Kartik Sundar, Class of 2020 Taru Dalmia, the Delhi-based artist popularly known as Delhi Sultanate, is
Nivedita Nandakumar, Class of 2020
The Creators is a fortnightly series of artist profiles of Ashokans who are actively involved in different creative fields including music, photography, creative writing, and visual or performing arts.
I was first introduced to the musical genius of Sumit Sadawarti when a video of his Asia’s Got Talent audition was circulated within the Ashokan Community. As someone who has always had a soft spot for Jazz and Blues, I was pleasantly surprised when I recognised the song as “Cry Me a River”, a heart-wrenching piece performed by Ella Fitzgerald. A renowned musical virtuoso, her music calls on the vocalist to sing with equal parts of strength and grace. Sumit’s voice, which is inherently big and yet smooth and soothing, did Ella so much justice that everyone was left with goosebumps and teary eyes. Sumit has a way of connecting with the music he performs and ensures that his audience connects with it too.
Sumit knew ever since he was a child that music was integral to him. At a very young age, he began the search for genres and songs that he was passionate about and that he could connect to. Sumit gave a lot of importance to the tone, emotional delivery, phrasing, and the lyrics of every song he listened to. After a lot of exploring, he discovered jazz and the genre really struck a chord with him. Eventually, he also found himself listening to a lot of blues, soul, and classic rock. Diana Washington, Adam Lambert, Bessie Smith, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Chet Baker, Freddie Mercury, and Jennifer Hudson became some of his biggest inspirations.
When he realised that he wanted to turn his passion into a career, Sumit knew he would have to work for it. His family had their doubts about his ambitions, but on seeing just how much he was willing to work and push himself to achieve his dreams, they put aside their initial trepidation and became a huge source of support for him.
When asked as to why he chose Ashoka University over a traditional music school, he said that while he had gotten admission in New York University (NYU), Amsterdam University College, and Columbia University, he didn’t get the financial support he was looking for. So, he decided to come to Ashoka University and pursue Literature and Creative Writing.
It was during his first year at Ashoka that Sumit got his very first gig. He was at a party when someone came up to him and requested him to sing a song for everyone. After performing a piece for an absolutely captivated audience, a woman approached him, handed him her card, and said that he would receive a call the next day about doing a live performance at The Grub Fest 2016, New Delhi. After that, Sumit worked with a number of managers and performed at multiple venues three to five times a month. While this proved to be difficult given how demanding his academics were, he refused to throw in the towel and call it quits because he recognised how critical these performances were to his future as a musician. Whenever the going became tough, he remembered something Carl Paulman, the Director of the Boston Music Conservatory, said: “Well, my friends, someday, at 8 PM, someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed and a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again depends partly on how you do your craft.” It always seemed to bring him right back on track.
After his first year at University, he applied and got accepted into the Berklee College of Music — Jazz Vocal Program as well as the Musical Theatre Program at NYU, but at that point, his career was kicking off in India and he subsequently decided to stay at Ashoka. “I think it was the right thing to do,” he said. Despite having a steady stream of gigs, he felt like he had hit a roadblock in terms of progressing as a musician. He would be graduating the following year and the pressure of evolving his ambition was beginning to get to him. It was at this point in time that someone sent him an email asking him to apply to Asia’s Got Talent. He ended up missing the deadline. Sumit was disappointed but was fully prepared to find alternate roads to a new page in his musical journey. A few days later, however, they ended up extending the deadline for submitting a sample of the prospective participant’s talent. He remembers thinking it was a sign of sorts. He sent in a clip of him performing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” which he sang at Jukebox 1.0. After a couple of weeks, he received a call to come in for an interview. When he finally made it onto the show, he recalls it as being absolutely crazy. At this point, he knew that there was no looking back.
His experience on the show taught him a lot and gave him a number of memories to cherish. Before going into the auditions, he remembers just wishing that he could interact with David Foster on a more personal level. After Foster played the keyboard for him during his audition, he continued to be a source of guidance and support during the rest of Sumit’s journey on the show. Along with Sumit’s assigned vocal coach, he helped him with his pitch and other technical aspects of his performances. Together, they played a very important role in shaping his voice.
Sumit also remembers how overwhelming the twelve-hour shoots were for everyone on the show. The company he had, however, seemed to make up for the long hours. “Everyone was so talented, it was hard for me to believe that I actually made it to the semis,” he said. Sumit also met other regionally popular Asian singers. Despite being the only Indian there, he managed to click with everyone almost immediately. Together with the other participants, he created a musical corner in the studio where everyone would gather around and just jam together. Even after the shoot, they would sit outside their hotel and talk about their diverse cultures, traditions, and the kinds of music they all liked to hear and perform.
Sumit recounts (with some hesitation) how everyone used to call him ‘lover boy’ on the show. “I think that kind of became my appeal on TV. I wanted to be this young singer who had a distinctive voice. So I don’t know if I liked that portrayal, but I was happy that people were able to feel that pain in my voice,” he said.
Right after Asia’s Got Talent, Sumit got calls to appear in more television shows. “I have signed for two of them, though I’m not sure if I will be participating in them — I’m still wondering if I want to be a TV personality. That comes with a lot of pressure,” he said. “But I’m also working on an entirely new set. I have not done a concert in months. Once I am prepared with the whole thing, I will start performing again, starting at Ashoka — hopefully in April or May.”
After the show, Sumit also began working on an album he intends to release by the end of the year. “It is influenced by jazz and hip-hop and lies somewhere in the middle. The correct genre would be soul/blues/neo soul.” All the songs in the album draw from his own experiences, and he hopes that people will be able to establish a connection with each piece. He has already released samples of his songs “Under The Moonlight” and “I Got This Feeling”. He has also performed a few of the songs in his upcoming album during his live performances.
Sumit plays the piano and the ukulele, but he is a vocalist at heart. The instruments he plays aid him in writing his music. The lyrics and the melodies to his songs hit him at random moments in time — sometimes while he’s strolling down campus or even when he’s in the shower. When he gets back to his room, he attempts to “stretch it out.” He then creates a chord progression that works with what he has up until that point. While he doesn’t write a lot of songs, the ones that he does work on by himself are an embodiment of what he feels in his heart and soul. Nina Simone and Amy Winehouse are his biggest inspirations in terms of songwriting.
For all the aspiring musicians out there, Sumit’s biggest advice is that one has to learn to network. “Networking is key. David Foster taught me that. You can look great and sing exceptionally, but you need to create a network if you want to survive.” He went on to say, “Ask for help if you need it. Musicians are very approachable people and if you need help, [you can] ask me, or anyone in the business. Who you network with will determine how big you are going to get.”
Sumit hopes to eventually become a full-fledged recording artist. He wants to go on tours and share his talent with the rest of the world. “I know it’s a lot, but I’m really working towards it,” he said. Having already created waves in the world of music, Sumit will, without a doubt, become very successful in his craft. Leopold Stokowski once said, “A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.” To witness Sumit’s art is a gift. With his absolute dedication towards his musical career, it is not hard to foresee the world enthusiastically cheering and chanting Sumit’s name as he takes center stage.