When you walk into Shibani Kashyap’s abode, you instantly know that you have entered an artiste’s den. In a dimly lit room with Jazz music playing in the background and a guitar propped up next to the couch, we got chatty with the girl with a golden voice and came back with an exclusive video of Shibani humming ‘I’m a Woman, I’m a Girl’, the tune she composed for the Femina Miss India. Click here to watch the Video
Tell us about your childhood in Delhi.
Being an army officer’s daughter, we have travelled all over the country and literally, lived out of suitcases. So my life’s been very nomadic. My graduation in life and music has been influenced by my experiences. I am glad I grew up in Delhi as it’s a very non-Bollywood, non-entertainment environment. So I could isolate myself from entertainment and become the musician I am today.
Does music run in the family or did you made an unusual career choice?
Music does run in my family; not professionally though. My mother is a trained artiste and has sung with Begum Akhtar on stage and the Lucknow radio. I trained in Indian classical from her apart from my gurujis.
When did you start formally training in music?
I started my formal training when I was about 5 or 6 years of age. However, from a very young age, I would sit with my mum when she did her riyaaz. I think music got into my system subliminally. And if you are meant to be a musician, your soul and senses pick that up by even sitting and listening.
Did you always know that you would up music professionally?
I knew that I wanted to be a musician but wasn’t sure if it would be professionally. I was a very studious person and was very keen to do an MBA or get into Mass Communications. I always felt that education comes first, so that you have a foundation to fall back on.
What was your first professional assignment?
When I was in college, I was selected to sing for an album called Teenage Queen, which was a huge success. It was huge for me as in Delhi, it’s a huge struggle to come up in this profession. After that, I sang for the All India Radio FM jingle, which plays till date, a Broadway Musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber called Cats. The Broadway Musical Troupe Choreographers had flown all the way from London. It was the most enriching and valuable training. That musical went public and well received.
How did the albums happen?
The entire credit for my first album goes to Sa Re Ga Ma and HMV. I was just out of college and still wondering on what to do. During my college break, I came to Mumbai and remember wearing these denim dungarees and walking into HMV office. They were looking to compose a duet, where they wanted Aslam and a female to come together for their album ‘Ho Gayi Hai Mohabbat’. I auditioned and got selected. I was flown to Chennai where we recorded the whole album. A few months later, I was flown to Alleppey in Kerala, where Santosh Sivan was shooting our video. It became legendary as it won us the Channel V award for best song, best video, best new artiste and best debut album. It was the best kick-start to my career.
I then worked on ‘Thodi Thodi Saanjh’, after which I did a lot of live shows. I also worked on this album called ‘Nagmagee’, released by Crescendo Music.
How did Bollywood fall in line?
For the longest time, before the albums and Bollywood happened, I used to produce and sing jingles for a living. My two partners and I worked on jingles for Archies, Nescafe, Nestle, Pepsi, Coke, etc., for AVs and radio slots. That’s how I met Shashanka Ghosh. I had composed a song ‘Sajnaa Aa Bhi Jaa’ and Shashanka took it for his film ‘Waisa Bhi Hota Hai’. It was a milestone film for artistes. He got Kailash Kher to do one of the songs ‘Allah ke Bande’. Then I got a call from Sanjay Gupta’s office for ‘Zinda’. I eventually moved to the city and as they say, the rest is history.
You have a vast repertoire of work having worked on albums, movies, jingles and even live shows. What do you enjoy doing the most?
Everything is special in its own way. I think my Bollywood foray is very special to me because it is the biggest platform that an artiste can get. Live performances are amazing and you get an instant and honest reaction from the audience.
Does independent music give you much more liberty than working on a movie?
Obviously independent music gives way more freedom. But you are a bit lost as there’s no direction. Sometimes the freedom is so much that one can go ballistic. Advantage of the freedom is that I can express myself freely, while working within a framework.
Which genre of music do you love the most?
Jazz is what I love the most. Recently, I did a very peculiar twisted Jazz version of ‘Sheila ki Jawani’. We got about a lakh and a half views within 10 days.
As we are on item numbers, there’s been a lot of talk about item numbers objectifying women in particular. What’s your take on it?
I think it’s a bit hypocritical as the people who object are same ones who listen to them. I don’t really buy this whole stance of it spoiling the fabric of the society as its accepted everywhere.
Are you planning to get into acting?
I’m not exactly venturing into acting. I went to meet Milind Ukey, who is making Ranveer the Marshal, for a song. I liked his work in Pathshaala and when he asked if I would like to act. The role was extremely tough and I decided to take it up as it’s action-oriented and more on the lines of ‘Charlie’s Angels’.
You have lived in both Mumbai and Delhi, what do you think about the recent crimes against women?
I always used to feel Mumbai is very safe until I heard about the recent gang rape of a photojournalist. Women must avoid going into isolated areas under all circumstances. For my recent film, I was learning martial arts and realized that all women in India must learn some form of self-defense. Delhi, of course, definitely gives me jitters if I travel alone at night.
What do you love the most about your job?
The fact that I get to travel so much; it’s the most enriching experience ever. Also, reaching out to different people is wonderful.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in your job?
When you are anonymous, it’s all ok. But the moment you are known, you are being watched all the time. There are a lot of expectations and pressure that builds up. People keep asking you when will be the next hit or why a particular song didn’t do well. That gets a little stressful.
Does all that pressure affect the process of making music ? Are you always worried about the end result, whether it will be a success or failure
I try not to get affected. I get very intrinsically and passionately involved with the song making process. Making of the song is like a dream. But the moment you wake up, that’s when the song is ready, you start worrying that the song is made but now will it be a hit.
Are you fashion conscious and what kind of clothes define you?
I am very fashion conscious. As an artiste you need to be talented as well as well presented. I love dresses, skirts and jeans. I like well-fitted clothes and that flatter the figure and personality. Sarees is something I can’t wear but I love Indian outfits like lehengas, churidars and anarkalis.
Which are your favourite shopping destinations?
I love shopping in Dubai. You get everything there from best watches and shoes to clothes and make up. Even Bangkok is great.
A style icon that you admire a lot…
My favourite is Penelope Cruz. Also, Angelina Jolie is very stylish and makes a statement with whatever she wears.
Among music artistes, who inspires you the most?
Madonna is amazing and a thorough fashion diva. As a Singer, I love Sade.
What inspires the music-making process?
As I play the guitar, so I normally compose on my guitar. There could be a particular mood that inspires me; sometimes situations also inspire me.
You have done a lot of socially relevant songs. Do you feel morally obligated to do such work?
Absolutely I do. I walked and sang for the Beti show and Save the Girl Child Campaign. Then again I will be singing on World Heart Day. It’s called ‘Direct Dil Se’ and we are dedicating it to all the heart surgeons and heart patients around the world.
A message to women who are trying to build their careers in the non-conventional space…
Just believe in yourself. If you are good, you will be successful and the world will take note. Be focused on the art and everything else fall in place.
By: Payal Hindocha