Soothing and transformative, Shilpa Rao’s voice can take listeners to another world, altogether. Almost fifteen songs old, Rao can deliver a peppy ‘Ishq Shaava’ to a soulful ‘Bulleya’, a folksy ‘Dhol Yaara Dhol’ to a psychedelic version of ‘Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo’.
Team Radio City caught up with the pensive singer for a quick chat.
What is the status on the new Punjabi single, you have planned?
Shilpa: It’s actually an EP which I’m working upon. It’s mostly my influences as a traveler to every place that I’ve been and I’ve tried to incorporate all my experiences and collaborations with musicians around. I’ve chosen Punjabi as a language because it is a language that I can really connect with. I find it poetic and easily very hummable. If you listen to older Punjabi folk songs, they were really epic.
How important a role do your feel does travel play in enhancing your musical aesthetes?
Shilpa: After a point, your influences as an artist are drawn from everything else around you than just your area of expertise. So for me, when I’m trying to write or compose a song, anything can inspire me. It could be a piece of architecture, a dance form, a film or food. I think every art form is inter-related. Travel is unique because once you’re travelling, all your senses are at work. You’re seeing, smelling and feeling new things, so it all builds you as a human being. Travel stimulates you like nothing else.
Recently critic Anupama Chopra held a panel discussion with your peers Neha Bhasin, Aditi Singh Sharma, Jonita Gandhi and Neeti Mohan where the mutual opinion was that female singers do not get enough time space as compared to their male counterparts in a song. Your take.
Shilpa: It’s true and it is a fact. It is something which my father pointed out to me when I got my first song, ‘Tose Naina’. He said, ‘Beta you have only six lines’. I said it’s okay. But then, there’s another way of looking at it. How do you make it count? Do those four lines make listeners fast-forward to that particular part of the song? That is accountancy. But yes, I’d love to listen to more female vocalists. All these mentioned names have lovely voices. I’m a huge fan of Neha’s (Bhasin) voice. She’s got a beautiful texture and a way of rendition. She’s really fresh. It’s all about ecological balance. Films are more male-oriented as opposed to having a female lead. Even if there is a female lead, there is a background score rendered by a male voice. Change happens with time but I hope we get there sooner.
While growing up, we believe, a lot of your musical learnings had strong influences from Sufi. But in your discography so far, you’ve sung three or four songs which have inspirations from Sufi. Do you feel that Sufi has not been explored well enough in contemporary Bollywood music?
Shilpa: First of all, the definition of Sufi is wrong in many ways. Sufi is not a form of music or writing. It is a way of life actually. You live for people, there are life lessons. If you pick up writings by Amir Khusro or Hazrat Nizamuddin, they talk about love and affection for people around you. How can you better yourself as human beings. Sufism is not about putting words like Allah or Maula in a song. It exists everywhere. We just keep looking for it in the wrong places. Bollywood may not necessarily look at it that way but they’ve tried inculcating these influences in a particular way. Like if you see ‘Kun Faya Kun’ in ‘Rockstar’, Imtiaz ensured that Sufi was projected as per the situation. You cannot force-fit Sufi anywhere. It emerges when it has to.
How do you think can singers and musicians contribute in reclaiming lost glory for Indian classical music in these times of recreations and remixes?
Shilpa: Again, you have two sides to the debate. The new age feel that there are good versions of songs out there. But the purists don’t like it. But then when you have to connect with the current scene, you have to make changes. You’ll have to be a little gutsy about it. But yes, preserving classics is important and it is the responsibility of the artistes to do it in every way.
Kailash Kher is nurturing two independent bands under his tutelage. Do you have similar plans as well?
Shilpa: I would love to sit some musicians down and help them. If interested, please get in touch with me on social media. Just a one-word message and we can probably exchange notes.
You’ve collaborated with A.R Rahman, Amit Trivedi and Pritam. One thing about each of them that nobody knows.
Shilpa: Rahman is aware of the work that you’ve done. People often think he’s in his own world but he is very much aware of everything happening around him. He’s much updated as an artist and fellow musician. Amit, when spotted with friends, is a giggle head. He comes across as a very quiet person but he is not. Pritam and I usually talk about fantasy films whether it’s ‘The Hobbit’ or ‘Harry Potter’. He is an avid reader and quite an educated guy. When we sit to work, we don’t talk about films.
Songs you’ve sung that you enjoyed working the most on?
Shilpa: I’ve loved every song that I’ve worked on. I’ve just loved the experience of working with these musicians on all recordings. It’s a learning experience. You figure so much about yourself that you were not aware of. That way, I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve never sung something just for the heck of it.