Q&A: Indian vocalist and doctor Janalynn Castelino breaking stereotypes

Janalynn Castelino

Janalynn Castelino, courtesy.

By Rebecca Somers

Rising Indian singer-songwriter Janalynn Castelino, who recently completed her academic training as a doctor, is living the best of both professions. The versatile multilingual singer—she covers Western pop, Latin pop, R&B, and Sufi-soul—has performed in English, Hindi, Urdu, Turkish, Arabic, Spanish, Marathi and Punjabi. Her original songs and covers, such as Sam Smith’s “Fire On Fire,” have been streamed millions of times. Her voice encompasses a blend of versatility and uniqueness blended with emotional depth.

As she continues to work toward her music career from her home in Mumbai, the 23-year-old has faced plenty of challenges along the way, including recording her debut EP while completing her studies to become a doctor.

“It takes a lot to sculpt an independent image breaking stereotypes but the virtue of being unique is heavily rewarded eventually,” she said in a recent email interview. Deep within you know what’s best for you, listen to that inner voice and work toward achieving your goals with uttermost dedication. Stay focused, stay humble and let nothing discourage or demotivate you.” 

RIFF: At 23, you’ve already qualified as a doctor and established yourself as a popular singer in India and the Middle East. How did it all start, and when did the occupational transition take place?

Janalynn Castelino: It’s the passion that’s to be credited. My life as a student had always been academically oriented starting right from Grade 1 up to Grade 10. I secured a score of 96.36 percent in Grade 10 and was the SSC topper [the secondary education testing system used in India] in the [region]. Similarly, music has been a part of my life since the age of 2. Right from humming at 2, singing at 3, practicing Latin hymns for the church choir, participating in musicals and school dramas to winning inter-school and [regional] singing competitions, the drive had always been there and there’s no transition as such that took place.

Starting a YouTube Channel took place after getting into medical college while dealing with anatomy, biochemistry and physiology. Right from uploading my first raw cover to YouTube (in second year) to having completed my final academic year in training as a doctor, this journey has been tedious but not challenging, being blessed with the most supportive parents and … friends. A lesser known fact is that during the course, I was being professionally trained in … tennis [until] the age of 16.

In India, where the music industry is dominated by Bollywood and playback singing, how did you emerge as an independent pop artist, and what challenges did you encounter?

Janalynn Castelino: “Playback” is something I’ve never desired nor will I ever look forward to. … I’ve been offered several opportunities in that sector in the past which I’ve humbly refused. I’d never want my songs to be solely remembered for being associated with a popular actor [or] actress who happened to groove to it just because it was part of a larger movie starring him [or] her, while I’m made to stay passive behind the scene.

Your video for “Binte Dil (Love Ballad Version)” hit the 22-million mark on YouTube. Did you ever imagine that it would be watched by as many people as it has?

Janalynn Castelino: I knew [it] possessed a certain degree of potential but couldn’t have comprehended the extent. Not just this particular song but the response to other covers on my YouTube Channel has been overwhelming. I remember hours after its release, I was notified … that the video had featured on YouTube’s Trending Charts. … The song was trending all over India, Lebanon, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Doha, Kuwait, Turkey and some other Middle-Eastern countries. As for me, it was an experience first of its kind.

What are some of the many challenges that you faced? Were there any breakdown moments so far?

Janalynn Castelino: Consistency has been a challenging factor. When you’re into such a distinct and academically oriented profession of medicine, being consistent in terms of uploads, releases, your interactions with fans can be thoroughly strenuous. Because singing is also a profession by itself and I had to do justice to two unrelated professions simultaneously. Time management posed another challenge. Despite all of that, I’ve been blessed to have the most generous and enthusiastic fans and fam. They’ve been my source of motivation and haven’t let me break down.

How has Indian music influenced your career?

Janalynn Castelino: Diversity and variation are the sacred elements governing Indian music. There’s a lot of cultural depth that influences music style and literature in India. Based on technicality, the theories are never-ending, if I had to enumerate them. My upcoming releases will essentially portray not just Indian music culture but display an essence of Latin roots as well.

What have you been up to during the pandemic?

Janalynn Castelino: I was engrossed with academics in addition to working toward the completion of my dream project. If it hadn’t been for COVID-19 and the associated restrictions, we’d be discussing works from my dream project.

I’ve heard you’re set to release your debut EP this year.

Janalynn Castelino: I’ve been working on new music throughout the pandemic and I’ve written many songs. If we are fortunate enough to have overseas traveling … reinstated, there’ll be a couple of releases scheduled for later this year. Nowadays, we have region-specific mutant strains of the virus coming into play and I dunno for how long it shall continue this way. Nevertheless, my team and I are working hard to share some exciting music from my dream project.