Just call Karen David an all around entertainer. As an actress, musician and songwriter, Karen calls Canada home but spends most of her time in London working on her crafts.
At 17, she won a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College Of Music in Boston to study jazz and gospel, where she discovered her flair for songwriting. Karen was part of the original cast of Mamma Mia and worked with A R Rahman developing the material for Bombay Dreams.. Her reward was to be invited to perform some of the songs on stage on his highly acclaimed sell-out US and Canada tour. This was the start of a friendship that has led to Karen writing and recording with A R Rahman at his Panchathan Record Inn studios in Chennai, India.
Her acting career has maintained her profile as she took the time to develop her sound, with onscreen appearances in Batman Begins and Johnny Vaughn’s cult favorite, “Top Buzzer” on MTV UK & Europe and Channel 5. Most recent credits have included lead roles in Tamasha Arts stage production of Strictly Dandia, Steven Seagal’s new action flick, Flight of Fury and Kevin Macdonald’s short film, Eureka, for Shell Oil.
A role in the forthcoming, and hard-hitting, movie, “Provoked”, alongside the likes of Aishwarya Rai, Naveen Andrews, Miranda Richardson and Robbie Coltrane has brought her in to contact with major players in the Bollywood film industry and the soundtrack for the movie found her back in A R Rahman’s Chennai studio to write and record with him the powerful, ..Alive.., the theme song that captures the essence of the infamous story of the abused woman, Kiranjit Ahluwalia.
Karen’s latest EP, Alive is now available. She performed the song, Alive, with A R Rahman for the movie “Provoked”.
ASIANCE: Tell us a little more about your ethnic background?
Karen: I’m sort of a tossed salad. How long have you got? Haha!
I say that endearingly now. When you are growing up as a kid, it’s kind of difficult to explain that I’m a quarter this and a quarter that, and a bit of this and a bit of that. You just want to be one thing and fit in. As you get older you start to embrace your roots.
My mother is Chinese Indian. She’s from the Northern part of India where I’m born, Shilong. It’s one of the last matriarchal societies. My father is from South India.
It’s hard for acting, because I don’t look one way all the time. It’s got its good points and its bad points.
We have a certain look that is not essentially Indian. And there are a lot of Chinese people in the Northern part of India. I think we look more Tibetan, Burmese, that kind of look in between. But mixed with my dad’s side then we are talking other things.
I can play all kinds of parts. Which is great!
ASIANCE: How did you mother and father meet?
Karen: My father was traveling through India when he met my mother. He grew up in Calcutta, then Shilong. My mother’s father owned a Chinese restaurant in Shilong. My mother frequented the restaurant and that’s how they met.
I was only a year old when I emigrated to Toronto. Everything I know since I’m small is Canadian, which is why I want to go back to my roots and get sounds from there and mix it with my mainstream pop music.
I live in London full time. It’s a great commuter city. It’s a happy medium from Asia, to New York and Canada.
I love traveling and my music is about all my life experiences.
I love New York it’s like my second home.
ASIANCE: What was it like working with Aishwarya Rai on the acting side and AR Rahman on the music side?
Karen: Working with Aishwarya. This was an important role for Aishwarya to do. It was kind of important for her to do more experience in Western films, cross Western films in particular. This was a challenging movie for her. And obviously for me it was the first time meeting her and working alongside her, which was great. Besides Aishwarya, it was equally wonderful to work with Naveen Andrews, Miranda Richardson and Robbie Coltrane. It’s pure magic when they’re in action. It was a dream cast.
Video for Provoked with Karen David and AR Rahman
I’ve known Rahman for 7 years now. He discovered me when I was in the original cast of Mama Mia. It turned into a working relationship and friendship. We have written two other tracks on my album coming up next year. Writing with him is great because it’s like writing with one of your really good friends and it’s always an adventure because I have to work late nights recording. He’s a blast to work with. He’s funny and very down to earth.
ASIANCE: Tell us about your role in Provoked? We might miss you?
Karen: I’m wearing a flaming red wig. I played one of the Southall Black Sisters. It’s amazing how hair color can completely change your look. I was happy to play a real life character. Nadita Das, Robbie Coltrane, Rebecca Pidgeon and I went to the Southall Black Sisters office in London. We hung out with the ladies there and we got into the vibe of the atmosphere and we met the women who the characters were based on.
Mine was a very young political activist, who wore doc martens and flaming red hair. They help women of ethnic minority, particularly in domestic violence, abuse, you name it. They are a very important group and they do great things to help the needs of women. They get involved in legal cases. They have access to legal people. It’s a charity organization and it’s great.
ASIANCE: Did you meet Kiranjit?
Karen: I did. I met her a few times. The last time I saw her was at the premiere. Every time she sees the movie, it it’s a very emotional time for her, for obvious reasons. She lives in Qatar.
ASIANCE: You seem to be doing a lot. What are your goals? What do you want to accomplish within the next 10 years?
Karen: Well I never thought I would have a base in London. I’m working my butt off right now trying to get the album out. Keep writing, keep doing music and keep acting in really great films. Career wise is where my goals are.
I definitely want to have a family. That just sort of happens. Maybe in the next five years, for sure. Right now, I don’t really have time for it. I still have a few more things that I want to do.
ASIANCE: Do you have a boyfriend?
Karen: Yes. I do. We’re moving in together. My parents are coming from Canada to help me.
ASIANCE: What do you want to do more of music or acting?
Karen: Music is something that came to me naturally as a kid. Both are equally important. I couldn’t be about my music without acting and I couldn’t be about my acting without music. They both feed into each other. My acting feels like creativity when I’m writing songs. It’s a wonderful balancing act. Sometimes I have to turn down acting roles because music takes up a lot of my time. Of course it’s finding the right parts. I don’t want to take away my credibility as a recording artist.
ASIANCE: Who are your favorite actresses right now? Actors?
Karen: I can spend the whole evening. Audrey Hepburn.. I so much wanted to be like Grace Kelly. Obviously I’ll never be the natural blonde, blue eyes or the English beauty. They were my inspiration as a child which made me want to get into acting. Now I love Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Helen Mirren. Also, Miranda Richardson who was in Provoked,
I love Tom Hanks, Al Pacino and Robin Williams. I love the old movies, Humphrey Bogat, Gregory Peck, Rock Hudson. All those movies.
Karen: I started training classically. I like all kinds of music. Rob Wells, Bach, Schubert, Olivia Newton John, Cool and the Gang, Earth Wind and Fire. Donnie Osmond, Ronnie Osmond. It ranges. I love all kinds, Pop, Rock, Cold Play, P Diddy. You name it. I think you find inspiration in all kinds of music.
ASIANCE: What can you not live without?
Karen: My family. I can’t imagine what it is like to suffer from Alzheimer’s which you have no memories or things that you have built with your family and friends.
That’s why everyone is doing Soduku to exercise their brain..haha! If you lost your mind and memory, I think that is awful.
ASIANCE: Favorite place to travel.
Karen: I’m fascinated by India.
ASIANCE: Give 3 words to describe Aishwarya, AR and Naveen?
Karen: Aishwarya – “ Graceful, Beauty, Poise
Rahman – “ Unique, Super Talented, Super Humble
Naveen – “ Passionate, Great work ethic, Cheeky (Coy but smart ass in a lovely way)
For more information on Karen David, visit her at www.myspace.com/karendavid