aldesh Kaur Sarai wants you to know starring in a music video is tougher than it looks. Sarai, who goes by the name Deesha, is a Toronto-based R&B recording artist—and Canada’s most exciting export since Nelly Furtado.
Her breakthrough collaboration with hip hop phenom Arabesque (on a track called “Stardust”) has Deesha soaking in a hot tub while singing about “rock stars and fast cars.” In the blinged-out video—complete with off-the-Richter-scale booty shakes—she wears a come-hither smile and, by the looks of it, not much else.
Deesha’s debut is the perfect soundtrack for the season—whether you plan to spend it throwing postprandial cocktail parties, or alone, parked on your couch. The album is available for purchase through her Web site. As a bonus, Deesha says she will personalize your copy with an autograph or dedication (how’s that for a unique gift idea?). Nirali gives you the rundown on a Life Less Ordinary:
Best song to propose to your boyfriend to: A wistful, earthy ode to a loyal lover, “I Can’t Believe” will have your main squeeze swooning. That’s right, swooning.
To prance around in your living room to: “Let Your Freak Out” is filled to the brim with crystalline joy. It’s a fast-paced, fun dance number served straight up.
To embrace your inner sexpot: The sultry tease of a track “Break Me Off” might have you spontaneously seducing an unsuspecting love interest. Use with caution.
To download for free immediately: “Everytime” is Deesha’s latest single. It’s getting some solid play on British and Canadian stations and has long burned its way onto our brains. We’re not complaining. Visit www.deesha.com and check it.
But what isn’t apparent is that Deesha is actually fully clothed (“I was wearing a tube top and shorts in that thing”) and more interested in “preventing hypothermia” than seducing the camera. That’s because the video was shot in the dead of a Canadian winter, in an abandoned warehouse with no heat or running water. And the “hot tub?” It’s really an oversized, dirty planter. She remembers it being “so cold they had to fill that planter with kettles of boiling water, and by the time they finished filling it up, it was cold again.”
Since “Stardust,” Deesha has graduated from providing hooks for hip-hop tracks to debuting her newly-released solo album, Life Less Ordinary. Life is a true labor of love, and Deesha has written each of the songs featured: “They’re all fueled by emotion, by heartache; the good stuff and the bad stuff.”
Far From Ordinary
Deesha’s album, like her disposition, is soulful and ambitious, cerebral and spunky. And people are starting to take notice. People like MTV’s Gideon Yago. When Yago covered the South Asian music festival (the Project Puerto Rico) last February, it wasn’t RDB or Jay Sean that he raved about, but Deesha. “She’s sexy, determined and packing the pipes to knock your socks off,” he gushed. “A real breakout star.”
And yet, even though Deesha’s star is on the rise today, getting to this point has been difficult. As a desi woman, her commitment to R&B—a musical tradition she finds “melodic and timeless”—has been questioned at every turn, “A lot of people say, ‘Who does she think she is? Does she think she’s black?’” she says. “I understand R&B music and where it comes from, but just because the blood that runs through my veins is Punjabi doesn’t mean the music that comes out of me is going to be—if it’s going to be honest.”
It’s that type of artistic sincerity that makes Deesha unwilling to compromise for the sake of a record deal. “People think because you’re Indian, your music should have this desi element to it—otherwise you’re not being true to your roots, you’re not being true to who you are as a person.” But for this Canuck, lacing her tracks with dhol beats feels disingenuous.
The Dish on Deesha: Artists That Make This Artist Tick
On her playlist: “I’m a song person, not necessarily an artist person. My playlist changes depending on what mood I’m in,” she tells us. “I love Norah Jones, old John Mayer stuff, Christina Aguilera—there’s so much good material on her new album.”
Her dream collaboration: Justin Timberlake. “He’s hot too, so that helps,” she grins. “I just love him. His personality seems like the guy next door, but musically I think he becomes a bigger genius each day.”
When trying to purge negative feelings about an ex, she listens to Nelly Furtado’s “Say it Right.” “There’s a line in the chorus: ‘You don’t mean nothing at all to me,’ ” she says. “I love that line.”
“Yeah, I grew up with Indian music, with bhangra, but I never identified with it as an artist,” she explains. Listen to her, and you quickly realize Deesha’s vibe is more Toronto than tumbi, yet many in the music industry would like to see her jumping on the desi fusion bandwagon. “I can’t tell you the number of times people have said, ‘Oh great song—but can you sing in Hindi?’”
Her first solo video for “Falling in Love”—which broke Canada’s top 30 contemporary hits chart three years ago—has also attracted criticism, this time from a South Asian community that felt “not enough Indian people” were included in the shoot. Others strongly opposed seeing a black man featured as Deesha’s onscreen love interest—something she remains incredulous about: “Can you believe people were calling me a slut just because I’m with a black guy in the video?”
Difficulties aside, Deesha insists she wouldn’t trade making music for anything (“I knew early on that a 9-to-5 wasn’t going to do it for me”) and instead just wants a fair shake and distance from those who have the “hater mentality.”
Constructive feedback that will improve her creative process is important to Deesha. “But if someone’s going to say negative things about me—make comments about my parents or say I’m a whore—I ignore that,” she says, adding, “but with that comes the decision to ignore all of the ego-boosting too.”
“I don’t want people to support me because I’m South Asian,” she continues. “I want them to support me because they think the music is good.”
Listening to Life Less Ordinary (on repeat) has us convinced: desi or not, Deesha’s music stands on its own. And even though chances are she’ll be ignoring this: We think she’s completely fab.