Shashaa Tirupati’s Wikipedia page describes her as a playback singer, songwriter, music producer/arranger, motivational speaker, theatre actor and voice over artist. She wears multiple hats and wears them well. I first noticed her voice in a song titled ‘Abhi Abhi’ from the 2011 release ‘Jo Hum Chahein’. She had a small part in that song but she left a mark. She is not somebody who tasted success overnight. She went through her share of struggle and slowly hit songs, popularity and a National Award came along. In this exclusive interview Shashaa talks about her journey as an artiste, working with A.R. Rahman, acting gig, the joy of winning the National Award and more.
A lot of people have recorded/shot songs during this lockdown period and have released them. However, ‘Leprechaun Love’ is very different from anything we have heard in the recent past. Apart from singing it, you have also written and composed the song. How did the basic thought come to you?
I take this as a tremendous compliment! Anything I release independently is, simply put, an honest confession. I do not create content with the intent of going viral from the get go per se. If it does, I could not be happier, particularly because I would like my music and message to reach as many people as possible. The intention, though, is to create honest and relatable music. ‘Leprechaun Love’ is exactly that. It has got the vibe of unpredictability and quirk, very much the fabric I am made up of as a person. It speaks of believing in fairy tales, chasing the unattainable and holding on to figments of imagination. I have tried to drive across the point that we must do everything in life for the sake of joy, as short-lived as it may be. My friend Marc D Muse marvellously produced the track with exactly this brief in mind.
Why did you choose to record and release an English single? Why not any other language?
Being Canadian and raised in Vancouver, English is my first language. I converse with myself in English and I suppose I am more expressive in my mother tongue. Having said that, I have composed and written several songs in Hindi. Some of those songs have been released and some are yet to come out. ‘Beparwahi’ and ‘Hum Kahaan Hain’ were two previous Hindi independent originals which I had released. I have collaborated with Papon on a single called ‘Kora Dil’ which will come out soon. My last released single ‘Yezhundhu Vaa’ was a collaboration with Chinmayi Sripada in Tamizh. Its Hindi version will be out soon. So, I am not biased towards any particular language (laughs). I just go with the language in which I am ‘feeling’ in that particular moment.
The first independent single you released was ‘String Of Air’. Since, then you have released a few more. Do you think the digital boom has enabled musicians to create content they believe in, without thinking about commercial viability and other factors?
Absolutely! I have been discovering artists by the dozen, and marvellous ones, probably due to this accessibility. There are multiple digital distributors and mostly, a simple music submission process that allows your song to be available over most leading audio streaming platforms, for singles and EPs alike, and at nominal charges. I am hopeful that the commercial aspect catches up with the volume of releases and provides substantial financial support to independent artists as does the film industry.
‘Soja Soja’ from ’99 Songs’ was your last released film song. It is a jazz-based track and has some really interesting lyrics. Can you take us through the process of working on this particular track?
‘Soja Soja’ was actually recorded four years ago. There were multiple additions, variants and modifications to the song over the years. I look at the song as a tornado. There is the calm before the storm, the building up to the storm, the actual tornado, and then the stillness post the, herein, beautiful damage caused. No one has utilized my voice the way A.R. Rahman sir has. ‘Soja Soja’ has layer after layer of surprises and challenges, which for me is a dream come true in terms of the kind of project I would wish to be associated with. It also helped break certain stereotypes that had been established in regards to my singing and genre. We often get labelled and confined to a genre as singers based on our first massive hit, regardless of that hit being our forte or area of interest or not.
You have had a long-standing association with A R Rahman. Most singers dream of working with him but very few get the opportunity. How has been your experience collaborating with him on so many memorable songs?
He has been the spine of my career. The responsibility of living up to your mentor or idol’s expectations is mammoth. Each song I have sung for him has had me in cold sweats, quite literally. We only wish to impress and stand out in front of those who really matter. That is what Rahman sir has meant to me. With each collaboration, I have realized how much more I am yet to learn and how far behind I am as an artist, a lot like a speck in this ocean of music. He makes everybody working with him feel special and that is his greatness. Working with Rahman sir is always a special experience.
You have stated in an interview that there is something very intriguing about Tamil as a language. You won the National Award for Best Female Singer for the Tamil song “Vaan Varuvaan” from ‘Kaatru Veliyidai’. How did this song come about? Was singing it any different from the other songs you have collaborated with A R Rahman on?
I was recording for another project at Rahman sir’s Mumbai studio when he mentioned that there is a song, with a “repetitive ending in each line” that he would like for me to sing. And that was all I was told at the time. I was called to Chennai perhaps a week after that conversation and we did a live jam/ recording of all the ideas he was coming up with behind his piano, all being recorded as he was ideating and me, repeating after him. That session had me at the verge of tears as each sub-melody of the main melody would hit me harder than the previous. Despite not understanding a word of the language, there was something about the way the words flowed with the tune that possessed me then and will haunt me for life. The trance ‘Vaan Varuvaan’ put me into was a virgin feeling for me amongst all the songs I had recorded for Rahman sir. So when the National Award happened, it felt nothing short of surreal.
You have a keen interest in acting too. ‘I, Cloud’, a play that you feature in, has been received very well. How was the experience of working with writer/lyricist Mayur Puri on that one?
I call Mayur ‘Bossman’. He is enthusiastic, well informed and constantly upgrading himself and to work alongside someone of that attitude and humility makes the entire learning process a marvellously dynamic one. It was my first play and first ever acting experience. I have been wanting to collaborate with him on a song. Hopefully, that will happen soon.
You did a cover version of the song ‘Naam Ada Likhna’ (‘Yahaan’, 2005) a while back.
Yes, ‘Naam Ada Likhna’ was originally composed by Shantanu Moitra and written by the legendary Gulzar sahab. To have the honour of giving voice to his lyrics, albeit on a cover this time was like a journey of diving into his magical words. ‘Sun Bhavara’ from ‘OK Jaanu’ was the first time I lent my voice to a song written by him. We recorded this song a few years ago for Times Music and I had been excitedly waiting for its release, considering I had relished each word and each note I had sung during the recording. I finally shot the video at home in Vancouver during the lockdown, and being in mandatory solitary quarantine at the time, ended up using flower pots, wheelbarrows and lampshades as my phone camera stand. With the limited resources available, I suppose we did a fine job after all (laughs). The video is up on Times Music’s official YouTube channel and this version has been tastefully re-arranged by Jai and Parthiv.
You have rendered a song called ‘Khulke Jeena Ka’ in ‘Dil Bechara’.
Yes, it is a very special song. Rahman sir has composed a great melody and Amitabh Bhattacharya has written some wonderful lines. I will not be able to reveal anything about it but I hope people like it comes out. It was great collaborating with Arijit Singh on this track.
What is the next important thing you want to do as an artiste?
Soar! And I am so glad you say artiste rather than confining me to being a singer. I love writing and arranging and producing my own songs, but then I also love creating memories in my photographs or editing my own videos or creating my album artwork. And then there is theatre. Artiste opens up endless possibilities and I wish to freely delve into the deepest, latent and unexplored confines of my creativity. There is an inexplicable thrill to unfolding that secrecy.