She calls herself the ‘Snake Charmer’, but there is more to Archy J, India’s first woman professional bagpipe, who is shattering stereotypes that people in the West hold of India.
Archy shares that even in 2020, it is surprising to see how people in the West stereotypes India with cows and call it the land of snake charmers. She says, this is exactly why she adopted ‘The Snake Charmer’ as her artist name when she made her first bagpipes cover video of Thunderstruck by Australian rock band AC/DC, which went viral in 2015.
Better known and heard of in Europe and the US than in India, the Delhi girl chased the sound of an instrument that interested her to a world glory. With a massive overseas fan following, the independent artist was also featured widely on various media platforms in the West, including a radio interview with BBC.
“While people still perceived India as the land of snake charmers and attached other stereotypes, I started putting videos of playing bagpipes and mixing it with modern music. Each video had the audience surprised and every new content broke more stereotypes," she says, who has now gained over 4.7 lakh subscribers on YouTube, and about 2.50 lakh followers on Facebook.
In 2018, Archy received the prestigious First Ladies Award by President of India, among hundred other women who were firsts in different fields, including the likes of boxer Mary Kom and actor Aishwarya Rai.
The Modern Bagpiper
At this rate of traction, what would a page featuring bagpipe talent look like? Archy’s YouTube channel features an array cover by western artist and bands like Ed Shereen, The Chainsmokers, and theme songs of popular movies and series including the Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and The Godfather, among others.
Archy is now working on few original compositions, starting with Nageena (Enchantress of the Deserts), which was released in April 2019.
Recently, in December 2019, she released another original music single called Aasman Se, where she sings and bagpipes as well. It is the first time she has combined both in one song. While the song speaks about her as a person and what drives her, Archy shares that it proved to be a very complex format.
“I had never experimented playing the bagpipes and singing together, especially in an original song, because bagpipes are not like keyboards or guitars, which are meant to go with vocals in the background. It is a forefront instrument,” she says, adding that she had to ensure enough space to fit vocals and then to understand what kind of vocals will go with the upbeat bagpipe track.
Interestingly, both her originals are a fusion of the different cultures. Asman Se is an upbeat Scottish music with a hint of dhol, a Punjabi musical instrument, while Nageena has a rich influence of Persian music. The song is a retelling of a historical story set in 1100 when a prince of Persia comes to find out about Nageena and her magical power when she bagpipes.
She credits Karan Katiyar for directing, producing, and giving an edge to most of her videos on low budget.
The audio version of her music, both covers and originals, are available on music streaming platform Spotify.
In 2019, her music was streamed 1.2 million times by more than 162 thousand listeners across 79 countries.
Growing up, Archy started out as the vocalist of an amateur band. She used to see bagpipes in parades and liked the sound of it, but that was it.
However, things changed in the beginning of 2012. She saw a completely different and artistic side to bagpipe when she chanced upon a YouTube video where a Swiss folk metal band played bagpipes.
Soon, she started doing research about the instrument, about how it is played, and where she can learn it in India. “There was no institute to teach bagpipes. I sent emails to bagpipers around the world, asking if they can help me. Sean Folsom replied and helped me a lot in the beginning, guiding me on which books to refer to,” Archy recalls.
A Mass Communications graduate from the Asian School of Media Studies in Noida, Archy was working with a US-based company then.
Despite having no experience of playing a single instrument of any kind, she started learning the instrument by referring to guide books and online tutorials for two years.
Once she was familiar with the basics, Archy bought her first bagpipe and went to Glasgow for a week in 2014.
“I went there to understand whether whatever I have learnt in the past two years is correct or not, and to brush up my skills and understand new ones,” she recollects, adding that a week there eventually became a tipping point.
She returned to India but only to quit her job. “I don’t want to spend another day working for anything else than making myself a bagpipe player,” she told herself then.
Archy uploaded a cover song of Thunderstruck by AC/DC, which went viral, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, her friends message to say that her songs are being played in certain parks and parties. People across the world reach out to her saying that her song helped them get through depression and to open up about the death of their near ones. Some even request her if she can play for their funerals.
While Archy believes there is a long way to go, she says, all that she pulled off then feels good about what she is doing now.