Chandrika Darbari was 16, when she first saw the gut-wrenching visuals of injured children in Syria. The images of blood, devastation and helplessness haunted her into wanting to make the world sit up and take notice of their plight. That’s when she penned, ‘For peace in Syria’, a song she shot with her siblings while on vacation in Delhi in 2016; it went on to clock in over 900K views on YouTube. “I just sat at my piano and the words just came to me,” she says. The simple yet heartfelt lyrics—that was Darbari’s cry for peace—made the video go viral and helped raise funds for UNICEF.
London-based Darbari (who goes by her stage name Rika) is now 19, and is armed with a degree in music from Berklee College of Music. The woke songstress can list out several accomplishments: she won the Best Female UK Act at BritAsia TV Music Awards 2019; she is the first British-Asian teen signed by Virgin EMI Record Labels after mega-stars like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, and her music videos—like ‘No Need’ and ‘Wanna Know’—have often garnered close to half a million views on YouTube.
A decade ago you wouldn’t expect an Asian girl with an Indo-Serbian heritage to make pop songs that effortlessly splice different genres together. Her vibrant videos are also a testament to her multicultural roots. She sports military-inspired bombers, feminine tulle frocks, bindis that “represent my heritage in the mainstream” and crescent-moon bodysuits by French designer Marine Serre.
Much of this can perhaps be credited to her multicultural upbringing in London. “The radio was always on in my home. My mother would be cooking in the kitchen and listening to music,” she recalls. Her first MP3 player could only store 10 songs but the CD shelves were full of different genres. “I would listen to The Carpenters, Mariah Carey, ABBA, Ravi Shankar, Beyoncé, Usher and many more,” she adds.
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She has several yet-to-be-released collaborations with artistes like Mickey Singh, DJ Steve Void and Liverpool’s upcoming DJ Tom Ferry lined up. She is also looking forward to performing in India this year. “I visit India often to meet friends and family. It also gives me a peek into the vast, colourful and ever-changing Indian music industry,” she says.
Photographs: Nwaka Okparaeke, Lily RestaI