She’s a Grammy-nominated singer with an enchanting voice that’s serenaded us with many a hit number. From ‘Tose Naina’ and ‘Khuda Jaane’ to ‘Bulleya’ and ‘Ghungroo’, Shilpa Rao takes us on a trip down her 15 years in the music industry
HELLO: Tell us about your 15 years in the industry.
Shilpa Rao: The journey has been quite fulfilling. I learnt music, but never planned to become a singer. Now that I look back, it was good that I got to focus on music without any expectations, learning the craft purely for the love of it. I consider myself fortunate to have worked with the most amazing people, who taught me to be disciplined, follow a work ethic and be a better human being. Hard work and consistency were key.
H: Noticed any changes in the Indian music scene in all these years?
SR: There have been a lot of changes over the years! There was an era of voices, experiments with genres, the EDM era, we now have a lot of remixes... But good music from each period made its way into people’s hearts.
H: Do you think the views a song receives take precedence over all other factors today?
SR: No, I don’t think so. The views a song receives may be great for a little while, but if no one listens to your songs 10-15 years down the line, then what’s the point of those views? The song should have some novelty and stay in people’s hearts. That’s the testament to a good song.
H: Any favourite composer or singer?
SR: Mehdi Hassan sahab is the best vocalist there is. I don’t think there’s any artiste like him who’s expressed so beautifully through music.
H: An actor you’d love to sing playback for.
SR: I’ve always said this: I’d love to sing for Tabu. I’ve wanted to sing for her for the longest time.
H: Do you think the focus is more on the actors, or the minds behind the music?
SR: he focus is always on the song. The track is more important than anything else associated with it. So I just focus on the song, and if it’s good, the rest fades away.
H: Tell us how you felt about your Grammy nomination with Anoushka Shankar last year.
SR: When we heard that our album made it to the Grammys, we all were ecstatic. The album was entirely a team effort. I really hope that it touched people’s emotions; that’s what we wanted. We are grateful to everyone who showed us so much love.
H: What comes first, the melody or the lyrics?
SR: Every song has an unwritten quality that you should be able to connect with. It could be the lyrics, the track, the tune, or it could be all of it. But you need to connect with it first. The rest comes easily.
H: Do you train your voice every day?
SR: I couldn’t emphasise any harder on the need for everyday riyaaz. It’s important to keep your voice sounding fresh, and daily practice is the only way to do that. There are singers who have sung their way into their 50s, 60s and 70s. Farida Khanum is singing today in her 90s! A feat like this is possible only with constant practice.
H: Film music or non-film projects?
SR: Music has no barriers, or labels. I love all kinds of music.
H: Your favourite among all your chartbusters.
SR: ‘Tose Naina Lage’ will always be close to my heart. It’s so beautifully written and composed, and the way people show so much love for it even today is overwhelming.
H: What’s the best compliment you’ve received so far? And a criticism that was hard to take?
SR: The expression on my father’s face can be the best compliment and also my worst criticism. This is because he’s that one person who knows me best. In terms of my music, he doesn’t say anything, but I can see exactly what he’s thinking on his face everytime I play.
H: The pioneers of Indian classical music in your view.
SR: Definitely Mehdi Hassan sahab and Rashid Khan sahab.
H: Has music commercialised in India?
SR: There was always a balance of both at all times. You’d hear commercial music, and then you’d hear people making pure classical or folk music. That’s the great thing about India and its music — the diversity.
H: Anything exciting lined up for 2022?
SR: There are a lot of collaborations in the independent space as well as great movie projects. I can’t wait for you to hear the tracks!
H: Your message to aspiring musicians.
SR: Learn and take formal training in any form of music that you love.
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s April 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!