The 16 year young Malayalee female vocalist from Badlapur, Soji George Mathew takes up Marathi Natya Sangeet and wins several national level competitions.
Born to Malayalee parents, George Mathew and Susan George Mathew, after passing Class X from Fatima High School in Badlapur with 87% marks, Soji George Mathew is now pursuing her Plus II Science course at Ramchand Kimatram Talreja College of Arts and Commerce.
Soji gets all encouragements from her parents. Her father, George Mathew, 60, who served Swedeshi Mills as Storekeeper and he has been in Mumbai for the past four decades. When the Tata Group company was locked out, he had to take up odd jobs at various construction sites to run the family. Her mother Susan, 52 takes care of the domestic chores at their small apartment. Soji also has an elder sister, who is married.
Soji has also rendered songs in All India Radio. Her main concerts include, Vayalar Samskarika Vedhi (Kerala), where she performed for one and a half hours. In addition to that, she has also rendered another one and a half hour Hindustani concert at Marathi Mitra Mandal in Vile Parle, Suberban Music Circle at Khar Road in Mumbai for half an hour, besides performing at Diu-Daman and other shows such as Drama Shows at Thane and Dadar in Mumbai. In addition to that, Soji also gives regular Classical Concerts and Musical Shows pan India. Soji has also performed in a number of temples such as Vithal Mandir in Pandharpur; Siddhivinayak Temple in Dadar, Janaka Devi Temple in Thane and other Ayappa and Ganesh Temples as well. She has completed vocal examinations up to Visharad Pratham and also Light Music Examinations.
Major Scholarships & Achievements
Soji has won a slew of scholarships including CCRT, Casa Mariana, Savali Charitable Trust, Uttung Parivar and Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre. Soji has bagged several state level awards and the coveted Cultural Resources and Training Scholarship, instituted by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. Other than that her major achievements include Pandit VD Paluskar Award, Shrirang Kalaniketan Pandit Ram Marathe Smruti, where she got first prize for Natyasangeet, Classical Vocal (State Level) after qualifying the auditions. What is more, the adolescent singer also bagged Sangeet Millan Classical Voice of India at the national level competition, which was held in Mumbai. After clearing the first audition from Mumbai, she did her finals at Lucknow competing with the winners of eleven states. Soji got the second place in the pan India competition. In addition to that, she has attended Keyframez Online Music Reality Show (International), Madhukauns Gandharva Mahavidyalaya Pune Classical Vocal (State Level Competition); Swaramanjari – State Level Competition, Sanskar Bharati, Thane (State Level Chotta Khyal Competition). She was also felicitated by the Kairali Foundation in Pune and Amma Ethnic Fest (Nehru Science Centre) and many other organisations. Soji was interviewed by the leading Malayalam television channels including Asianet and Kaumudi. She was also featured in major dailies such as Midday, Mumbai Mirror, Young Explorer (Times of India Group).
In a free-wheeling chat, Susan Mathew George speaks to Jayashankar Menon, Editor, The Indian News, about her ambition to complete her studies in Science, taking up a job in Pharmacy and pursuing her Hindustani Classical Music side by side. Excerpts:
TIN: How do you manage the demanding studies, especially with science as your main subject, and music, which is your area of passion?
SMG: Somehow I am managing both. Especially, after taking Science as my elective for the Plus II, with an ambition of becoming either a doctor or a pharmacist, attending music class, making riyaz (Saadhakam or practice) and the regular studies, all these are quite cumbersome. But I am able to manage both as music is certainly the gift of God. I used to give lot of stage concerts as well. Due to the Lockdown, those things have come to a grinding halt. Nevertheless, juggling all these things are a difficult ask. But for my parents’ unflinching support and sacrifice, along with my teachers and peers in the school and college I attended, I wouldn’t have achieved this far.
TIN: Can you talk about your learning experience in Hindustani music?
SMG: Dr. Varada Godbole is my Guru. She is very dedicated musician and she teaches music in a disciplined manner. She is the not the one who would encourage me only to take part in the competitions. Rather, she prefers me to learn all the nuances of Hindustani genre at the tender age itself. Rightly so, she is showing right direction. I consider practicing Hindustani music as a form of meditation. While I devote time for my studies, I give importance to music as well, a passion, which I want to take it side by side.
TIN: How do you learn multiple languages? The kind of bhava (Expressions) you give in your vocal rendition, it seems, language becomes secondary?
SMG: Bhava is inborn and is inherent in me. I was knowing only the spoken Malayalam. Speaking my mother tongue at home is mandatory. Now I have learnt to read and write Malayalam. As English is spoken all around, I am fluent in it. Hindi too is spoken widely at school and public places, so I am familiar with that language as well. As Tamil language is more related with Malayalam, I could figure out the meaning of the song to a great extend. Since I have my peers at the school and college who are from other states as well. For Telugu songs, I would ask few of my friends who speak that language and understand the meaning of it. Marathi is widely spoken here. My Guru is also a Marathi. She sings Natya Sangeetha pretty well. I ask her and understand the meaning of the song, I learn it thorughly and try to sing in that exact fashion. As music itself is a language, there is no hassles for me to render song in any language.
TIN: How it call came about, as you began singing at the age of just 3?
SMG: At the age of three, it seems my mother had taught me semi-classical song to compete in a Church related event called Punarikkyam, where Kalotsavam was also organised. All major priests of different dioceses will attend the event. Children from different dioceses took part in that competition. Though, none expected that I would get on the stage and render that song, as I was very little girl, I might get stage fright or get distracted easily. But, my mother later told me that I took the centre stage, blew over the mike and uttered ‘Hello..hello’ with immense confidence and rendered the song with absolute perfection, thus gaining appreciation from those enthralled crowd who gathered there at the event. I got first price from across the State. Those who heard my rendition had urged my mother that I was a gifted child and I should be taught music in a scientific way. That was how my mother sent me to learn music in a formal way.
TIN: Under whose tutelage you learnt music?
SMG: My initial Guru is Dr. Varada Godbole. I went to many other gurus…they made me take part in various music recordings and live stage concerts, thus, earning money for themselves and ultimately I was not getting the benefit of learning the nuances of Classical music. It was Varada Godbole, who recognised my talent and advised my parents that with strict guidance and thorough practice, I will reach great heights. So, for the last three years, I am only focusing on music, learning from my Guru, Dr. Varada Godbole. I learned breathing exercises and how to practice various ragas from Guru Anand Karmakkar. When I reached Gayikki, how to sing basic ragas, only then I came to Dr. Varada Godbole.
TIN: What all examinations you have passed in the Classical music genre?
SMG: I have cleared Madhyama Poorna examination with distinction in 2017. Then, in 2019 I wrote the Visharad Pratham examination. Now I have to clear Visharad Dwitiya. The marks of the examinations will come only after writing this examination. So, I am left with one more examination. I have also cleared four examinations of Light Music, but as per the instruction of my Guru to focus only on Classical music, I have now stopped attempting any further examinations on Light Music category.
TIN: Can you talk about Sanskar Bharati contest?
SMG: It happened last year. Every contestant should give five ragas they are going to sing. It was a Bandish competition. Initially they asked me to sing raag Hameer. I performed a seven minutes rendition on that raga. Then, I got selected for the final contest. Students from all districts participated in the contest. At the final contest, I was asked to sing in Raag Sarang. What ragas I gave was Vimpala, Brindavana Sarang, Sankara, Hameer and Yemen. I rendered in Raag Sarang there and got the first prize in the State.
TIN: Also about Sangeet Milan…
SMG: It was a national level competition, ‘Milan Classical Voice of India.’ I cleared my first audition in Mumbai. Later, the final audition happened in Lucknow. All those who topped from each state took part in the finals. I got Rs.10,000 when I won the competition. Now during the Lockdown, I have been given a Bandhish for us render and record. The recording is going on at present. I have to prepare myself and record it and then send it to Milan Debanath Ji, the organiser of this competition. So, I am preparing his Bandhish only.
TIN: Can you elaborate on your riyaz or practice sessions?
SMG: I practice for three-four hours of Classical music a day. Marathi, Malayalam or any other language, I practice light music too, I spend around an hour.
TIN: Who is managing your social media activities?
SMG: My mother is the one who is active in social media. She uses her account, Susan Mathew, where she posts my song videos etc. She has also opened a separate page for me in the FB. Also, there is a YouTube account in my name, where my mother posts all devotional songs and other light music versions as well.