Music has always been second nature to Pritt. When she was two years old, her mum — a drama and Tamil teacher — first spotted her natural ability to perform.
“She just put me on stage and was like, ‘You’ve got the ability to get a crowd to listen to you. So do it!’ And I was like, cool. I’m just two — but you know,” Pritt laughs.
2021 was a big year for the 23-year-old singer from south London. In January, she became the first Tamil artist on BBC Asian Network’s Future Sounds, offering her a new platform. This was followed up with the release of her third EP, a joint project called ‘Take 2’ with fellow British Tamil artist S.A.M in June.
Over the summer, Pritt began hosting her own fortnightly radio show on BBC Asian Network, and she’s been growing her events platform ‘A Collective Soul,’ with a string of live events to promote underrepresented creatives from all backgrounds. In September, she also featured on Canadian Tamil artist Shan Vincent De Paul’s debut album ‘Made in Jaffna,’ released by A.R. Rahman-founded the record label, Maajja.
“It’s just so mad,” she says. “I’ve actually sat here and deeped how much has happened in such a short amount of time. And it’s all been a snowball effect.”
Although Pritt first started taking music seriously around five years ago, it was only during the pandemic that she rethought her path and quit her job in retail to pursue it full-time. When she first started out, it took her a while to find her sound, which she describes as “Eastern meets Western with a sprinkle of Tamil here and there.”
“I had a huge identity crisis when I first started music,” she says. “I really wanted to be able to incorporate some part of who I am into my music, without it seeming forced, without me doing too much. I wanted it to be stylistically done.”
The answer eventually came in the form of Carnatic, or South Indian classical music derived from ancient Hindu traditions. The form places a distinct emphasis on vocals above instruments. Pritt had been training in Carnatic for years but had never considered using it in the context of her own musical career.
“When I worked on my first single, I was like, let me just do it as an ad-lib in the background and hopefully it works,” she says. “And then I did it and then the producer was like, ‘What did you just do? That sounds so lit, you need to do more of it!’ And I was like: ‘Oh my god, have I just found my sound?’”
Nowhere is that influence clearer than on Pritt’s latest release, ‘Unakkul Naane’ (Me Within You), a cover of a song from the 2007 film Pachaikili Muthucharam. It’s her first song entirely in Tamil, produced by long-time collaborator dilushselva, and was released in celebration of her parents’ 25th wedding anniversary in August.
“My dad, a couple of months before, he was like, ‘Yeah, I love that film, Pachaikili Muthucharam. I love that song… um, um…’ And he was just sat there trying to figure out what it was,” she says. “And I was like, Unakkul Naane?”
They re-watched the film together just to listen to the song, and Pritt was soon in the studio recording a cover, complete with another Carnatic ad-lib. Although she initially just played it in the car to her parents, she ended up sharing it with her fans, who can’t seem to get enough of her singing in Tamil. And it means a lot to her, too.
“I think when I start to incorporate the Tamil language into the actual work that I do, I feel a sense of pride,” Pritt says. “I feel so proud of myself and our community and us as people. And it makes me want to put us on a whole different pedestal. This is who I am. This is what I stand for.”
Pritt’s identity as an Eelam Tamil woman is very present in her 2020 EP ‘Transparency.’ In her song ‘Identity,’ Tamil lettering is front and center on the artwork, while the track itself features a Tamil voice-note from her mum telling her to come home this instant.
Interludes like ‘Amma’s Advice’ and ‘Appa’s Blessing,’ also largely in Tamil, highlight her parents’ influence on her, while the music video for ‘Top Boy’ opens with the title in Tamil letters.
Pritt’s desire for meaningful representation has been a driving force in her career so far, and there’s a real awareness that she’s carving a niche for herself as a British Tamil R&B artist, who’s breaking the mold diaspora artists often feel pressured to fit into.
“We’re so sick at what we do, we’ve got so many things behind our name, but there’s not a lot of representation or not a lot of people that genuinely want to see us win,” she says.
“I’m so tired of not being represented in the media, or just in life in general. Not a lot of people know what Tamil means. Putting us on the map is something that definitely motivates me to keep pushing out there.”
It wasn’t an easy road for Pritt though, especially at the beginning of her career when she didn’t have anyone who looked like her that she could look up to in the music industry. She said she tried to become a “female Tamil Ed Sheeran” for a while in a bid to fit in, and couldn’t find support within the Tamil community for what was still perceived as an unconventional career path.
“Being a Tamil woman, you have a lot of opinions around you that don’t really feel safe, and you don’t really feel appreciated,” she says. “And you kind of wish someone would’ve stuck up for you and been like, leave her alone, let her live her life.”
In her 2020 song ‘Identity,’ Pritt grappled with her frustration at being burdened by other people’s expectations. It came from a feeling many Tamil second-generation kids relate to: “I want to be rebellious, but I also care about what my parents think.” Now though, she says things have changed a bit.
“I think I’m able to be a bit more open with who I am,” she says. “And I don’t have to really hide behind certain topics that I can’t talk about.”
Finding a community of creatives with similar backgrounds and working with other Tamil musicians has also allowed this sense of belonging to flourish. And Pritt’s particularly excited about the female-led community she’s building with her events platform, ‘A Collective Soul,’— especially given how women continue to be objectified on the British Tamil music scene and beyond.
“Rewriting history and creating platforms where women are at the forefront is so important because we have very important stuff to say,” Pritt exclaimed. “And no one’s given us a space all this time. So if no one’s going to give it to you, might as well create it.”
Next year will involve plenty more rewriting history, with live events for underrepresented artists and visuals from Pritt — and maybe even a tour, as well as “really exciting” new music.
In Pritt’s words, it’s easy to see what’s most exciting is the fact that she’s truly made a space for herself that allows her to be unapologetically true to herself and her own sound. And that’s something she’s keen to pass on to others.
“I think for me, [you have to] persevere to be who you want to be,” she says. “Don’t let anyone talk you out of it because it’s just going to delay the process.”
When Pritt gets messages from up-and-coming artists or young Tamil girls who look up to her, she says it reminds her of how much things have changed since when she first started, and there weren’t many Tamil creatives on the scene — to now when there’s a whole community out there.
“It’s really nice,” she says. “I’m like, oh my god. I’m the big sister I never got!”
One thing’s for sure — that’s a big sister two-year-old Pritt would be very proud of.
Videography and BTS: Sparsh Ahuja (@photosparsh)
Production and set: Charlotte McGing (@charlottemcging)
Sound: Hashim Shamsi (@hashim.95)
Styling: Jahnavi Sharma (@jahnavixi)
Styling Assistant: Armani Syed (@armani_sy)
PR: Laura McCluskey (@lauramccluskeypr)
With special thanks to Dave and Sonia at LDC.