+ By Desiree Smith-Daughety + Photos by Gregg Patrick Boersma
Parijita Bastola is a 17-year-old singer in her senior year at Severna Park High School. Senior years lean toward the eventful, full of hope and promise for the future. But Bastola’s experience this senior year will stay with her a lifetime, because it involved season 22 of NBC’s television show The Voice, being coached by musician John Legend (whom she selected after all four of the show’s coaches vied for her), and reaching the top eight of the contestants. Her poise and robustly developed voice, which belie her 17 years, made her a fan favorite, as evidenced by her ranking in the competition.
Fresh off the heady experience, she now looks ahead to graduation and what comes next. “I don’t think a gap year could hurt anyone,” she says. Obtaining a college education and becoming a college graduate are very important to both her and her family. She has applied to Berklee College of Music in Boston, which included an audition for entrance. But another type of application has presented itself; due to her success on The Voice, she has caught the eye of show business people who have asked her to do some movie auditions. “I like options in life,” says Bastola. “You can pursue what you want, but you don’t know what will work out. All the choices I’ve made for myself are all enjoyable to me, and I’d get something good out of anything I do.”
Singing and writing share space in her heart. Her favorite subject in school is English, and she admits that she has kept a journal, scribbling her heart out, since she was five years old. Bastola says that before getting into singing, she was always a writer and would enter countywide contests for young writers, her mother always encouraging her to do whatever she loved doing while at home and to share her work with others. “I was very in touch with what I was feeling since a young age, and I felt very deeply. My mother would worry, because I was a very emotional child and loved to write about it,” she says. A turning point came when she was about 12 years old, when she attended a summer camp at Berklee College of Music. A teacher was discussing how songwriting was like poetry, and something clicked for Bastola. “It was weird that everything I’d written could be a song,” she says. “If I moved around a few words, I had a song.”
Bastola’s family has been a force of strength, support, love, and guidance, and she credits her parents with giving her the courage to go out and try things, such as performing before audiences. They’d show their interest by asking what she was working on and ask her to show them. “It was a beautiful balance of allowing me to fall in love with music on my own,” she says. She points out the common story of a parent’s dream that’s planted on the child, so that while they love it, it was also forced. She never felt forced but rather very in control of what she wanted to do. She believes that her parents, who emigrated from Nepal to the United States before she was born, share common ideals with other immigrants, the first being to create stability and be able to support themselves, which she believes any parent would want for their children. But her mother has also told her to do what she loves and that the money will follow.
When she was younger, Bastola was surrounded by an Indian-Nepali community in Baltimore County before the family moved to Severna Park. Her father had started an entertainment company and would bring performers from Nepal over to the United States to tour. The live music that she experienced sparked in her the desire to perform. Her first performance before a big audience was for a dance, when she was four years old, for the Baltimore Association of Nepalese in America. “I don’t remember much, but my mom remembered I came home and I was crying,” she says. “I was overwhelmed, but it was a good feeling, which I now understand. While on the show [The Voice], I would come off stage crying because I felt that’s where I want to be. I was so comfortable, so happy—it’s a rousing, beautiful feeling, and I think I felt that from a young age.”
She continued singing at home and participating in shows with the Nepalese community. In middle school and high school, she joined chorus, an a cappella group, music theater—anything that was music related. She credits a former Severna Park High School music teacher, Michael Brisentine, for inspiring her, referring to him as one of the best humans she knows. She recounts that not only was he talented, with a great ear for music, but also he was a kind person who respected his students and their voices and changed all of his students’ lives.
Bastola also credits her mother and father’s parenting style for inspiring her. “They built this . . . ethic of working hard, a very common theme with immigrant parents,” she says. “It’s something I adopted from a young age. . . . I feel that, now, my dream can be reality because of how hard they’ve worked and I’ve worked.” She has watched the results of her ability to continue growing as a singer, which inspires her to continue putting in such great effort.
There’s also the joy of achieving a platform, through her work on the show, to showcase her family’s Nepali culture and community as well as all the love and support she received from a young age that gave her the confidence and feeling of being heard and listened to. It provides her the ability to talk about social issues that she cares about, such as racial justice, human rights, and immigration. “It really excites me to see in so many movies and shows, like [Netflix’s] Bridgerton, this brown representation, and when people tell me that they felt seen and represented, or something like ‘my daughter won’t stop talking about you,’ it makes me very emotional,” she says.
Bastola is also excited about next steps, what she’ll do with her life, and where to go from here. Right now, she’s formulating a vision of the types of music and songs that she wants to perform. Her favorite music genres are R & B and soul. “I think that a lot of older people can embody [those genres] stronger than I can,” she says, indicating that she has more of a pop sound than most R & B or soul singers. She wants to take things that are classic and transcend multiple genres in a way that will resonate with different people.
“I’m so lucky to be in a community and a school where I really am supported and feel everyone’s really behind me,” she says. “Whether it’s Severna Park, Annapolis, Baltimore—our local areas would support me in what I do, and it’s a very nice feeling.” █
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