Annette Philip: The Power of Collaboration Through Music

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Annette Philip (Photo by Meredith Nierman)
Annette Philip (Photo by Meredith Nierman)

Annette Philip believes in collaborative action through music. An Indian vocalist, composer/arranger, voice-over artist, pianist, producer, choral specialist, and faculty member at Berklee College of Music, she thrives on experimenting with the human voice.

In 2003, she founded Artistes Unlimited in New Delhi, one of India’s largest and most diverse performing arts collective. Now based in Boston, Philip is the Founder-Director of Berklee’s immensely popular Indian Ensemble, the only performance class at Berklee with over 14 million YouTube hits for their videos.

Philip is also Creative Director and core vocalist of the award-winning international a cappella quartet, Women of the World, who were the 2014 USA National Acapella Champions. With members representing Japan, Italy, India, Haiti and the US, Women of the World currently performs in 31 of the world’s languages, and is committed to uniting global voices through song.

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it?

Annette Philip: I’m a creator. Whether it is music, food, art, writing… creativity, imagination, infusing ideas from different points of view – this is what drives me. Someone asked me the other day, where I’m based. And without thinking about it, my immediate response was, “I go where the music is”

woy-outstanding-logoMy goal is to keep learning, keep evolving, and to use music to share global ideas and perspectives, while supporting and nurturing the ‘voices’ of tomorrow.

I divide my time between being an active performing/recording/touring musician, and being an educator.

In the academic field, I am the Artistic Director of the Berklee India Exchange and Founder Director of the Berklee Indian Ensemble at Berklee College of Music. Through the Berklee India Exchange, the college is harnessing the global power of the Indian music industry to foster a richer learning environment for all of its students. The Berklee Indian Ensemble is one of the largest and most diverse ensembles at the college, with musicians from 42 countries and counting.

So many people supported me in my journey so far, and thus, being able to contribute in the creation of this scholarship fund was a dream come true, as I’m finally able to give back. We also conduct workshops in India twice a year under the newly instituted Berklee Tandon Global Clinics (due to the generous support of Ms. Chandrika Tandon, a Grammy nominated vocalist and part of Berklee’s Presidential Advisory Council). This is part of our endeavor to create more and more access to music education, be it on vocal technique, electronic innovations in music, production aspects, or ways to integrate Eastern and Western pedagogical practices in music therapy programs.

Besides my work at Berklee, I also tour with an international award-winning vocal quartet, Women of the World. The four vocalists represent Japan, Italy, India, and Haiti/USA. We currently perform in 31 of the world’s languages, using our art to delve deeper into cultures from around the world, finding ways to celebrate both our similarities and our differences, and taking that message forward. When you study the music of say, Ireland or Malaysia, you get to know more about the history of each country, the struggles their people faced, their way of life, their beliefs, their triumphs, and in many ways, this helps you see that country and its people differently. They are no longer the “Other” but instead, you relate to them on a deeper level. This is at the core of Women of the World’s mission. The four of us are a microcosm of the world, and we often disagree on myriad subjects. What’s important is how we work through these matters, with love, with sincerity, and open communication. Over the years, we have been blessed to collaborate with with legendary artists such as Nona Hendryx, Bobby McFerrin, Angelique Kidjo and Mario Frangoulis, besides touring in Asia, Europe and North America since 2008. We were also the 2014 National USA Acappella Champions through Harmony Sweepstakes, the oldest running acappella chamionships in United States.

As a performer and choral specialist, I’ve also been very blessed to work closely with many of my idols who I consider mentors. Two of them stand out so far:

Firstly, with Mr. A.R. Rahman, Grammy and Academy-winning Indian composer, since 2015 in his live performances. He is truly a genius and continues to inspire me in indescribable ways. I’ve learned so much from my time on the road with Mr. Rahman and his incredible live band, and this has made a tremendous impact on my teaching style at Berklee as well. I feel it’s so important for educators to continue to challenge themselves, and grow, so that they stay relevant in the classroom!

Secondly, with Mr. Bill Whelan, Grammy winning Irish composer of the famed “Riverdance” – I’ve been blessed to collaborate with Mr. Whelan on his new projects as a vocal director and choral specialist, and find immense fulfillment in being able to introduce unique global vocalists to his team spanning Serbian, Turkish, Japanese, African and Indian styles.

This is why I go where the music takes me! I absolutely love what I do, and am grateful to create every single day.

INE: To which charitable, community and professional group do you belong and why?

AP: All through school and college, I had found it odd that people were competitive in the arts. We would meet other young musicians in New Delhi at college festivals, and rather than being happy that so many other students our age were into music, people would be hostile, even considering themselves rivals. When my friends and I appreciated or complimented someone, they would often look at us strangely.

Finally, in 2003, after graduating from LSR College in New Delhi, I spoke to some musician friends, and we decided it was time for a change. My idea was to create a platform for artists in Delhi to converge, collaborate and create in an environment of cooperation, not competition. Thus was born Artistes Unlimited (AU). Within a year, AU became home to over 80 serious vocalists in New Delhi, and soon we had musicians of all ages, from different musical backgrounds joining us. We explored acapella, gospel, funk, jazz, and also Indian folk, classical and sufi music.

13 years down the line, many of the core AU members are now doing music full time, either as performers, or as music teachers / composers / advertising industry professionals. By 2006, we realized AU had grown so much, and was able to support a host of social causes. My parents helped me create the Artistes Unlimited Charitable Trust (AUCT). Over the years, we’ve supported various organizations in their fundraising efforts for cancer patients, AIDS awareness, India-Pakistan youth forums, as well as donations for young children who needed operations, medical attention.

Most recently, in May 2016, AUCT launched a new project called Share N Care India. We set up a pilot “F&B ATM” – a refrigerator at a church in Janakpuri, New Delhi, in which volunteer families can stock water and seasonal fruits, available for anyone who needs respite from the terrible summer heat, at no cost. The point is to encourage people to donate food / simple items for others to use. At some point, we also hope to ask nearby restaurants or hotels who have lot of food wastage to reconsider how they distribute non-perishable items.

We based the Share N Care project on the principle that there are enough resources on the planet for all. If each community can take care of itself, we can help to at least provide safe drinking water and basic nourishment to hundreds of impoverished families in India.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

AP: I love music, art, painting, reading, photography, watching movies from different parts of the world, cooking, gardening, spending time with animals, traveling, and trying new things. I also want to become a certified deep sea diver (have completed the first part of my training, and hope to continue diving in the years to come).

Basically, I love learning. So much in our world to explore, experience, and savor. I don’t think I’ll ever stop creating or learning!

INE: In what way you feel you have most positively influenced or served the local community and your company/organization and professional field.

AP: I truly believe in collective action, and the power of collaboration. Over the years, whether through Artistes Unlimited, Women of the World, or the Berklee India Exchange program at Berklee College of Music, the common thread has been to unite people, to have artists, musicians, local community members work together towards a common goal.

I also believe it’s important for people to follow their heart, to make their dreams a reality. In every project I’ve been part of, I’ve tried to first of all, raise the bar for myself – to challenge myself and be better today than I was yesterday, even if just a little bit. That idea, when manifested in larger groups, can help people collectively make a difference. One of the most recent videos from the Berklee Indian Ensemble is “Jaago Piya” and our main goal was to remind our audiences about being grateful for the big and small things in their lives. We feel the video speaks for itself.

INE: Your rare talent?

AP: Everyone has a different way of managing stress. Some people kickbox, others scream, others take a walk, or do rigorous exercise. Others shop, or cook, or watch funny movies.

The ability to bounce back, no matter what, is a rare talent. I’ve found that tears are such a blessing. I call my version “a quick howl” – I usually know when I need to let off steam. Occasionally, I warn my friends/colleagues and I go bawl for a minute. And then I’m back to normal, happy and ready to tackle anything the day brings me! This probably sounds really strange, but it’s a wonderful gift. My family and closest friends know this about me, and let me destress when I need to. I am thankful for them letting me be myself. And yes! Tears are not a sign of weakness. I think more people need to give themselves permission to destress in any way that works for them.

INE: Your favorite books?

AP: As a child, I absolutely loved Enid Blyton books. What a world of fantasy and vivid imagination! Then I had a mystery novel phase – Agatha Christie, any Perry Mason novels, Sherlock Holmes series – I’d eat all those up. Growing up, loved “The Keys of the Kingdom” by AJ Cronin, “Crime and Punishment” by Dostoyevsky. More recently, enjoyed “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, and right now I”m reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig.

INE: Your favorite quotes?

AP: “If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

“Relationship is needed only because you can’t be alone, because you are not yet capable of meditation. Hence, meditation is a MUST before you can really love. One should be capable of being alone, utterly alone, and yet tremendously blissful. Then you can love. Then your love is no more a need but a sharing, no more a necessity. You will not become dependent on the people you love. You will share — and sharing is beautiful.” – Osho

“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with love like that.
It lights up the sky.” – Hafez (Iranian poet)

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.” – William Cecil Martin from “The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents”

INE: Who inspires you the most?

AP: I find inspiration every single day. Even flowers, animals, the weather… nature inspires me. My parents, my teachers, my mentors, and my students, strangers, books, movies, songs, food – all inspire me in myriad ways. Every situation in your life brings you new lessons. So it’s hard to pinpoint one person / one situation that inspired me the most.

INE: Your core value you try to live by?

AP: Live with gratitude.



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