The Constant Cultivation of Kalya Ramu
Forget what you know when it comes to the preconceived stereotypes thrown at musicians: laying around, jamming all day, perhaps partaking in plant-related recreational activities. While this may be true and effective for some, Toronto-based singer, writer, and composer Kalya Ramu has crafted a very different image for herself. Her drive, confidence, ambition, and a love for music has birthed multiple opportunities, which has led to a budding career filled with a variety of musical endeavours.
23-year-old Ramu is hard to box into one neatly sealed package. Since earning her degree from Humber College’s music program back in April 2015, she’s found herself in five separate acts: Mermaid and the Bear, Angora, Kal’s Hot Four, The Bettys, and The Nightbird Band. With a vast range of sound, from folk to rock and roll, jazz to swing, Ramu isn’t afraid of saying no when it comes to her musical exploration.
“(For Mermaid and the Bear), we just kind of went into it, there was no big step. We just decided to make it happen. We released a few recordings that we made for fun, then someone asked us to open a show for them, and it kind of just went from there. (For Angora), someone found my ad. He was looking for a jazz singer for a rock band, because (he thought) it’d add something different, a different tone, a different sound.”
Prior to Angora, Ramu had never done rock and roll. But with this band, she felt inclined to take the plunge and see where the experience would lead her.
“I was like, ‘Well, why not?’ Writing and performing rock is a whole other thing, and it’s so fun. It was scary, but then I was like ‘F*** it, I’m doing it’ and it worked out.”
When asked about her many projects and if one speaks to her above all the rest, Ramu says Mermaid and the Bear best encompasses how she personally enjoys making music.
“It’s not like we pick a genre and just sit into it, we kind of just make whatever comes. The writing process is fluid, and we don’t have preconceived expectations for it.”
What came before Ramu’s post-secondary education and subsequent career was a childhood saturated in music listening and singing. Ramu also became involved in performing at a very young age and hasn’t stopped since.
“(My family and I) found a poster of a community big band that’s a volunteer orchestra. I went to audition and they took me on, and we recorded an album. It was really bad (laughs). I was 12. But it was such a good experience and really got me inspired. I was like, I need to do this. I love this.”
Throughout her journey, Ramu has seldom thought about going solo. While financially, she explains, it could be beneficial to do so, she finds the experience of performing with a group to be irreplaceable.
“It’s really nice to see that conversation (on stage). That’s one of my favourite things about being a musician. It’s a language. And anyone can relate to it. (Performing with a group) is very close to my heart.”
Contributing to Ramu’s love of playing in a group is the idea of jazz music as a whole. Aside from being the genre Ramu initially started in and plans to focus on in the future, jazz builds connections; something she enjoys being a part of.
“Jazz is one of the most interactive music styles. Especially with improvising, that's a huge thing in jazz. Everyone has to react to each other. You know it's a good band when they know what they're saying to each other. When they recognize each other's little things. That's why I really like playing with the same group. I wouldn't be the sound that I am without the people that are playing with me.”
Although Ramu has been busy experimenting with her sound and playing in as many shows as she can, the road to success has its occasional closures, detours and traffic jams.
“Yes, so, (hitting my breaking point) happens about once a week (laughs). I feel like I have this conversation with so many musicians. There’s always that bit of self-doubt. It’s always there. That's just the instability of it. The beauty is that, on the good days, when you get inspired by something, it's so much more powerful. It over powers (the self-doubt). You know that those bad days will pass, you'll recover, and then you get back to it.”
When speaking on what she hopes for when people see her perform, Ramu keeps it short but succinct:
“All you want do with music is make someone feel something. I feel like that’s been said a million times, but if I affected someone in a positive way, or even a negative way, just something, made them cry or made them laugh, then I think I’ve done my job, and it’s just so powerful to see.”
Ramu notes a particularly memorable time while performing when she was younger, and the reaction it elicited.
“I used to be in a band called the Toronto All-Star Big Band. And I remember, we played a lot of old folks’ homes or festivals in small towns where a lot of older people live, and were doing all the classics from their time, when they grew up. All their memories are soaked in this music. We saw them singing along and they just looked so happy. I live for that feeling.”
With a monthly residency at the jazz and blues bar, Gate 403 (located in the heart of Roncesvalles), along with other various projects across the city, Ramu is constantly moulding her identity as a musician. While at times difficult, she can’t see her life any other way.
“I definitely have days where I'm like 'I'm not good enough to do this.' But those days pass. I never get to the point where I'm like 'I need to stop', because I know I'm not going to be happy if I don't have (music) in my life. It releases endorphins and then makes my body want more. It's kind of an addiction. I don't know what I would do without it. This is it. Music makes me happy.”
To learn more about Toronto’s Kalya Ramu, her upcoming shows, and to give her a listen yourself, check out her website (Did I mention she’s also an illustrator? I didn’t? Okay. FYI, she also finds the time to be an illustrator): http://www.kalyaramu.ca/