‘We’ve now gone past the point of no return,’ says multi-hyphenate Bishi as she stresses that denying issues about representation and equality in music is no longer an option. Of Bengali heritage and born in London, a large part of the dynamic performer’s career has been dedicated to advocating for inclusivity in the music industry and the gender equality of women in tech.
Speaking about where issues in inclusivity stand at the moment, Bishi explains, ‘Due to movements like Black Lives Matter, I think a really huge message has gone out to the world that you cannot afford to not be inclusive anymore. You have to be inclusive. You have to think about your line-ups. You have to think about inclusivity and visibility.’
For this to happen, she adds, there is a need to consider not only who is front and centre but those who are behind the scenes, those in decision-making positions with the power to effect change.
Bishi is a multi-instrumentalist influenced by and trained in both Hindustani and Western Classical styles and has spent time and effort reshaping her own career to fit the new pandemic-influenced digitalisation of music. She explains that online resources are a great starting point to bring about this change. ‘There's been the rise of the online directory. There's been multiple Facebook groups and online communities. There are entire digital festivals. All of these facilitate spaces for people to learn, spaces for them to share information and feel safe.’
Always ready to act on her beliefs, Bishi is the founder and artistic director of WITCiH: The Women in Technology Creative Industries Hub, an inclusive platform aimed at elevating the voices of Womxn in Tech.
The singer and producer, who launched a podcast Creative Women in Tech in May 2020, describes some of activities that she has completed in her pursuit of inclusivity and visibility. She tells me, ‘I've hosted sessions for Saffron Records at the National Portrait Gallery and for the Peabody Essex Museum based in Boston who have the largest South Asian collection of Salvation Contemporary Art.’
Praising the efforts of many others walking the same path towards diversity in music as herself, she explains ‘there’s this South Asian film composer in LA called Shruti Kumar who started a project called Sound Travels with the idea to help musicians facilitate their practice so they can take on session work and other things online. There’s also a brilliant artist called Self-Esteem; she and a friend of hers posted an online fundraiser for a women's shelter. She managed to raise about £9,000 over the course of the weekend. I think there’s been a real explosion of people with the same goals coming together.’
'I’ve realised that inclusivity is about calling people in rather than calling people out.'
Bishi believes that nothing can replace the creative connection that comes from making music together in person, but online spaces have proven to be a place where representation can develop organically. ‘Online communities such as Women In CTRL focus on the industry side rather than the artist side while online directories like The F-List are trying to have conversations in a way that I've never experienced before. I think musicians and artists have got very inventive. People have started to pull together and realise how much they need each other.’
In an industry where the lack of South Asian and female representation can feel like an unmoving needle, Bishi admits that it’s hard to know whether any of these movements are actual step ups or simply talk to fit in with current trends. However, she’s proud to say that she knows that she has been making a difference with everything she’s been doing since late 2016.
‘I’m really fascinated by how people experience music, their relationship to technology and how they are manifesting ideas to carry themselves forward’, she explains of the podcast. ‘On the latest episode, I interviewed a really incredible woman call Adler Paris delving into her journey through her experience of technology.’
She adds, ‘I'm trying to build it as a bigger platform so that more people would come on board and we can reach other people. I want to make an impact through the things that interest me like the stories of women and how they are achieving what they achieved through music and technology.’
Harking back to the past for a second, Bishi discusses a point from a conversation in 2019 where she had said, ‘I find myself getting invited to all these different events and I’m usually the only South Asian woman there. That needs to change.’ Questioned on whether things have improved since, she says, ‘Before, I think I was having a conversation with people who either didn’t want to hear the conversation or who weren’t ready to have it. Now more people are having that conversation and I’ve realised that inclusivity is about calling people in rather than calling people out.’
'We need to be welcomed in as a part of mainstream culture and for people to invest in us like other industries have begun to invest in women.'
‘You have to really think about how you're critiquing things. I'm trying to let people know it's more from the point of advocacy rather than activism’, Bishi tells me when I ask what advice she has to align with #ChooseToChallenge. ‘I don't think that starting too many fights is really going to do a lot of good.’
She adds, ‘The most effective thing that you can do is to be creative and to organise yourself within a space where people can join in to share skills and knowledge. Real power doesn’t come from screaming something at the top of your voice, it comes from people getting together and building a community which encourages visibility and conversations.’
These communities prevent South Asian women from being pushed into corners. With hopes that in a post-pandemic world, inclusivity and accessibility will no longer be seen as risks, Bishi says with an air of certainty, ‘We need to be welcomed in as a part of mainstream culture and for people to invest in us like other industries have begun to invest in women like Priyanka Chopra, Madame Gandhi or Mindy Kaling. It's shown that it can pay dividends.’