“Sticking to morals and values we inculcated growing up has made the journey longer but more fruitful and worth my while. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing today,” she states.
She has captured everyone’s interest with her soulful voice and beautiful songs. Today, Shashaa Tirupati is a prominent name in the Indian music industry, a role model to upcoming singers, and an invaluable gem of the industry.
From Bollywood playback singing to giving her voice to almost 13 languages and releasing her own independent music, Shashaa has explored every single aspect of the music industry and continues to crave for more. Not to forget winning a National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer and other deserving honours. Her passion for music and singing is incredible and her extraordinary journey over the past years is a testament to it. Shashaa has accomplished a lot as a singer, and it’s just the beginning of her glorious career ahead. Music-lovers beware, the singing queen is going to rule your heart.
A career in singing was Shashaa’s destiny; she started singing at the tender age of two. “I began singing religious aartis with my mother during her morning prayers, my parents and family friends noticed that I sang quite in tune,” recalls the Indo-Canadian. At the age of six, she started singing live on BC’s local radio station, Rim Jhim, on a Friday night program called Aapki Pasand Aapki Zubaani. “The platform had me noticed in the Vancouver Mainland as the “prodigious” child singer. This popularity resulted in my first live show aged eight years with a local band called Rising Stars,” says Shashaa.
Realizing her talent and potential, Shashaa’s parents decided to focus on her musical education. She trained briefly under Devinder Hundal in Vancouver and went on to train under the Late Kamala Bose in Allahabad, India. To further her musical knowledge, Shashaa and her parents also relocated to India for six years. “There was plenty of back and forth between Canada and India and within both countries for concerts, education, competitions and television shows. I finally relocated to India around 2010 to make a career in singing,” adds the 31-year-old.
Shashaa made her Bollywood singing debut in 2010. During that time, she had grown quite active in the advertisement sector as a singer and voice-over artist. Music composer Tapas Relia, who was the first composer Shashaa recorded a jingle for, felt her voice was well suited for the title song of Bumm Bumm Bole, a film he was working on. “I recorded the female vocals for the song ‘Rang De’, alongside Clinton Cerejo and Keerthi Sagathia on male vocals. That was my first Bollywood break,” shares Shashaa, who has sung over 200 songs in various languages till date.
Though the established singer has had plenty of amazing opportunities to showcase her talent so far, the initial struggle was challenging and difficult none the less. Be it walking six to 10 km a day just to save some money for food; commuting by local train to save money; standing in the rain for hours with a broken umbrella, only to wait for one composer to listen to your audio CD; or going months without a job, Shashaa endured it all to reach her final goal – to become a singer and earn her achievement on her own accord. Yet, it has been a fulfilling experience. “Sticking to morals and values we inculcated growing up has made the journey longer but more fruitful and worth my while. I wouldn’t go back and change a thing today,” she states.
Shashaa feels that in terms of opportunity, the music industry has opened up tremendously in today’s time. “Meeting the right people is important,” the experienced artist remarks. I ask her if she has any favourites in terms of music genres and Shashaa mentions that she “enjoys singing Jazz Standards, Pop, Alternative and Singer-Songwriter style of songs, old Hindi and Punjabi classics, Sufi and folk songs, and Indian Classical.”
Delving deeper into her musical journey, Shashaa describes it as a tumultuous one, albeit enlightening. “There were a series of unsuccessful films I’d sung in for the initial couple of years as a Bollywood playback singer, followed by a period of three years of next to no singing, after being told I’ll never be a successful playback singer, wherein I’d changed track unto exploring music composition and arrangement,” she remembers. But she did not lose hope; Shashaa was gifted and her talent and hardwork were bound to shine soon.
Her re-entry into Bollywood was an opportunity given by none other than Indian music legend, A.R. Rahman. “AR Rahman Sir chose me to sing in the Deepika Padukone and Rajnikanth starrer Kochadaiiyaan after having performed with him on MTV Coke Studio,” explains Shashaa. She sang the song ‘Vaada Vaada’ which was an instant hit. From that point onwards, there was no turning back; Shashaa started working on multiple songs. “The ‘Humma’ song came shortly after that, which became the beginning of a string of blockbusters, including ‘Baarish’, ‘Phir Bhi Tumko Chaahunga’, and ‘Kanha’ for which I won the Star Screen Award,” she mentions.
What established her mark in the Indian music industry was the National Film Award she received in 2018 for Best Female Playback Singer for the Tamil song ‘Vaan Varuvaan’ from Kaatru Veliyidai. The National Film Awards is the most prominent film award ceremonies in India; the coveted Award is the highest rank of recognition a person can receive for his or her work, often termed as the Indian equivalent of the Grammy by many. “It’s inarguably one of the biggest honours of the country,” expresses the National award-winner, “And I feel blessed, grateful and honoured to be a recipient at the age I’m at, more so because it’s the product of the hard work, acceptance and faith of a lot of people, including AR Rahman Sir, my parents, my brothers and my fans, all of whom have in some form been a part of a greater vision and passion. It’s not just my achievement. Furthermore, I hold a tremendous responsibility to achieve beyond what I have. The National Award marks a beginning.” Besides the National Award, Shashaa has received the Asiavision Award for Best Female Singer National; Filmfare Award South and Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer; and IIFA Awards (Tamil) for Best Female Singer, among numerous others.
Shashaa is one of the few blessed singers who have had an opportunity to work with award-winning music director Rahman. The playback singer has nothing but praise for Rahman’s work. “He’s a visionary, an optimist, and a genius. He believes in his people, in his artists, in his God, and in his vision, which is what makes him unlike any other.” She states that he takes the risk to work around a novice. “He believes that they’ll be able to deliver. He pushed me beyond bounds, as he has hundreds of others.”
Shashaa feels a strong connect with him and reveals that “there’s an ingrained sense of morality in him that I relate to immensely because I come from a spiritual, God-fearing family background myself, wherein moral “karmic” values have been ingrained within us.” There’s a lot she has learnt from this internationally-known maestro. “Every recording with Sir has been like finding water in a desert: the kind of teachings that stem from every thought within every conversation before, during or after a recording have a relevance in our everyday lives. There’s much that I’ve imbibed from him that I apply daily. One such conversation being him telling me “If you don’t like yourself, how do you expect others to like you?” This came when I told him I don’t like hearing my own voice!”
This love for her mentor is evident; Shashaa has sung multiple songs for Rahman and worked on many of his projects. After ‘Vaada Vaada’ in Kochadaiiyaan, she sang ‘Aye Mr. Minor’ from Rahman’s musical, Kaaviyathalaivan which gained immediate recognition in the Tamil music industry. She sang three songs in the 2015 Mani Ratnam-Rahman film OK Kanmani. She sang backing vocals in ‘Laadli’ in his album RAUNAQ, alongside Rahman and Lata Mangeshkar. She toured extensively with Rahman for Encore Tour 2017, Infinite Love Tour, Rahmanishq Tour, T20 Opening Concert, Greatest Hits Concert at the O2, and NH7 Weekender, among others.
She was part of his Coke Studio Episode (Season 3) and has sung more than 30 songs (including languages) for Rahman. She sang the song ‘Singappenney’ with Rahman, which was also composed by him, from the film Bigil. The song features 11 women football players. “Singappenney is apparently the female anthem of the year. I feel incredibly honoured to be, in a way, representing women in this song, carrying a powerful message of the strength, valour, and honour of women. Being part of the video with Rahman Sir makes it all the more special,” says Shashaa.
Besides her soul-touching voice, Shashaa’s trademark is her passion for singing in different languages. “Singing in as many languages as I can is a goal. It pushes you to achieve beyond preconceptions,” says the musical genius. Shashaa always had an affinity for languages; she self-taught herself broken Farsi, Italian and German, and to read and write Urdu and Gurmukhi. She has sung songs in Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi, Arabic, Urdu/ Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Konkani, Gujarati, Sanskrit, English, Armenian, Assamese and others. “It’s incredible to see how open our country [India] is to accepting singers from outside their region. Some of my biggest hits are not in my mother tongue. I now sing in about 13 odd languages and I want to push that number to 130!” claims the multilingual artist. Some of her popular songs include ‘Vaan’, ‘Oday Oday’, ‘Un Kadhal Irundhal’, ‘Thaen Kaatru’, ‘Uyiraagi’ and ‘Kadhalaada’.
And what kind of music does she enjoy the most? “I love listening to a wide plethora of music, especially Jazz. Love bands and artists like Imogen Heap, Bon Iver, Novo Amor, The Japanese House, Rashid Khan Saab, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Saab, Bade Ghulam Ali Saab, AR Rahman Sir, Sigur Ros, Jason Mraz, John Mayer. Also Armenian, Turkish, Pakistani Folk and Arabic music,” Shashaa answers.
The global star has been fortunate to work on a wide plethora of songs/ genres/ styles: from hip hop to romantic ballads, to peppy numbers, lounge tracks, to semi-classical numbers. In terms of favourite experiences, Shashaa discloses that she loved performing at the prestigious O2 Arena in London with Rahman. “That’s definitely one of my most memorable musical experiences! Sharing stage with the Maestro himself, at a venue having witnessed artists like Coldplay, Whitney Houston, Adele and who not, I couldn’t feel more grateful.”
Beyond her successful career as a playback singer, Shashaa has also ventured into independent music and song-writing. Earliar this year in April, she released her first independent English single, ‘String of Air’ on her YouTube channel. The song delves on the concept of “letting things be and allowing yourself to soak in the moment.” Her second original composition titled ‘Oceans Rained’, a song of hope and pain and of finding something to hold on to when there seems to be no way out, recently released in August. Shashaa gains inspiration everywhere and through everyone. “No one is void of talent or artistry or something that is worth imbibing. We aren’t perfect and I keep my head and heart open to soaking in any information or mindset or sensibility that I feel betters me or my art. Growing up, Norah Jones, Rafi Sahab, Surinder Kaur ji, Nusrat Sahab and Rahman Sir have been primary influences,” explains the young songwriter, who plays the Kazoo (African instrument), western classical guitar, keyboards and harmonium. She is also a motivational speaker and has been a part of TED Talks Vancouver with Rahman.
She hopes to collaborate with talented artists such as Salim Sulaiman, Vishal Shekhar, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Ajay Atul, and many others. “Plus independent artists. I’d actually love to work with prospective Canadian producers and musicians/ multilingual artists/ directors/ screenwriters/ VFX artists. I’m very keen on exploring on any front under the sun!” Currently, she is working on more songs to be released on her channel soon and shooting videos for her independent music singles. Her future plans include, “To better the artist in me. To express more. To sing, write and compose more. To learn more and teach more.”
Photos: Raymond Kam, Jerin James, James Chen, courtesy of Shashaa Tirupati