By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Los Angeles-based musical duo MoAnanda have released a new single, an acoustic cover of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”
MoAnanda is composed of multi-instrumentalist/producer/songwriter Ananda Dhar-James and singer-songwriter Moana Avvenenti, who’re from Saint Martin and India, respectively.
They were inspired by the song’s sense of community conveyed in the lyrics, made even more relevant when Withers passed away in March 2020 in the midst of the widespread health/financial uncertainty brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. While they abandoned the song’s trademark bass, MoAnanda opted for a stripped-down version instead, to bring out its beautiful simplicity, yet still stay uplifting to listeners.
The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with the duo about their new single and more.
Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Moana Avvenenti – On the positive side, we’ve been able to make a lot of new music together. I still get session work to record from home and I was able to transfer some students to online lessons, but some couldn’t do virtual lessons and we haven’t been able to do any live shows.
Ananda Dhar-James – It’s been tough not being able to go to the studio or do any gigs, but fortunately, the music creation hasn’t diminished. We’ve actually been writing a lot more during this time and have managed to transition most of our projects into our home setup.
Music Bugle – How would you describe Los Angeles to someone who has never been there before?
Moana Avvenenti – Diverse. Each neighborhood is really its own city. I love that so many cultures are represented and that the top of multiple industries are here. I find it super inspiring to be surrounded by people who succeeded. It reminds you that it’s possible, but it’s also called the “boulevard of broken dreams” for a reason and it can be sad to see all the people who gave up on their goals. You can find anything here, good and bad. Being an island girl, I’m not particularly impressed by the beaches here, but I love that you can be in a forest, in a canyon, in the desert, or by the coast, all within an hour drive. If you visit, make sure to go to events and check out some art galleries. I would stay away from Hollywood, though.
Ananda Dhar-James – It’s a world of its own for sure, like a big melting pot of myriad cultures. One part of it is completely different from the rest, so you really have to see a lot to do justice to it. The connectivity between all the different landscapes is something which really defines it too. Though, be ready to be solely dependent on one mode of transport, since the city is pretty much only made for driving.
Music Bugle – How did you feel your cover of “Lean On Me” came out?
Moana Avvenenti – It was a cover challenge on a Facebook group of musicians, right after the passing of Bill Withers. We feel like the original song is perfect as it is, so it was intimidating to cover it, which is why we decided to do something completely different with it. We were hesitant to remove the “groove” because it’s so good, but at the same time, we felt like stripping the song down would really showcase how simply beautiful it is.
Music Bugle – To date, what has been your biggest memory as a musician?
Moana Avvenenti – Personally, it was being flown out to Abu Dhabi to sing for a month at the Yas Viceroy Hotel, which was hosting the Formula 1 Grand Prix. It was the most luxurious room I have ever seen and the Formula 1 tracks were right outside of my windows.
Ananda Dhar-James – I think playing on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean was truly a unique experience, something I would have never expected. It seemed surreal to wake up in a new country every morning and be able to play music in the middle of the ocean while watching the sunset.
Music Bugle – What was the craziest thing to happen to you while out on tour?
Moana Avvenenti – I got to hug a baby white tiger in Indonesia. Veronica was nine months old, but bigger than me. She started purring and stretched her back on the wall for me to keep petting her. Her caretaker let me stay longer for that. It was at a place that rescues endangered animals and puts them in a large park on a mountain, where they can roam freely and you can drive through, safari-style. They have the young in a nursery until they’re old enough. There’s one hour everyday where you can interact with them, right after they are fed, because they’re drowsy and non-agressive.
Ananda Dhar-James – Well, I remember watching the Stromboli Volcano erupt as we sailed past it in Sicily. We had been hearing about it happening in the news since we were sailing via Italy and Greece, but seeing it for yourself is something else.
Music Bugle – Does social media make it easier or harder for an artist to stand out these days?
Moana Avvenenti – It certainly is debatable. Growing up on a secluded island, it was expensive and quite complicated to get access to music. I love that I can now share my music with the whole world and that they can check it out for free. Some artists would argue that it shouldn’t be free, but I honestly find this model more fair for the consumers. Now, we just need the streaming platforms to start paying fair too and everybody will win. Social media is a great tool to reach people and make it easy for them to stay informed about an artist’s activity. It’s a lot of work to make it work, but it works. Especially in a time when we have to stay home!
Ananda Dhar-James – I think for a large part, it’s definitely bridged the gap between artists and the audience, making it easier for artists to reach out and share their music. It gives the artist more than just the one medium of music to engage with their audience, which is great. At the same time, it does place a lot of additional pressure on the artist to keep their social presence almost at level with their music, which I don’t think necessarily should be the case. For me, the music always comes first, everything else is to enhance it .
Music Bugle – What artists/bands are you listening to right now?
Moana Avvenenti – Phoebe Bridgers, Sigrid, Maggie Rogers and Norah Jones these days.
Ananda Dhar-James – Recently, it’s been a lot of Lianne La Havas, Beck, Brad Mehldau and Julia Jackson.
Music Bugle – What’s something people should know about you as a person, away from music?
Moana Avvenenti – “Should” is an intimidating word, but maybe that I grew up on a sailboat in the Caribbean and was therefore very far away from pop culture for a big chunk of my life, so a lot of common references – especially regarding movies – go right over my head. That, plus being super shy and a non-native English speaker, sometimes make me look snob, which is unfortunate.
Ananda Dhar-James – I don’t know about “should,” but I think something which people wouldn’t really know about me is that I actually did my Bachelor’s in Physics. Though, I should specify that during that time, I spent more time playing music than I did studying physics.
Music Bugle – What do you hope to still accomplish, musically speaking?
Ananda Dhar-James – We’d love to get some of our music placed in TV shows, ads and film for starters. Then, it would be amazing to be able to tour as a duo with our original music.
Music Bugle – What would you call your biggest source of motivation when it comes to writing?
Moana Avvenenti – As cheesy as it sounds, I’d say Ananda is my biggest motivation these days. He is such a hard worker and always asking me if I’m free to write.
Ananda Dhar-James – Don’t think this was planned, but I’d say Moana too! (Laughs) I think it’s a lot easier for me to write alone, whereas writing with someone else always challenges me at every step of the process, so being able to create something that Moana is able to relate to as well, is a big motivation.