A pioneer of Indian music in our area, web developer Urmila Prasad creates musical waves.
After a twenty-five year silence, web developer Urmila Prasad formed the area’s first professional group to perform live Indian music. It was her dream come true.[image-51]
Born in the state of Bihar, India, Prasad was drawn to music since childhood. “As a child, I always loved singing and sang at home and in school,” said Prasad. “Any time we had a break at school, we’d go outside, sit on the lawn and my friends would ask me to sing Bollywood songs, which are a lot of love songs and pop songs written in Hindi or Urdu with a few English words here and there.”
Her conservative family did not approve, which was in keeping with the societal norm at that time. “Growing up, my family discouraged me from singing or dancing in public. I could sing at temple or at home, but only devotional songs. Things are very different now,” said Prasad with a smile.
The conservative societal norm extended to marriage. “Everyone in India at that time had arranged marriages and so did I,” says Prasad. After her marriage, she did not sing at home or in public for the next 25 years.
Prasad came to the United States with her husband and three children when she was twenty. She had never spoken English before, but learned when she joined the International Student Wives’ Club at her husband’s university. She later joined the local Indian Cultural Coordination Committee (ICCC), which celebrates Indian cultural events with singers and dancers. She eventually became the ICCC’s first woman president.
She started working at Goddard in 1981, where she became inspired by some of her Indian colleagues. “We got together for Thanksgiving in 1989 and began singing spontaneously. I was overwhelmed,” she said. The following year, they formed a singing group called Tarang. Her basement became their studio. “’Tarang’ means ‘wave’ and we wanted to create musical waves within our community,” explains Prasad. “We were the first Indian singing group in this area.” Her husband was initially uneasy about her rediscovered hobby, but she was determined. He now helps operate the sound system for their performances. The group consists of six people - a male soloist; Prasad, who is the female soloist and manager; a drummer; a keyboardist; a guitarist, and a tabla or Indian drum player.
“When I came to this country, I did not think I would sing again,” says Prasad. “Singing again after silence for so many years was like a dream come true,” said Prasad. “I have not stopped singing since. It is heaven for me.”
The group practices every Friday night have paid off well. “Once people found out about us, they invited us to perform regularly,” says Prasad. “We became a professional group.” The group has performed in Maryland; Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Pennsylvania; New Jersey; New York and North Carolina. They have also performed many times at the Indian Embassy, often singing patriotic songs.
“Our group sings in six different Indian languages,” said Prasad. “There is nothing more exciting than hearing your language in a foreign country.” The group has always been actively involved in fundraising. They have raised money for victims of a massive earthquake in India, for Indian temples and for other community causes. “We help our community whenever there is a need. At the same time, we put on big shows and get remunerated. We’re a very popular group within the Indian community,” said Prasad.
She hopes to produce a CD and to become a Bollywood playback singer. Bollywood is a huge, highly competitive industry, producing many movies which are popular all over the world. “In India, every Bollywood movie is a musical with at least five or six songs. The lead actors cannot sing, so songs are recorded by playback vocalists who become as famous as the actors in India. They are well-paid and very busy. I would love to be a playback singer, but you need to be in India to do this,” said Prasad.
Her daughters did not have access to Indian music growing up, but thanks in large part to Prasad, her granddaughters sing Bollywood and American songs. Prasad and her granddaughters have even performed together at celebrations of India’s Independence Day and other Indian festivals. Looks like the Prasad family is Bollywood bound.