Beyond Kavaalaa...

Singer Shilpa Rao opens up about her musical career, influences, the reason behind her ever-young voice, singing in languages other than the ones she speaks and lots more.
Singer Shilpa Rao (Photo | EPS)
Singer Shilpa Rao (Photo | EPS)

KOCHI: From delivering hits like Besharam Rang in Pathaan and Saanjha in Zara Hatke Zara Bachke to Kaavaalaa in Jailer and Hayyoda in Jawan — Shilpa Rao has clearly been ruling 2023 and how! And why won’t she be? Unlike many other singers, her voice never tries to impress — it is beautiful in itself.
Much has been talked about her career in Bollywood but now that she has become a sensation in the South as well — we sat down with her to learn more about the lesser-known aspects of her life as a musician. She talks to us about her musical influences, the reason behind her ever-young voice, singing in languages other than the ones she speaks and lots more.

What stands out the most in your work this year is how many of them have been in collaboration with Anirudh. Can you recall your first meeting with him?
I have wanted to work with Anirudh for a long time and I must thank SRK for making it happen. My first song with him was Hayyoda because Shah Rukh Khan had asked me to sing it. I met Anirudh in Chennai in March — he was very chill and focused. He prefers working in the same room as the artiste, something that I believe in as well. Hayyoda was recorded in just 20 minutes and it was a fun jam session.

What are the challenges and rewards of singing in languages that you do not speak?
Challenges are minimised when you have someone to help with pronunciation and expression in the language. In the case of Tamil, I had assistance with pronunciation, making the recording really enjoyable.

What was your early musical training and how did it contribute to your versatility?
I believe that being open-minded and listening to different genres of music is crucial for versatility. My training in different forms of music, including classical and folk, has expanded my vocabulary as a singer. Continuously exploring and listening to new music is what keeps me going.

Who are some of the musicians you consider your influences?
I grew up listening to legends like Begum Akhtar, Farida Khanum, Mehdi Hassan Sahab, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Prabha Atre, Ustad Amir Khan and Ustad Sultan Khan. All of them have been constant influences on me.

Your voice sounds as fresh as ever. What is the reason behind it?
Rest is essential for vocal health. Proper sleep is a miracle for anyone’s vocals. You need to take adequate rest and care for your voice, especially during travel. Riyaz is also crucial to keep your voice in good shape. I used my ghazal training in Besharam Rang. If you listen closely, you will find ghazal techniques that add depth to the song.

Your rendition of Paar Channa De in Coke Studio Pakistan continues to receive love even after so many years. How did it come through and what was your experience of performing it?
Collaborations are very close to my heart. I love to work on new music with different artistes. It’s fun to kind of work on the song with another artiste — it just gives you so much. It’s like two hearts are better than one — two different perspectives are incorporated into one song and when there are three collaborators like it was in this song  — that’s even better. I hope I can keep doing the same.
I am very grateful that I got an opportunity to be part of Coke Studio Pakistan through a musician friend who works there. I am very grateful for this and even more grateful for the love I receive every single day from my fans.

What can we expect from you next?
I’m excited about collaborating with Sachin-Jigar. There are also a couple of projects with Vishal-Shekhar that I think everyone will enjoy.

Your favourite raga?
Yaman raag is my favourite. It’s the first raag we are taught. It’s incredibly beautiful and versatile.

Your favourite song?
Gulon Mein Rang Bhare

Your favourite singer?
Mehdi Hasan Saheb

Your favourite musical genre?
Ghazal

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