Musician and award-winning artist Avanti Nagral has a powerful voice, but we’re not just talking about the one she used to record a pop-devotional English-Sanskrit fusion album. Although she’s busy pursuing her creative passions, Avanti makes time to grow her public health initiative, YCPR, to motivate youth to better their own communities. Oh, and did we mention she’s pursuing a dual degree from Harvard and Berklee College of Music? At 21, Avanti has proven she’s already a multi-tasking star.
What does the power of the voice mean to you?
I believe in the power of the voice. A month after my 15th birthday, I lost my eyesight due to a viral brain infection that affected my optic nerve. It progressively returned, but the recovery process transformed my vision of music's place in my world. Music was no longer simply my art; it was my vehicle to impact change. It gives me a platform to use and BE a voice. I’ve been performing for a long time – from dinner parties to national stages – and every single person I meet and every new place I visit has a story. It informs my voice. As a singer, I have a voice. As a songwriter, I use my voice. I would be so lucky to one day be well-known enough to be able to use the platform I am afforded as an artist to bring voice to issues that I am passionate about, and to help share the voices of those who are left unheard.
I realize that is a lot of metaphors about the voice, but it truly guides me in everything that I do! I am also very passionate about global health and empowerment, and know the importance of bringing voice to those issues. Music is that one place where I feel perfectly at peace and it is what drives my belief in myself. I hope, more than anything, never to lose the passion for the voice – the singular, the multiple, and the metaphorical.
How did you decide to pursue a dual degree at Harvard and Berklee? How has this experience impacted your life so far?
When I got into Harvard, I reached out to a few people at Berklee to let them know that I was a musician, would be in the area, and would love to figure out ways in which I could get involved. As it turned out, they were considering creating a dual degree with Harvard (which had been in the works for a while) and were figuring out when to roll it out, and the timing aligned (I started in 2017)! It’s been an absolutely incredible experience so far! The program is structured such that you get a Bachelor’s degree at Harvard and a Master’s at Berklee, but during your undergrad, you get to (and have to) take a few classes at Berklee each semester. The most amazing thing is being able to be a part of two such incredibly diverse and talented communities. It definitely spoils you for the real world because never again in your life will you be surrounded by as much concentrated diversity – of thought, passion, race, and socioeconomic background, as I am now. But there is also a lot of learning, and it is up to me to make the most of it.
What made you realize that you wanted to pursue music? What makes your music unique? How do you hope to reach others through your music?
When people ask me how I got into music, I jokingly (but also not so jokingly) say in vitro. My dad plays the table (the Indian drums), and would teach it on the side to put himself through grad school and in the early days of starting his company. I grew up doing a lot of devotional music and was ordained into the Tapasya (deep study) of Indian Classical Music at the age of 8. It is a disciplined journey, steeped in the age-old Guru-Shishya parampara (teacher – student relationship) of respect. My background diversified into church music and Broadway, and I combine all these seemingly random influences into a pop-soul sound.
As an artist, you are not only the product or service – you are also the brand and the entrepreneur. The skills I am learning through doing the business aspect DIY and really pushing forward on all fronts are teaching me invaluable lessons, and I hope to keep using those, and keep them transferable. It is important to me that my music is empowering – hopefully to others, but definitely to myself. As someone who has lived exactly half their life in two countries (India and the U.S.), I try to incorporate my multicultural identity into my music, and to make it empowering. Representation of the South Asian diaspora and its music is also hugely important to me and I try to bring that touch into all of my music, whether it be through the groove, intention, lyrics, hooks, or melody. I also sing in multiple languages, and love being able to experiment with different things!
You are also involved in public health and founded your own initiative, YCPR, in 2013. What inspired you to found YCPR? Why are initiatives like these of such importance to society?
The ‘Y’ in YCPR stands for both Youth and the question “why?” It empowers youth to help save lives within their communities and aims to create a network of Bystander CPR-trained youth ready to administer life-saving treatment when the need arises. I seed-funded the campaign with my earnings as a performing artist, have run several initiatives, and conducted research in the areas of music therapy, anemia, organ donation, cardiac disease and CPR/emergency care.
I strongly believe that health is the basic unit of productivity, and that a skilled youth population is what the world sits upon today. Basic health skills such as CPR/first aid or registering to be an organ donor don’t require any special IQ, socioeconomic background, or education level, yet the potential outcome is that you could save a life!
Who or what has been an inspiration to you in becoming an activist?
Surrounding myself with strong mentors, realizing the opportunities that life gives me, and being attuned to inequities in the world around made me an activist. Activism is often given a bad rep, but I think it means being passionate about some form of impact and being unapologetic about advocating for it.
What advice would you give to college women on finding their own voice?
Every single person has a voice inside them, but that might manifest differently in different people. I would just say to be a sponge, take in stories and life experiences of people around you, reflect on your own, and discover what it is that makes you tick. Your voice will naturally shine through.
What is your favorite inspirational quote?
A quote by Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It’s a constant reminder to act with kindness no matter where you go, what you do, or who you meet.
How would you describe yourself in five words?
Creator. Idealist. Soul-searcher. Adventure-seeker. Friend.
Elizabeth is a second year student at Durham University, studying Sociology and Anthropology. She is currently a News x Social Media Intern at HC headquarters in Boston and has been involved in the Durham University chapter of Her Campus since January 2018.