Rising Thai-Indian artist Rimi Nique on cultivating her singing talents and finding a foothold in the music industry. BY REENA KARIM
Last May’s Overlove Music Festival in Pattaya saw over 10,000 screaming fans gathered together on a beautiful green space courtesy of Silverlake Vineyards. The line-up featured many hot favourites of the Thai music industry, like Ben Chalatit from long-time band and music production collective Monotone and bands Superbaker, Scrubb, Blackhead, Tattoo Colour, and Mild. But perhaps most exciting of all was the opening act. Curly-haired and big-voiced, Rimi Nique commanded the attention and applause of a massive opening audience of 2,000 people at what was perhaps her biggest live performance so far.
The emcee introduced the Thai-Indian by saying, “She can sing in eight octaves, and she’s so beautiful.” She took the stage with an acoustic set, did a few covers, and then slipped effortlessly into some of her own songs. When it came time to play her song “Sunday”, Rimi Nique added a quintessentially Indian element by playing the harmonium. Her song “Crush on life” had the audience applauding and waving their hands in the air. In the following days, several newspapers such as The Nation and Pattaya Mail wrote about this wholesome cross between Rihanna and Alicia Keys and reviewed her performance positively.
From Goofy to Serious
The following month, during one of our interviews, when I ask her about that performance, she says she kept her father’s advice close to her heart: “Look into the audience’s eyes, and speak Thai properly.” When I ask her if she had been nervous, she says she was only afraid of falling off the stage. But contrary to these jokes, the 23-year-old is far from an amateur. Rimmy Doowa—as she is known off stage—has been singing since she was a child and has never really suffered from stage fright.
In the eighth grade, Rimmy performed solo in front of a formal audience for the first time, singing “At the Beginning” from Disney’s animated film Anastasia at Ruamrudee International School’s annual talent show. She won. “But I was a goofy kid,” she remembers, “so I never really took it seriously. But whenever I was at an Indian wedding or family gatherings, people would always put me on the spotlight to sing. I was always up for it and never hesitated.”
Chatting with her at her Phra Khanong–area house, where she lives with her parents and two siblings, I also speak to her mother, Dolly, and her father, Kovin, both of whom tell fond stories of Rimmy’s early confidence. “She would sing to the highest pitch to the highest point, and we would have to tell her enough,” Kovin recalls. “When we would go to the park or to the golf course, and we had to ride the buggy, she would hold the rail and sing shabads.”
At her mother’s suggestion, Rimmy began taking raga lessons with Bangkok-based singer and teacher Dr. Ravinder Kaur. In the ninth grade, Rimmy joined the prestigious Jeremiah Singers choir group at RIS. Contacted separately for this story, her former choir and music teacher Jose Librodo recalls Rimmy auditioning for the choir: “The Jeremiah Singers is a tough training ground for those who love to sing,” he says, “I am very particular of the member’s potential, discipline, and commitment.” Rimmy found the experience easy, and while a Jeremiah, she also won the talent show’s solo singing category four years in a row. During her senior year, she also bagged the lead role for the school production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Evita, due to what Jose calls the “emotion and maturity in her voice”.
She went on to become a finalist on Zee TV’s famous singing competition Sa Re Ga Ma Pa in 2007, when she was just out of high school. As is often the case with young stars, however, academics conflicted with what was still very much an extracurricular activity. The finals in Mumbai came at the time when Rimmy was preparing to head to college in the US, and as a result, she was forced to pull out.
On the Road at College
Rimmy went off to pursue a degree in economics and environmental studies at Whitman College in Washington. But music stalked her. So she minored in music. “Just to know more about it.” But during the last two years of college, Rimmy realised that she was doing more music-related things than academics. “It almost felt like I was destined to it.”
While in college, Rimmy joined the a cappella group Schwa. There she met Adriel Borshansky, a musician and songwriter, and together they started a band with Rimmy as the lead female vocalist. “Initially, it was just the two of us, but later we found Jonas, a pianist, and Robbie, a drummer. We called ourselves Dabbles in Bloom. A very hippie name, don’t you think?” After performing in college concerts and local coffee shops, the band toured the American Northwest—Seattle, Portland—and even got paid. “We would use the money for food and gas, and travel to the next gig. It was a road trip and an experience of a lifetime.”
When Rimmy had to move back to Bangkok after graduation, her band broke up. “I am so grateful to be able to have them in my life; I miss them every day,” she says. She hands me their first album, Found It. “It was not super good quality, but it’s so fresh and raw.”
The Turning Point
In 2010, home after her sophomore year in college, Rimmy met someone who became very important to her development. Her younger sister Devika had won a singing contest and received a voucher for training classes at the Superstar Academy in Thonglor. “One day, I went to drop her, and while I was waiting, I met Paul Ewing [voice coach at the academy] and asked if he could hear me sing and give his comments. I sang Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’”.
When I contact Ewing, he is at the airport, on his way to tour and promote his own album in the UK. But he speaks of Rimmy fondly. “She had a naturally easy tone and great technique. I was not sure that there was much to be gained from having me coach her. She needed a working context to stretch her vocally and to give her challenges and platforms to showcase her voice.” And according to Rimmy, Paul’s advice “was the best thing anyone has said to me.”
Paul introduced Rimmy to Henrik Algren, a veteran Swedish music producer with artists like Coco Lee and Joana Zimmer on his roster, who suggested Rimmy try out a demo which he had been working on. After hearing her sing, he felt he had found the voice he was looking for. The two instantly clicked, and the demo took two days instead of the estimated four days to complete. Later, when Rimmy returned to the US, Henrik contacted her with other demos.
When contacted for this story and asked what it was like working with a Thai-Indian artist, Henrik says, “A Thai- Indian artist of Rimmy’s calibre is pretty unique and hard to come by, [but] the experience has been great.” Henrik has, according to Rimmy, quickly become her mentor and pushes her to continue writing music, and to explore and dabble in different genres. So far Henrik has written most of her songs in collaboration with other artists from the UK and elsewhere, all the while sculpting sounds and mixing. Henrik also advises her on how to engage with fans.
And through his work at the state-of-the-art Karma Sound Studios in Pattaya—popular among musicians from all over the world—Henrik has also introduced Rimmy to Grammy-nominated artist Chris Craker. Chris, who has worked with people like Jamiroquai and Placebo, and even Tata Young, saw her talent immediately. I reach Chris by email and get the lowdown on Rimmy’s budding professional career. “Rimmy has been collaborating with the team here at my studio in Bang Saray and writing songs with Henrik Algren and also collaborating with the English lyricist and song writer Chris Porter, who is linked here at Karma Studios,” he reports. “On the live front, she has been going out and singing with our in house engineer/guitarist Tone and receiving marketing and music business advice from myself and Supisa Williamson. It’s been a great team effort.”
The Right Kind of Wholesome
In recent months, Rimi Nique has had several live engagements, both in Pattaya and Bangkok. In addition to the Overlove act, she had a three-week stint performing at Hard Rock Café and a set at the Silverlake Songkran Festival, both in Pattaya. In Bangkok, she performed at the Love May Day charity event at K Village, as well as a high-profile private birthday party for the FICO Group’s CEO Krit Srichawla. As an up-and-coming independent artist new to the industry, Rimi Nique faces the risk of associating with shady personalities in the music business. The need for a manager is becoming apparent. Kovin has stepped in for the time being, driving her from Pattaya and back and advising her on her image and decisions. Rimmy sees her parents as her friends and doesn’t mind their involvement in her career. “We don’t step on each other’s boundaries. If I have something to do, they give me the distance and space I need. I have pretty awesome parents.”
When asked about his role, Kovin makes an important distinction: “I am not a manager,” he says. “I am her father. A manager gets paid; I don’t. I am trying to make sure that she works with the right profile of people. We will groom her, strike a manager deal, [and decide if she is a] label or a non-label artist. It depends. I am helping her plan strategies.” And about the bottom line question, what he thinks of his daughter’s talent, he says, “To be very honest, when Rimmy sings, everybody gets goose bumps.”
Struggles to Success
As with any up-and-coming artist, Rimi Nique, too, faces her own struggles. “Having to motivate myself every day, and the transition from college, leaving America and my band [has resulted in] a lot of changes. Here, I am solo, and solo artists have to stand up for themselves.”
She has yet to formally sign a contract, whether with Karma Studios or anyone else, and despite the indispensible help of her father, she’s still looking for the perfect manager. “I don’t want to rush into this; I want to do it the right way.” But the near future sees great things. As of press time, she is scheduled to perform at the Superstar Academy. She has also signed up and made it to the blind audition for Thailand’s highly rated talent reality show, The Voice. It has taken her a long time to fully commit herself to music, but now, whatever happens, Rimmy says she intends to stick with it. “If I am not singing, I might do something in the music industry. I might be a music manager, own a recording studio.”
Rimmy has come a long way from singing shabads and kirtans with her grandmother in the gurdwara. From winning competitions and forming a band, to singing solo and recording, Rimmy never dreamt that she would be a professional singer. “I have moments at night where I reflect and wonder, How did I get here? Everyone that I have interacted with, they all have played a role [in getting me here]. I am confident in my singing today because of them.”
Published in Masala magazine, July 2013
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