Who is Poova? Well, according to her, she is a “super soul rock star, who’s funky, cool, and energetic” and “a singer/songwriter and a rookie producer who does triathlons, and models part-time.”
You can add “Malaysia’s best new artiste” to that list as well. Poova won the award at the Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) 2014 ceremony in November last year, a category that included nominees such as Azmarul Azuan, Fakhrul Razi, Russell Curtis Project, and SonaOne.
Poova was also nominated for two other AIM awards (Best Female Vocals, and Best English Song).
For the lanky singer from Tanjung Karang, Selangor, winning Best New Artiste was totally unexpected.
“I was shocked! I didn’t expect to win anything. Being nominated alone was good enough for me, but winning Best New Artiste? I was jumping up and down like a little schoolgirl!” said Poova, who unfortunately could not accept the award personally as she was overseas performing at the Macau Jazz Festial at the time.
Winning the award is, so far, the peak of a five-year “educational journey” that has seen Poova go from performing in bars and pubs for as few as 10 people, to singing at the Hong Kong Asian Pop Music Festival last March in front of thousands of fans.
“Every year, AIM sends their Best New Artiste winner to perform at the festival. There were other singer/songwriters representing their respective countries – Thailand, South Korea, Japan, mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong,” she said.
Music has always been part of Poova’s life, having played the piano since she was seven years old. “I’ve always written songs when I was growing up, because it was always something I was very passionate about. It’s something that comes instinctively for me,” recalled the 35-year-old singer, whose real name is Poovanesvary Sri Rama.
All the same, she never really thought she’d actually become a career musician. “It just wasn’t something I thought of doing as a career, plus I didn’t really have a lot support from my family to do it full time either,” said Poova.
In the end, it took one bad day at work back in 2009 for her to finally decide to take the plunge. Coming home from her marketing job tired and frustrated, she sat down and wrote the song Slaves, which is about working and slaving for someone else. “I wanted to be liberated from that and to be this artiste I dreamt to be. Writing that song was quite empowering for me,” said Poova, who also credits her husband for encouraging her to follow her dreams.
“He told me, ‘look, this is what you want to do and this is what you are good at, so just go do it’,” she recalled. “He knows I’m not the kind of person who can be confined in a nine-to-five job. I needed to embrace what I am good at, which was music and writing songs. So a little push from him, and I was, ‘OK, let’s do this!’”
That was only the beginning of Poova’s journey. She started out by performing in pubs and clubs with her own little band consisting of a guitarist and a percussionist.
“It was quite a struggle, because there were a lot of late nights and smoky environments, and sometimes we’d only be playing for, like, 10 people. It could be quite discouraging,” she said.
“But I think I really needed to go through that, because I needed to perfect the skill of performing. I had to see what I was doing wrong, how to dress up and handle myself on stage. So it was a great education.”
At the same time, she kept on writing her own music, and soon began singing her own material, and as more and more people started to notice her, she began to get more corporate gigs.
Poova took a significant step forward in her journey to stardom with the release of her debut album, Ticket To Faketown, last year. According to her, the album basically tells the story of her “life, trials and tribulations as an artiste, a songwriter and a human being”.
“It’s a very honest album, as you can see from the album title!” she said, calling Ticket To Faketown a “soul, R&B/pop, with a funky, old school kind of feel”.
According to her, releasing the album gave her the confidence to call herself an artiste.
“I think I’m finally able to embrace the artiste in me. I’ve always been writing songs, but never had the confidence to really go out and perform my songs.”
Poova’s confidence must be sky-high now, especially after winning the AIM award.
However, she is not letting herself get carried away with that success. “Winning the award means I have an even bigger responsibility to produce good music now. I also have to be a bit more responsible, image-wise,” she said.
“There are many facets of me and my music, and I’m embracing them more now. In the past I used to care about what people thought of me if I do something different, but nowadays I’m a lot more open about it.”
Among the “many facets” of Poova is the one who used to front a part-time heavy metal band (and is still partial to singing a little Led Zeppelin at her shows), as well as the one who makes electronic music – not the EDM sort, but the more “ethereal and dreamy stuff” ala Radiohead’s King Of Limbs or Thom Yorke’s solo efforts (if you’re curious to hear what that side of her music sounds like, you can do so at soundcloud.com/poova).
She’s also developing another side of her by setting her sights on the Bahasa Malaysia music market.
“I’m curious to try out the Bahasa Malaysia music scene. I’ve just composed a Bahasa Malaysia song, and I’m working on recording it. I’m really excited about that!” she said, adding that she’s also written enough songs for a second album as well.
It certainly has been a whirlwind year for Poova, one that has finally seen her achive her goal of being an artiste.
“The nominations and award were the icing on the cake. It validated my efforts for the last few years, and said to me, ‘you are an artiste now and people know you exist!’” she said with a laugh.