This singer overcame voice loss to become a holistic vocal mentor

11th May 2017
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Mathangi Jagdish focuses on wholesome vocal development and helps others to do the same through her platform Wholistic Vocalist.

With more than 450 playback titles to her credit, Mathangi Jagadish (popularly known as Ma. Ja.) is a playback singer, songwriter, Coke studio artiste, and vocal mentor. She has worked with stalwarts like A. R. Rahman, Harris Jayaraj, Ilayaraja, and others. Her music brings together her ease in multiple Indian languages and her training in Carnatic, Hindustani, and Western music. Her repertoire is replete with bass notes and crooning R&B. Her singing is effortlessly strong.

Mathangi’s musical journey has not been smooth. But, she considers herself lucky for the learning experience.

The end of Coke Studio

In 2011, Mathangi was part of Coke Studio, Season 1. Of the 14 concerts that were held towards the end of that year, she sang in seven. However, by the close of the last concert, she began to feel vocal discomfort. After being misdiagnosed initially, Mathangi found out that she has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD typically occurs when a backwash of stomach acid and, occasionally, food irritates the lining of the oesophagus. This means that GERD patients suffer from chronic indigestion and often have vomiting spells. Alongside that, there is regular, painful cough, and resultant vocal harm.

Mathangi recalls what a traumatic experience it was to lose her ability to sing. To speak about voice loss is a taboo among professional vocalists for the humiliation it bears and the pity it evokes. But, Mathangi did all she could to overcome her difficulties and do more.

An end and a beginning

She recalls, “I spoke about my condition because I was certain plenty of people face GERD but don’t talk about it. If I was going through something, it sure could be of help to others! And, I did extensive research on the disease.” That was the end of her singing career as she had known it and the beginning of one even more enriching.

Around 2013, she was also suffering from muscular problems in her left arm due to postural quirks and vitamin D3 deficiency. But, she continued to train in musical theatre and artist development. With so much going on, Mathangi needed to express herself more.

A holistic vocalist

She had always wanted to do something that would aid music. Sometime in 2015, she knew that it was about bringing together everything she has learned. Wholistic Vocalist was conceptualised in January 2017 and the first boot camp was conducted on January 29. She calls it ‘a platform’, not ‘a class’, where stories are shared. “The idea is to build it into a community of professional singers, aspiring singers, emerging artistes, students who want to do this later on, people returning to music after a break, people preparing for competitions or reality shows. Ideally, everyone can share their stories of inspiration with each other,” she says.

She understands that singing is not just about making music, it is also about physical and mental wellness. So, she shares insights about medical help, fitness advice, yoga lessons, voice coaching, nutrition, adequate rest, and much more in her camps. She believes in being a holistic mentor for those who want to tread their musical way.

Her own journey has made her an advocate of customised mentorship. There is no one-size-fits-all method for her as she finds that each person needs guidance that suits their individual state of life, aspiration, temperament, and health. The most important thing, however, is to nudge someone into seeking help when and where they need it.

I’m Feeling Good

Mathangi wishes to increase the community of health-aware singers and spread awareness for wholesome fitness. She recently delivered a talk at Dr Chandrasekhar Institute of Speech and Hearing in Bengaluru, and is collaborating with Sparrc Institute to conduct workshops on holistic vocal fitness. The first workshop was on World Voice Day (April 16) in Chennai. Her next workshops will be held on June 4 and 11 in Mumbai and Bengaluru, respectively.

Asked which song inspires her, pat comes the reply – “I’m Feeling Good by Nina Simone. In fact, I have been wanting to sing this song for a long time.”

She talks enthusiastically about freedom. The purpose of technique training is to allow an artiste to be free in her expression through her craft. The focus, then, is freedom of expression – the means and the ways to express. Mathangi’s quest is to expose many more singers and song lovers to this uninhibited joy of musical expression by showing them a way to bring together fitness and tune.

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