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Interview Team : Kaushik L M

The unforgettable voice behind 'Aila Aila', the memorable song from 'I' belongs to Natalie Di Luccio - a multilingual Canadian singer who was a YouTube sensation before taking the Indian music space by storm. In this interview with Kaushik, we get to know Natalie and her profile better.


Tell us about your training in music and the genres and styles that you specialize in

I grew up training in Western Classical music from the age of 4. Music has always been in my life. There was really no other option for me, but to sing. Later I went on to a university and took a degree in vocal performance in opera. Simultaneously, I also used to sing a lot of pop music while growing up. My influences were a mix of both pop singers as well as opera singers like Celine Dion. I also grew up singing in different languages. More than English I sang in Italian, French and German because those were the languages of opera. So that’s why language was never a barrier when it came to music.


How did this big interest towards Indian music come by? For how long have you been inclined towards Indian music? 

So I was first introduced to Indian music when I was in university. I had received a message on MySpace to collaborate with an Indian music composer. And it was at that point when I started researching a lot and listening to a lot of popular singers from India. That’s when the interest happened and then I came to Mumbai and have been exposed to different music, whether it be Bollywood or regional music. I have been travelling around India and learning about different regional music. So its been around 6 years and I have been exposed for quite a while now, and this is definitely something I am passionate about.


Who were the idols that inspired your liking towards Indian music? 

My first idol would definitely be Sonu Nigam. He was one of the first singers that I was exposed to here. And I was extremely blown away by his versatility with his voice, and how he could change his voice for all the different songs and the requirements of the films, as well as his stage shows. His was one of the first stage shows in India that I had seen. And I was mind blown by his performance and his interaction with the audience. He is definitely a star by himself.
My other idol is of course A.R.Rahman sir who is every singer’s idol, every musician’s idol. He obviously composes some of the most incredible music that I believe could be studied in the university course because its so intricate, and every song is very different. That’s why he is where he is. He is always exploring and trying new things and he is extremely hard working. So I am very inspired when I am around him seeing his energy and how he only looks forward and doesn’t really let anything else affect him. So he is definitely an idol for all of us and is someone who is really bridging the gap between the East and the West in his own amazing way.

A.R.Rahman is someone who is really bridging the gap between the East and the West in his own amazing way.


How did the YouTube idea spark? Did you ever imagine that you would become a YouTube sensation like this?

On YouTube I heard Tu Jaane Na and loved it. I found an instrumental piano version [of the song] uploaded by a 14-year-old boy from Kolkata [Sanjay Das]. I remember getting all excited because I loved this song and wanted to sing it. The next day I recorded the song. I was scared to post it, as I didn't know whether my pronunciation and my accent were right. I also posted it on Facebook, but almost removed it that same minute as I did not want it to become a laughing stock, but instead people liked it and within four days it was the most watched video in India on one day. I had wanted to come back to India, but I didn’t know how. This video was God’s gift to me. 


How much of your success do you owe to Indian music?

I definitely owe a lot of my success to Indian music and to the Indian community. If it wasn’t for their support I wouldn’t be where I am today. So I definitely would say that I owe a lot to Indian music.


What makes Natalie a phenomenon - the fact that a Westerner is singing Indian film songs or your great voice or great looks or a combination of all these factors ?

Obviously being a Westerner singing in Indian films has its novelty. But for me, I truly don’t think that is the sustaining factor. I think its been a fact that when I sing, I usually choose music that I genuinely connect with on a personal level and that way I can sing from my heart. A lot of messages I get from people are not even so much about the language, they say that they felt an emotional connect when I was singing, maybe if they were going through a break up or whatever, the song was about the kind of connect that they felt. So, I think that’s the most important part about music, language should never be a barrier with it.

When you talk about great looks, the combination that you are asking, like a pop star those factors are a bit important but in my case, in the case of singing in Indian films, it’s not so important because the actress is the face. So I don’t think that is what can actually help a singer sustain here. At the end of the day, you have to sing well and emote well for the actress to also be convincing.

People say that they felt an emotional connect when I was singing.


Experience with Indian film composers?  How have they groomed you and utilized your talents?

They have all been wonderful in their own way. I wouldn’t really say anyone has groomed me, in fact no one has ever wanted to change me. Amit Trivedi is very easy going and we had some good laughs while recording Navrai Maajhi. I am a huge fan of his arrangements. Vishal - Shekhar are good friends and amazing producers. They pump out one hit after another.  We worked together on Ready Steady Po from Chennai Express.
And of course, I had a lot of fun working with A.R.Rahman sir especially while in the studio. We’d both try speaking Hindi with one another and it always ended in a laugh. What I love about Rahman sir is that he is open to trying new things.  This is why I believe he has reached where he is today. Most recently, I recorded with Chennai composer Nivas Prasanna, I feel he has an amazing future ahead. He gave me such a beautiful composition to sing.

Nivas Prasanna gave me such a beautiful composition to sing.


The A.R.Rahman experience? Describe what makes him such a legend ? 

I don’t need to tell you what makes him a legend. His music crosses boundaries. I have seen him compose in front of me and it is magical. Music just flows through him and onto the piano like it is coming from somewhere beyond.  He is truly a Maestro of music. I think another important thing to add is that, like I mentioned earlier, he is always open to trying new things. You never know what to expect from him which is why his music is always exciting.

Music just flows through him and onto the piano like it is coming from somewhere beyond.


How difficult was 'Aila Aila' and the Tamil language? Did you experience how tough a taskmaster director Shankar is ?

I worked intensely with the engineers from A.R.Rahman sir’s studio to get the pronunciation correctly. We would work out each word and then say the lines over and over again, until I would get it correctly and be able to sing it confidently.  After spending a good amount of time in Chennai I am starting to get more familiar with Tamil. I did meet Shankar sir in the studio and I could see that he is definitely a taskmaster. He, like Rahman sir, is not afraid to try new things which was evident in the film ’I’.

How was the experience performing LIVE at the 'l' audio launch in front of 1000s of fans and stalwarts like Arnold, Rajini and more ?

Performing at the ‘I’ audio launch was something completely surreal. Sitting in front of me were 4 legends (Rahman sir, Rajinikanth sir, Shankar sir and Arnold Schwarzenegger). That was a complete wow “pinch me” moment singing in front of them.  Those moments are what life’s journey is all about!  As far as singing in Tamil, I had a lot of practice with Aila Aila and vocally it was very comfortable for me. So I was excited more than anything.


Did you see 'I' and the unbelievable transformation of lead actor Vikram in it ? 

Yes, I did! Truly incredible and that speaks volumes about his dedication to his art.

You really look good. Any offers to act and model ? You have onscreen interests? 

Aw thank you. Let’s see :) Offers have come but not the right kind, more of typical foreigner roles in India. I’m not focused on acting but let’s see if something comes where I can sing in the film also, then that would be exciting for me!


Future plans in the music space and beyond 

This year has a ton of surprises in store. New album releases - originals and some collaborations across India. New film songs as well ! Really excited for this one !







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