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Vidya Vox Muses On Fusing Music Across Cultures

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Vidya Iyer is a YouTuber. Her claim to fame - cover music videos.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

CASEY BREVES: (Singing) Pull the sheets right off the corner of that mattress that you stole from your roommate back in Boulder. We ain't ever getting older.

VIDYA VOX: (Singing in Hindi).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Vidya singing "Closer" by The Chainsmokers fused with "Kabira," a song from the Bollywood movie "Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani." Vidya blends Top 40 American hits with music from her native India along with producing her own original music. Her YouTube subscribers - and she has more than a million of them - don't know her as Vidya Iyer, though. To them, she is Vidya Vox, and her music videos have collectively amassed more than 100 million views. Vidya Vox joins us now from our studios at NPR West.

Hi. So great to have you on the show.

VOX: Thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me a little bit about your mash-ups. You're bringing all these influences into your music. Tell me how you do that. What's the inspiration?

VOX: I was born in India, and - I was born in Chennai - South Indian. And my parents moved to the U.S. when I was about 8 or 9 years old. And so growing up in the West but listening and, like, learning South Indian classical music, I always felt like it was two different worlds. And I was like, how can I bring the two worlds together? And I - that's basically the short version of how I decided to do mash-ups.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

VOX: (Singing in Hindi).

VIDYA VOX AND CASEY BREVES: (Singing in Hindi).

VOX: (Singing in Hindi).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what's interesting is you were pre-med. You were studying psychology. And then, all of a sudden, you make this shift into music. How did that happen?

VOX: Yeah, I didn't ever think about music as a career. Like, it was never - it's just something like an extracurricular activity that my mom put me in. And as every South Asian, you know, like, child, I was like - oh, OK, I can do medicine. And I mean, I am very...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Make your parents proud. Become a doctor.

VOX: Yeah, exactly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Exactly.

VOX: And I love science. I still do. But I think it was junior year of college, I collaborated with Shankar Tucker, who is an amazing musician. And he sort of showed me that, like, you don't need a record label to show and share your music with the world. And YouTube has been such an amazing platform for that. And that's why I decided, like, after I graduated, that I could do this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is it like being a YouTube star? Is it better to be able to directly give your music to the people or - rather than the traditional route of having a record label?

VOX: I think when you have such direct communication with your fans, it's a good thing. But it's also that people - I don't know, you can't really please everyone. And that's something that I have to constantly remind myself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you've incorporated traditional South Indian music into your songs. There's one particular song called "Be Free." Is that a message about your own journey?

VOX: Yeah, it is. I - you know, I used to always - I don't know - not be ashamed. But I would always hide that part of me, like, hide being Indian. And - because it wasn't, quote, unquote, "cool." And but now I wear it proudly on my sleeve.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE FREE")

VOX: (Singing) I'ma (ph) sing it louder like, oh, let me, be free.

VANDANA IYER: (Singing in Hindi).

VANDANA IYER AND VIDYA VOX: (Singing in Hindi).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me, what are the lyrics that we're listening to right now? What are the actual words saying?

VOX: So it's (speaking Hindi). The (speaking Hindi) means, like, the princess or the goddess. And she has these weapons, like a sword and all these things in her hand. And she's, like, standing outside the temple, and she's, like, come at me. I'm ready for a fight.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's musician Vidya Iyer, more commonly known as Vidya Vox. Her first EP is set to release this march. Great talking to you.

VOX: You, too. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BE FREE")

VANDANA IYER AND VIDYA VOX: (Singing in Hindi). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.