• 19 Jan - 25 Jan, 2019
  • Attiya Abbass
  • Interview

As I made my way past the bright blue door that spelled ‘The Viccaji’s’, an excited dog bounded my way. Momentarily petrified, I stopped in my tracks, just in time for a petite woman to emerge out the house and pat her pet. Rachel’s smile is warm as she receives me, “Akamaru is very friendly. Don’t worry,” And indeed, Akku, warmed up to me within minutes, as his owner and I sat outdoors, having tea. Rachel’s patio is the stuff of Amazonian dreams; except that there is a quaint bench and artfully placed cobblestones. “I have lived in this house my entire life,” she tells me, as we bask in the late noon’s sun.

“Since childhood, music was very much part of my house,” she begins, navigating me through her earliest trysts with music. “It was our parent’s way of hanging out together at gatherings. Someone would pull out a guitar, someone played the piano, and the air would be charged with old-gold songs,” she reminisces. “Music was a general element of my family and culture,” I ask if she can recall any important moments from her adolescence or teens, which laid an important edifice for making the person she is today.

“Well, there is a video of four-year-old Rachel singing into a fake mike made up of a hairbrush with a wire tied to its end, saying ‘I'm the best singer in the house!” she laughs. “We used to put up plays on this patio. My mom and her friends were all thespians and artists and they used to do theatre plays. And then there were my siblings, Cyrus and Zoe, who used to stage plays and charge my parents for entry. That definitely was a foundation for acting and theatre for me and we all enjoyed that,” she relays.

And what were her earliest inspirations and influences for music?

“Whatever my mom was listening to,” she replies, “Much later I realised that I somehow knew the lyrics to all Don Mclean's songs that my mom used to listen to when she was pregnant with me. And later when she was working around the house or tending to us,” she smiles. “She listened to songs by Abba, Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald and many more, which all served as big influences for us.” Dispelling a wealth of fond memories, she continues, “We used to sing in the church together too. I was in the church choir when I was in 11.”

At what moment did she realise she could opt for singing as a career? “I had a band when I was 17, called Rachel's Plan B.” she begins. “It all began when friends and I were jamming one evening and someone said since Rachel's name is the most unique amongst us all and she is our frontwoman, let's put her name in the band. And here you go! We used to perform at T2F and PACC. With all these underground bands and all. We got many gigs but it wasn't just about money. It was about the ‘oh my god’ factor attached to it.”

“At that time I was also modelling. And then I was part of a Strings video...” she articulates.

Rachel’s association with Coke has a long melodic journey. She worked as a backing vocalist and a featured artist on Coke Studio tracks including, ‘Shamaan Pai Gaiyaan/Kee Dam Da Bharosa’ and ‘Kaatay Na Katay’, amongst others.

Her journey with the platform commenced with her performance in Mama Mia that caught Rohail Hayat’s attention and things began to roll ahead. “They were looking for backing vocalists, but I was in school and I couldn’t commit the hours. Zoe was already a part of the Studio, when I finally jumped the bandwagon. And I have stuck around since then, because it is so fun. Apart from the massive exposure I received, I got to work with so many talented people and got to explore my own creativity. Rohail Hayat really gave us the freedom to come up with our own parts, which I feel was great. And I kept coming back.”

Has life changed after Coke? “Yes it has,” she admits. “It has both negatives and positives. I have always kept myself at left of spotlight and I like it that way. I step out but I don’t make that effort to be centre-stage. I don’t even post on social media so much. But don’t get me wrong, I do love being the lead in the performance, but I try to be careful...” Her next words come after a moment of introspection: “Because there has also been much room for backlash channelled your way for some of the most bizarre reasons. Girls like Momina and Aima have become subject to scrutiny and unwanted attention so many times. It’s tough being in the limelight. I think I have been fortunate in a way to always achieve a neutral place in that regard.”

“But my greatest takeaway from this platform has been the exposure to eastern music. For someone like me who grew up listening to only westernised music, I have now performed songs in different local languages,” she declares.

The past two years have been big for Rachel, as it saw the songstress shifting paradigms by venturing into the realm of acting. As I question her about her newly-materialised acting avenues, she promptly corrects me by saying, “Acting has always been there in me. But yeah, 2017 was my first time experimenting with a commercial film.” Rachel made her big-picture acting debut with the role of Ujala in Parwaz Hai Junoon. Things are flying sky-high for her, as she bagged another role for an upcoming romantic-drama, Parey Hut Love, starring alongside co-stars Sheheryar, Maya and Zara Noor.

She spills the beans on her role, “I play a Parsee girl Tanaaz,” she begins. “She comes from a typical Parsee home and is deeply-rooted in her culture. She is sweet and quirky.” Rachel herself is well acquainted with the Parsee culture, courtesy of her Zoroastrian father.

Talking about her experience working with her Parey Hut Love co-stars, she continues, “The entire cast has been very supportive and we all were keen on celebrating even the simplest achievements on sets. Asim always had that communal celebrations and dinners going on, which allowed us all to bond and gel together as a team even better. We all are particularly excited about the end product that Parey Hut Love will bring out.” •