
I grew up listening to a lot of Classical Crossover music. I really felt inspired by singers like Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, Josh Groban, and Sarah Brightman. I would say they are my strongest musical influences to date!

2) You did musical theatre as a younger artist, correct? Any plans to pursue more theatre in the future?

Yes I did. And I loved it! There is no set plan as such in the near future but my life has always been very spontaneous and you never know what can pop up around the corner. Having said that, it’s not a priority of mine right now as I’m focused on releasing my album this year.

3) Please tell the story of being invited through MySpace to sing on an Indian music compilation album in 2009

During my time at McGill University, I received a message from an Indian composer on Myspace. He messaged me about coming to India. I wasn’t even going to respond because often one got random messages on MySpace, but I did, saying, ‘Thanks so much, may be one day’.

A few months later he got in touch again and said he was doing music for an album

and wanted me to sing from Canada. So I recorded and sent him my vocals. After a few months I got a CD. My voice was on an album of India’s biggest superstar, Sonu Nigam. This man had been working on Sonu Nigam’s album. That’s where it all began.

After this, I decided to take up the composer’s first offer and come to India. His wife is a singer and he wanted to do a fusion album. It was from my first trip that I was introduced to Bollywood.

India just sucks you in. I fell in love with Bollywood films and Indian music. I also started meeting a lot of people working in films which made it all the more interesting to watch. After experiencing all of this, I knew this was something I liked and wanted to be a part of.

4) Your thoughts (especially as we were in the first generation of artists to grow up with computers/the internet) on the use of social media to assist in a musician’s career / promotion?

Whether we like it or not, Social Media is changing the way we artists function. I believe it is an integral part of every artist’s career now. The artists we admired growing up always had a mystery around them and now with social media, it’s become almost expected for artists to document our daily life. I’m actually a pretty private person so I sometimes struggle with this but I also realize that times are changing and you can’t live in the past.

The wonderful thing about social media and in particular YouTube is that an artist is in control of his/her career. Earlier in the day we could only be heard if a record label signed us. Thanks to the internet, we have the freedom to release content anytime we’d like. Once you can cultivate an audience on YouTube, the world is at your fingertips!

The only con with YouTube now is that we have a surplus of music and content and I feel people’s attention spans have reduced. Fans have gotten use to artists releasing music videos almost monthly. Earlier on, an artist would work on album for a year and release maybe 3-4 singles a year. Social media has moved everything in the fast lane. My only concern is the quality. I wonder if we can still create “legends” in this day and age with how quickly things are moving now.

5) Your transition in moving to India. What were the challenges in the cultural difference, and learning new languages?

Well, the first time I came to India, I of course had a culture shock. It was the polar opposite of almost everything I knew growing up in suburbia outside of Toronto. The immense population, the extreme diversity in rich & poor, the intense driving, the cows, the barbers on the sidewalk. I’d never seen anything like this. At the same time, I was so fascinated by all of it. I loved it. I loved that my eyes never got bored looking out the window or walking down the street. There was always something completely foreign to me happening at any given time. I crave this diversity now. India is never boring it’s the perfect place for someone like me who gets bored easily and likes to keep my brain stimulated. There is never a dull moment!

I didn’t know a word of Hindi before coming to India. I actually remember my first day sitting in this families living room and I was thinking, “I’ll never know this

language in my life time”. It was super frustrating initially. Once I spent more time there, the words started becoming more familiar to me. I had no preconceived notions of what Hindi was (grammar or vocabulary) so I learnt it like a baby would. I heard people talk. I immersed myself in it. I went to plays, movies, learnt songs, got a hindi tutor, got a diction coach, practiced basically anyway I could. Honestly, more than any textbook will ever teach you-you just need to be immersed in it and then suddenly one day it starts to click. You somehow start to understand and the day you realize its happening it is really exciting. Now it’s been about 5 years and I’m quite proud of myself that I understand about 70% and can speak enough to deal with any situation. I no longer need to call my friends to deal with the delivery guy or taxi driver or anything like that! Those were the frustrating times!

6) Your recent TED talk on “leaving the comfort zone.” Can you give us a summary of that, and why that topic is so important to you?

I am constantly in awe of the incredible moments we can experience when we go outside our routine. Magic lies beyond your comfort zone. We often stop ourselves from experiencing so much because we are afraid.

Fear is the reason many of us don’t fulfil all our dreams, not because we are not good enough. We are afraid to step outside our comfort zones, break routines and take chances but the most magical moments in life will happen when you allow yourself to step outside your comfort zone. My entire journey till date, my career, all the incredible experiences I’ve had, and people I’ve met have all been because of that. In my TED talk, I speak about my journey and also encourage people to get out of their comfort zones even if in the smallest of ways because when you let go of fear, the sky’s your limit.

7) Of the wide variety of projects you have sung on so far (films, adverts, compilations, etc) what has been your favorite?

I enjoy the variety of work I’ve done in films/adverts but my deep passion has always been in Crossover music. My favourite project so far which is really close to my heart is a single that I released last year. It’s a Indian fusion rendition of the Morricone classic “Nella Fantasia”.

8) Your facebook bio states that you have worked with Mauro Malavasi, a producer of Pavarotti and Bocelli. Your website promises an upcoming album. Can you give us any hints / teasers / ideas of your musical direction?

I worked with Mauro Malavasi in Bologna for about a month and it was a magical experience. He taught me a lot, especially how to dig deep into my emotions while singing. Without giving much away, the music that I plan to release this year will follow along my path of bringing people closer together through music.

9) You have a history of travelling — back to your home in Canada, to Italy, to Thailand… do you plan on staying mainly located in India, or do you foresee moving to another location to pursue further music opportunities?

I am somewhat a nomad. I travel a lot but in the past India has been my base. This year, I definitely foresee spending a lot more time in the US and Europe to pursue my crossover career further.

10) Did you finish your studies at McGill University before moving to India? How important do you think a college degree is to those interested in the performing arts?

I didn’t complete my studies at McGill. During my second year I was feeling very confused, here I was accepted into one of the best opera programs in the world but in my gut I knew it wasn’t the degree that was going to give me a career in singing, it was the opportunities already knocking in front of me, especially if I wanted to get into mainstream music. I had a lot of opportunities at that time but I couldn’t explore any of them because I was in school. This is where I talk about letting go of fear. It was one of the most difficult decisions to leave at a time when all of my friends were studying, to pursue a career which is very uncertain, but if I didn’t take the chance when I did, I really don’t know where I’d be now!

To answer your question, it definitely depends on the direction of the singer. If you are getting into Opera, then a degree can be very necessary to enter the opera world, or if you are looking to teach music then a degree is necessary. If you are looking to sing in the crossover or pop world, then a degree is not going to give you your career but it can of course help you become a better musician and give you a backup plan as a teacher. I’m not a fan of backup plans though. In my opinion, the most important thing a singer should have is a great vocal teacher. I think at the end of the day, a career in music all boils down to hard work, talent and persistence.

11) “Her aim is to constantly finding ways of bridging the gap between the east & west through music.” — What do you think is the biggest gap between the east & west? Many eastern classical music can sound foreign and even unpleasant to ears used to the western classical tradition. Do you foresee a possible career, even on the side, even in music education?

That’s an interesting question. I often find when I am in the West I get tons of questions about what life is like in India and also since I’ve travelled a lot, I get many questions about the eastern continent in general.

There is still a lot of curiosity surrounding these regions. Many people believe in the stereotypes and only know India for example as what they’ve seen on news or from films like Slumdog Millionaire. I feel in some small way, through music, I have an opportunity to educate people on different parts of the world, different cultures, different ways of life. In a very small way, I’ve seen at least the people I’ve grown up with have a changed perception of what India is and I feel good about that. I’ve had many friends travel this side of the world that may never have if I didn’t tell them about it, so in a small way, I feel I have this unique opportunity to break down walls between cultures. While talking about the music aspect, there are so many musical traditions that we don’t know about, so many unique instruments out there that haven’t come to the forefront, so many interesting ways music is a part of people’s daily life across the world. Even if in the most subtle of ways I can start adding these elements to my music, or at least giving these traditions a platform, it would be a step in the right direction.

12) What are some of your other influences besides classical and eastern music? Any secret guilty pop music pleasures?

I am all about heart. Anything where you can feel the singer’s emotions bleed strongly connects with me. I find myself listening to a lot of Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and Rachel Platten lately. Recently anytime I need to feel inspired, I find myself listening to The Piano Guys. I love their energy!

13) What (if any) are some of your regular disciplines in maintaining your vocal and physical health?

I usually go on voice rest one day a week if I can. I also try to warm up my voice every day before speaking so my voice is placed correctly throughout the day! I use to go to the gym a lot but now I’ve gotten into Yoga. It’s really helped me instil calmness in my mind and become extra aware of my breath. I think Yoga should be a part of every singers routine!

14) Do you have any dream duets or collaborations? (When I listen to your music, I am reminded of the “Dharohar Project” with Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling.)

(Wow! I’d never heard “Dharohar Project” before. This is super cool! These are Manganiyar folk artists from the same family that I collaborated with in Rajasthan.) Well of course like most crossover singers, it’s always been a dream to sing with Andrea Bocelli & Josh Groban. Two singers I’ve grown up admiring. Outside the crossover world, there are so many collaborations I want to explore. One being in North East India where they have very unique tribal choirs. Without giving too much away, trying to get to North East next!

15) Do you write original music, prefer to sing / re-arrange covers, or debut songs by other original composers?

I love to do it all, although I love re-arranging old classics and bringing my own twist to them. Having said that, there is nothing like singing your own songs.

16) Finally, let’s end with the story of making your music video for Nella Fantasia “A Dream From Rajasthan.”

The concept came to mind four years ago when I met Sawan Khan Manganiyar in Mumbai. He was performing on MTV’s Coke Studio at the time and his performance gave me goosebumps. I spent hours on the Internet watching video clips of Manganiyars of Rajasthan and was extremely fascinated by their style of music. I knew that together we could create something magical and showcase the beauty of Rajasthan at the same time.

This video was a 3-year journey. We first recorded my vocals in LA and then I brought Sawan Khan to Mumbai for recording his bit. Sawan was the real deal and not someone touched by modernisation, which I absolutely loved. Although Sawan and I couldn’t communicate directly — he only spoke in Sindhi and I, in broken Hindi, which his son then translated, to Sindhi — we formed a special bond instantly. Shooting the video was a memorable experience. We landed in Jodhpur and spent about a week trying to get permissions for the Mehrangarh Fort and flying the crew from different areas in India. We shot the video in 8 hours as the Fort couldn’t be held up for long. Needless to say, it was one of the most special days of my life and a project I am really proud of.

Keep up to date with Natalie’s travels at www.nataliediluccio.com