Sushma Soma, 34, is an award-winning Carnatic vocalist, a form of traditional/codified music originating from Southern India. Apart from her performances, she also works with different Carnatic musicians in Singapore to initiate others into Carnatic music.
Her upcoming album, You and Me, Us, is an exploration of Man’s relationship with Nature through the lens of Indian music, and is supported by the National Arts Council. Sushma shares with us five lessons that she has learnt on her journey.
1. I am always a student
I start my work and collaborations with the mindset that I still have a lot to know. When I go in with that outlook, I remain curious, am always willing to learn, and receive constructive critique. It releases the stress of having to be an expert on everything. I can enjoy learning, instead of being embarrassed and feeling inadequate for not knowing a skill or lesson.
2. It is okay to fail
I used to expect success from everything I did. Be it planning a performance, pitching an idea to a grant body, or proposing a collaboration with an artist, I believed that if I did everything with genuine sincerity, it would guarantee me success. But many times, things would not turn out that way.
It took me a long time to embrace failure.
I realise now that in the process of working towards a particular goal, I grow immensely from and hone myself for my next endeavour.
Sushma performing at an event.
PHOTO CREDIT: SUSHMA SOMASKEHARAN
3. Discipline is a must
Discipline is not a choice. It is one of the fundamental components of my artistic journey. There are many days that are tiring and mundane, when I do not feel inspired or creative. What carries me through these periods is my discipline to practise.
Looking at my mentors and other artists who have inspired me, I have learnt that what sets them apart as the top of their fields is their rigour to work through the hard times.
I believe that it is the discipline to show up on the hard days that truly reflects passion for the form.
Sushma on a hiking trip.
PHOTO CREDIT: SUSHMA SOMASKEHARAN
4. Have conversations and agree to disagree
This might seem like an obvious statement to make, but for a long time, I shied away from conversations about art (even with my friends). This was out of fear of coming across as uninformed, that I would be proven wrong and be made to change my stance, or just in fear of having a disagreement with the other party.
Today, I actively engage in these conversations to find out about others’ points of view and their reasons for their convictions. They make me question my own thoughts and beliefs, and in the process of agreeing or disagreeing, help me find my own voice and conviction in my work.
5. Always be kind to yourself
There are many voices outside that constantly compete with and criticise our works. Why should we be our own worst enemies?
I strongly believe that I have to be my number-one ally. I spend the most time with myself, and if I constantly feed the narrative that I am not good enough, that I am not going to succeed, or berate myself for mistakes I make, no matter how much kindness others extend towards me, I will end up drowning in a pool of my negative thoughts and impede my own growth.
It is important to self-critique our work, but I consciously check myself to ensure it comes from a place of self-compassion.