WORKING hard, having faith in yourself and incredible passion –these are qualities Nainita Desai believes aspiring music composers, especially women, will need if the want to make it in the industry.
It’s advice worth taking. Desai was recently named one of this year’s “Breakthrough Brits” by BAFTA. The award, which was launched with Burberry three years ago, celebrates emerging creative talents in the film and television industry, and award winners receive a year-long mentoring programme.
“I am shocked, humbled and honoured to be a BAFTA breakthrough honoree,” Desai told Eastern Eye.
“Being a woman – the only Asian female composer in Europe – makes me feel incredibly proud.”
The accolade is the latest in an already successful career that has seen the composer score music on major international productions, including The Confessions of Thomas Quick, and factual-based productions like the BAFTA-nominated The Day Kennedy Died.
Desai has also collaborated with some of the most prominent names in the music industry, including Peter Gabriel. She said: “I just love writing and being part of the storymaking process, and consider myself to be a storyteller.”
Born and raised in Balham, southwest London to Gujarati parents, it was Desai’s mother who played a big role in getting her into music.
“Mum loved music and introduced me to all sorts of different styles. And she was always packing me off to music classes – sitar lessons, violin, piano, even the church choir,” she said.
The family brought a turntable and Desai would go to the Harrods sale where she would buy an eclectic mix of records at just 50p, including works of major film composers like John Barry, who scored the music for 11 of the James Bond films.
She went on to pursue a degree in mathematics. Her big break came when she joined Gabriel’s world music record label, Real World, as an engineer assistant.
The combination of a degree in maths and an intuitive sense for making music meant that Desai flourished in this environment.
Other credits that have followed include working on the Hollywood production Little Buddha, and a first-of-its-kind, Bollywood-style documentary musical called Mumbai High, for the BBC last year.
But her path to success hasn’t been easy. First came pressure from her parents to choose a career that was more financially stable, and then from within an industry that is dominated by men.
“My parents are incredibly proud of me,” she said. “But they have often said I work too hard and ask when I will get a real job. But they have given up on that now!”
Desai also credits her long-term partner, whom she met while working with Gabriel who she has collaborated with for many years.
As well as taking part in the BAFTA mentoring programme, Desai is working on scores for a few documentaries, including one on the Syria refugee situation, and is finding her musical style taking a turn towards her Asian roots.
She said: “When I first started out, I didn’t want to be typecast and for people to think I could only write Indian-influenced music.
“So it’s only now, when I am more established, that I feel myself going to Indian sounds.”