In this issue of Celtic Nations Magazine, we explore worldwide Celtic diaspora, which is why I found our featured musician both fascinating and apropos.
Archy J is The Snake Charmer. She is based in New Delhi, India, and her bagpipe videos are watched by millions. Her style is one of the most unique I’ve ever seen, and her presence is powerful and moving.
Archy has kindly granted us an interview, and I am longing to know more about this amazing artist.
Q: So Archy, when I see a dynamic woman playing the bagpipes, I assume that she comes from the US or Europe, basically some place that has a history of pipes. But you come from India, and I would love to know the connection. What is your story? How did you discover piping, and how did you come to love it?
Archy: This surprised you, right? I surprise a lot of people with my nationality and choice of instrument. I also never imagined myself playing an instrument. While growing up, I wanted to become a professional vocalist someday, cuz I began singing from the age of 6 – or earlier. I even had an Alt-Metal band back in 2010. It was my newfound interest towards Metal that probably gave hand to me eventually discovering the bagpipes.
I came across Eluveitie in 2011 and instantly became a fan, but what totally absorbed me was the use of bagpipes in a metal band. That was so new for me on so many different levels. I’d never even known about Celtic music until then, so you can imagine. The only form of bagpipes I had seen in my life was in yearly national parades, lol.
I later realised that this was not just a “fan moment”. I actually became obsessed on learning the bagpipes!!! I kept looking up information on the internet, and the more I learned the more I got confused because this instrument is so complex with so many elements factoring into its functionality.
I began researching a lot on how to start, what to learn on etc., and I made nice friends online who really helped me with my vague questions.
2012 is when I got my practice chanter and began learning. The first 2 years I learned on my own with the help of pen pals, a book, few videos (cuz on YT back then there were very few videos tutorials to follow). Then, when I had no more sources to learn from, in 2014 I took up a week-long course in Scotland’s National School of Piping. I went there to learn more, or rather nervously to find out if what I had learnt on my own was even right.
After coming back from a very interesting course, I could not put my mind to work on anything BUT to become good at playing.
With a lot of consultations with many bagpipers, and considering the music path I wanted to take and also considering the harsh weather conditions here, I made the decision to take up the semi electronic bagpipes. Since then, I have experimented with almost every genre of music on my instrument and I love the non-traditional part of playing the bagpipes that I get to display to people every day on my YouTube channel – The Snake Charmer.
Q: Are bagpipes part of Indian culture? All cultures have some type of reed instrument in their musical history, but bagpipes are not native to India. I was told that they were a hold-over from the British occupation. Is that correct, and if so are bagpipes popular in India?
Archy: Bagpipes aren’t really a part of our culture. In fact, there are less people who know about this instrument here. There is a whisky here called Bagpiper and that’s way more popular than the instrument itself, lol.
Having said that, there are some small parts of northern India like Uttarakhand where people use an Indian version of bagpipes called Mashak.
India had its own type of bagpipes before the British Invasion, called Mashak, Pungi and Titti, but those faded away after the British Invasion and what was left was an adaptation of the GHB, (Great Highland Bagpipe) in our army and in some CRPF bands where people still do play bagpipes.
Q: I saw your Final Countdown collaboration with Celtica Nova and Skiltron. Of course, Pereg ar Bagol introduced me to you and I was wondering if you still keep in close contact with other Metalhead pipers.
Archy: My quest for bagpipes was why I joined the Metalhead Bagpipers group and some more bagpipe related Facebook groups, and without a blink I can say, the sweetest people were on Metalhead Pipers. I made many friends including Pereg, Peter and a few more people who would always answer my silly questions and be very welcoming.
Q: Me, I love musicians who adapt historic instruments, such as bagpipes, to modern music. Do you have a favorite musical style you enjoy playing on the pipes? Do you have several?
Archy: So this was one of many other reasons I was so excited to start on the bagpipes. I wanted to play different kinds of music from different genres on the bagpipes that weren’t popularly done. As a musician, I have several favourites. I listen to many kinds of music. Celtic and electronic music are my favourites.
Q: I was just watching your Wellerman Bagpipes the sea shanty. You are so funny. The “Argh, Matey!” moment just cracked me up. Are you this funny, and perhaps sarcastic, in person?
Archy: Hah! Thank you, glad you liked it. I’m not a sarcastic person in life at all. I’m either too serious or funny in person.
Q: Your ‘command the world’ attitude really comes out when you perform. Is this a hidden side of your character that explodes on the scene when you play, or do you naturally make everyone look your way when you walk into a room?
Archy: I’m going to try to answer this as humbly as I can . I’ve always been a confident person. It’s not something that’s a hidden side of my character. That reflects on my videos (as you say) and also probably the reason why people take notice of me, when I walk into a room.
Q: I just LOVE Nageena. I love the traditional Indian look and sound brought to life with bagpipes. Did you write that song and/or the script for the video? Do you have creative collaborators?
Archy: Thank you! Nageena is my favourite song too. I’m biased perhaps because it is an original and it was a lot of hard work. The music was mainly written and produced by Karan Katiyar, who has been my Music Producer. He also has a successful band called Bloodywood. The script and concept of the story was worked on by both of us. I took care of the logistic side; like the location, palace, actors, costumes etc. with the help of my then assistant. What still amazes me is that we literally just had a crew of 4 people, including myself, to manage the shoot. I love the behind-the-scene work of my videos too, as I learn alot from each video. On this one, there was a lot to be arranged and managed, but I’m proud we did it all ourselves – even funded it – and it turned out well.
Q: Tell me about the Dragon Head! Are your pipes custom-made? Does the Dragon Head enhance the sound, or is it part of your amazing performance style.
(Yes, I’ve seen it in the Redpipes inventory, but I’m still curious) And I simply have to ask. Is it a girl dragon or a boy dragon, and does it have a name?
Archy: Yes, some parts of my pipes are custom made, like the chanter. The Dragon Head is now like an identity of The Snake Charmer. I love how bad-ass it is. It goes with the kind of music I do, with my personality, and people absolutely love it. If there is a video where I don’t put on the Dragon Head, I get so many comments expressing fans’ displeasure.
The Dragon Head is a male. I’m yet to name him (what a shame, I know!)
Q: Your presence reminds me of Lady Gaga. Do you have a nickname for your fans that way she does?
Archy: Wow, thank you… So although I’ve thought a lot of times for a nickname, I really can’t take one word out from my stage name – The Snake Charmer – and form something with it yet, hahaha.
Q: How did you gain such attention over the course of your career? What were the steps on your journey? After all, it’s not easy to have millions of people watching your videos. Where did you get your start? How did you find your performance niche? What helped you go viral?
Archy: It was many factors; the fact that the covers I was doing were fresh, for example. The 1st video which did get a lot of attention from many countries was my Thunderstruck cover, which I named Dubstruck. People took notice of it cuz it was not just a cover of Thunderstruck. It was played on a different instrument, and most importantly in an electronic dubstep version. That entire combination was fresh and new when I put out the video in 2015.
I also remember working very hard on trying to push my video and trying to market it in organic ways. I have been a strong believer that an artist needs to be more than artist in today’s time if you want to make it somewhere being independent. You need to know much more than just your art. So, taking my heart and my brains along, I would push each video of mine even if that meant I am up ‘til 4am. Maybe all these factors had a snowball effect towards the views.
Q: Alright, I admit that I am a complete novice to piping, so please forgive this question, but why do your pipes have one less drone? You have two larger drones rather than the 3 thinner drones. Can you explain your instrument choice for me, a bagpipe newbie?
Archy: There are several different kinds of bagpipes in the world, some experts even claim as many as 50+. Scotland is the most popular country to host bagpipes and their bagpipes are the most popular, i.e the Great Highland Bagpipes which has 3 drones. There are other bagpipes like medieval bagpipes in many parts of Europe which have 2 drones. Then there are some type of Spanish Gaitas like my other bagpipe, which has just 1 drone. These add to the sound of the bagpipes (in a layman lingo).
Q: Where do you see your career going from here? What do you hope for once COVID restrictions lift?
Archy: I aim to do much, much more. I want to make more music. Recently India has seen devastating results of the virus which hit a lot of my close circle. All of this affected my mental state as well, and only now am I slowly pulling myself out of that and bringing myself back to a routine and back to work and back to my creative space.
So, I plan to do some interesting original music which will have influences from my Indian roots. I want to sing in some of those originals too and show people this side of me (the singer, haha). I want to tour the U.S and Europe because so many of my fans are based there and I always get msgs that they want to see me live. I want to see all these amazing people who support me so much virtually in real life too, and perform for them with all my heart.
I aim to someday make one of my songs get on the Top 10 charts – a long shot but I know I could make it happen someday 🙂
Q: Do you support any schools or charities that you support? Many artists and musicians like to ‘pay it back’ to others, and I wanted to mention any special interests of yours.
Archy: I have a deep attachment to animals especially dogs, so I try to do what I can by donating things to a couple of Animal shelters nearby. Besides this, from time-to-time whenever there is a calamity or disaster in my country, I always try to do my part.
Q: OMG! Is that you singing on Hallelujah? What a set of pipes! (Yes, pun intended, but wow!)
Archy: Hahaha, thank you, and yes that’s all me. Like I said, I was mainly a vocalist even before I learned my bagpipes. I love to sing, my new songs shall have bits of me singing too!
Just spending a short amount of time watching your videos, I felt swept away. There’s magic to your presence, and I think anyone who watches your work comes away feeling as though they’ve just experienced something wonderful.
You are more than a snake charmer.
You are a soul charmer.
Thank you so much for this interview.
Erin Rado is the Editor of Celtic Nations Magazine. She is also the Celtic Artist, Ravensdaughter, who specializes in Celtic & Labyrinth meditation art. Her eclectic sense has inspired her to cultivate and collect “All Things Celtic”, which is the inspiration for Celtic Nations Magazine.
Weird is the new normal.