Meet Tanvi Shah, the voice behind numerous memorable songs which have been a crucial part of cult hits like Yuva, Guru and Slumdog Millionaire to name a few, for which she went on to create history by bagging the Grammy and becoming the first Indian woman to have the coveted award in her list of achievements. Apart from creating magic in the Indian music scene, she is also quite a rage overseas. Bollyworm has had the privilege of having a one-on-one with her in which we spoke about her magical encounters with the healing power of music, her experience of working with Snoop Dogg, the road ahead and SO much more!
Read on to know the voice you’ve heard since time immortal, but know so little about
When did you realize that music was your calling?
It was in fact never what I imagined I will be doing. I was equipped with the basic skills of a musician, but that was about it. I think it all started to change when I finished the song Fanaa (Yuva), post which I thought that music is worth trying. I was always inclined towards being a designer, which is something I occupy myself with in my free time now. I keep juggling between interiors and jewelry designing.
Apart from your Indian discography, you have collaborated multiple time with artists overseas, and specifically with the Latin American ones. Is there anything in particular which draws you to Latin American music?
A calling from the past life, maybe? (Laughs) I think most of the credit goes to my Columbian roommate from the time when I was a student at the George Washington University. So what happens is, when you meet International students, more than a few conversations take place. You get to understand their culture via their festivals, you get a better understanding of their choice of food, their taste of music among other things. I started listening to their kind of music, which was completely off limits since we were just about to enter into the information age. I began to understand the universal nature of music. When I finally with music, instead of sticking to Bollywood music, I thought “Why not explore?”. Ultimately versatility is a virtue which all artists must have.
Back in 2013 during your TED Talk in San Francisco, you spoke about you personally witnessing the healing power of music. Can you elaborate a bit on that?
It was when I was performing in Delhi once upon a time. There was this very eager fan who was insisting on having a word with me. It was sometime around when I had recorded for a track in the Abhishek Bachchan-starrer Guru, which I happened to send to a few friends and consequently this fan supposedly got a hold of it. Upon his insistence, I was naturally taken aback. He then told me the story of his autistic cousin Dev, who had a hard time sleeping. As it happened, the song that I sent to just a few friends helped somehow found its way to Dev, who, whenever he listened to the song, managed to have a good night’s sleep. It in itself was a big award for me.
What other things do you think that music can heal?
The fact that music has the ability to bring people together is a kind of healing itself. When people attend music festivals, they are not concerned about the person’s background, caste, religion or anything of that sort, are they? One thing that they all love, which is music, unites them all. I think a musician should become president one day (Laughs) Apart from that, I think music has the ability to heal almost any illness or societal evil for that matter.
What kind of perception do artists overseas have about Indian music and do you think it’s changing?
Until a few years ago, the people outside India thought that Indian music is only about the Sitar and Bhangada (Laughs), but now things are changing very rapidly, that’s why you are seeing so many collaborations happening. In fact, they want to work with you from scratch, instead of simply picking up a readymade number. That’s how open they have become! The pace at which everything is changing is really amazing.
How was your experience of working with Snoop Dogg?
He is a very down to earth person, I tell you! And, the kind of mannerisms that he has on-screen is exactly the way he is off screen as well, which talks about how genuine of a character he is. They are also very hardworking and conversational. If someone new has come into the picture, they become really eager to know all about you in what little time they spend with you, to the extent that sometimes work gets hindered, which can be a good thing, at times! (Laughs)
Is there something that Indian artists can learn from overseas so that they could a better job here or vice-a-versa?
The things I will talk about will apply to both the industries. Such as punctuality. It would be great if both of them can handle that well, and also the same thing applies to the level of dedication, which is the situation everywhere, cause anywhere you go, there will be someone who will be dedicated and someone who will not be. As artists, many of them reach a point of complacency after they reach a summit. Instead, reaching a summit means that there are more expectations from you! So you have to keep testing your limits and attempt to out-do yourself almost every single time. Also, it would be great if sometimes the artists could talk for themselves instead of their managers talk for them, which is also something which applies to any artist.
What would be your word of advice to an aspiring Bollywood playback singer?
Sincerity. Dedication and Punctuality. Not only in this field but these apply anywhere. In the context of music, keep practicing! For the day you don’t, it will be the beginning of your end. Don’t bother about the end goal, but keep working towards it. Even if it’s late but you’re honest, you will make it!
Who are the top 3 on your dream list of collaborations?
Wow! I have way too many (Laughs). But the three people I would love to collaborate with are Pablo Alboran, Sean Paul and Busta Rhymes.