Her favourite genre the big band jazz played at the background when she elegantly walked in to greet me, in her tastefully done up house. It was an interesting meeting with Shibani Kashyap over a cup of Masala chai on a pouring rainy day. The versatile singer known for her Sufi-western blends shared insights on her initial grooming in music, her first stint at creating music and later collaborations with artists, her industry overview on the digital age to following her call to stand for the causes which she feels responsible to give her voice for, in a tet-e-tet with loudest.in.
An army officer’s daughter Shibani’s initial training in music started at the age of 5-6 years from her mother who’s an educationist. As she recalls it was even before that, as her grandparents were the ones who encouraged her to learn classical music, as she lived with them in her childhood days in Dehradun, while her father was posted in Kashmir then. Eventually, she moved to Delhi for schooling and higher education.
Reminiscing her initial days Shibani says, “I learned Hindustani classical majorly from Pt. B.R Verma, and also from Pt. Mani Prasadji and Ms.Karuna Bahaduri who was my music teacher in D.P.S. They all actually taught me intricacies of Indian classical and folk music. Since I had a very strong leaning towards western Classical music, I also learned it from the Delhi School of Music, and also picked up learning guitar early in life. I remember I started composing at a very young age and my first song was for a musical play directed by Barry John for a school event. We all felt lucky to have worked with someone like him at that age. So all the actors in the musical were encouraged to dance, sing and compose, and so I wrote two songs, which were curated by Loy Mendonsa of Shankar Ehsaan Loy fame, who composed the music for the musical at that time.”
“It was during my college days at LSR in Delhi when I came across an advertisement calling for a new female singer for an album called ‘Teenage Queen”, so I auditioned and got selected which proved to be a good learning process for me as I used to spend all my colleague hours in the studio recording songs. Eventually, I started composing and singing jingles, and that’s when my commercial career began with the FM jingle being my very first. In Delhi, I also started singing with a band called ‘Black Slate’, and that was when I learnt a lot of rock classics and classic pop songs.”
Sharing her experience about the digital transition she saw, “When I began my career, we used to record on the spools, so we had to sing the full song, as punching used to take a lot of time otherwise. So there were rehearsals and the artists used to first learn the entire song and then record it in one take, so I really respect the artists of the olden times like Lataji, Ashaji who used to sing the complete song without an error. Today, we can record a song in parts, make corrections, autotune it and also melodize it with so many technological facilities available.”
Inspirations behind her music have been both stalwarts of Western Music and Bollywood legends, so adds Shibani, “I have been largely influenced by Gulam Ali Saheb, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Saheb, Asha Bhosleji, Kishore Kumar along with western musicians like Sharde, Sting, Whitney Houston, and Maraya Cary. There was a time when I used to listen to a lot of Ghazals by Gulam Ali Saheb and that was my prime influence while I was growing up. I even learned basic Urdu language and Talafuz (pronunciation) from a Maulvi Saheb, as I feel that pronunciation is a very important part of singing any genre.”
Talking about her poetic inspirations, “I am very inspired by the poetry of the Urdu poet ‘Majaz’, and if you read his poetry and the poet ‘Jim Morison’, they both have a striking resemblance in thought, as if they both have the same soul, and the poetries were written by the same person, but in two bodies, one writes in Urdu and another writes in English. I get goosebumps when I talk about it, it’s such an experience. I also love Rumi, and being a student of English Literature T.S Eliot has been my all-time favourite poet.”
For Shibani there is no formula to creativity, as she says, “It just flows into your mind and you just feel the tune which comes to you as a medium to express what God is sending to you, as I feel Music is so intangible and you can’t concretize it. Also to compose it’s very important to know an instrument and so it was since my school days, the moment I started playing the guitar I could compose songs.”
Talking about her ‘Raanjhan’ experience while collaborating with Music composer Arko “It has been a great experience working with Arko, who really knew my voice texture and knows how to get the best out of a particular singer. He teaches you the song and just leaves you with it to sing it your way, gives you all the freedom.”
Expressing her views on how is the digital media is helping the artist community, “I come from the time of conservative media of Radio, Television and actually saw the internet and Youtube coming. Thus, I have seen the whole shift from that time to the first digital recording I did. Although I was already established as a singer from that time, so I don’t think how it helped me to make a name for myself. But, yes digital is a big boon for new singers who seek opportunities and just can’t keep knocking for opportunities and approaching Music directors and Music labels.”
Digitally releasing content on OTT Platforms like ZEE Music, how has the platform helped her, “Well I have done 6 songs with ZEE, 3 film songs, a single ‘Wannabe free’ in which featured Richa Chadha which was released through ZEE, while ‘Raanjhan is also a Zee Music original, which Arko and I composed it together for them. Zee got the singers together, shot it and created a video, and promoted it with their own television network. So everything under one umbrella obviously gives an artist a better reach as I feel there are people who still watch television in the smaller towns, although the shift is happening towards OTTs.”
On how is digital media helping artists to generate business and viewership, Shibani said, “Honestly I haven’t been able to crack the code because I see a lot of forwards that say a song has reached 1 million views, in a day but then I haven’t even heard of the song, so how do these numbers jump, and 80% of the people say that the views are bought, so what’s the point of buying the views? I feel that the artists have a lot of peer pressure thinking that if I release a song I need to have at least this much views, but they don’t concentrate on the quality of the song that they are creating, since if the song has a great melody and a good lyrics it will automatically gain views. I believe in seeing a very natural growth in the song, but today it’s just about optics and showing off the numbers and there is a lot of false projection which creates a false sense of popularity. I don’t know how they make careers?…as careers can be made out of creating good melodies, good music, and lyrics which catches on. Yes, it is the cumulative power of all the media platforms that are working here!”
Talking about which medium she prefers the most, “I personally feel that radio is the most powerful medium that we have because today everybody is constantly on the move, so listening to radio exposes you to music all the time and of course the apps like Savan, Gaana, Wink, and Spotify, which I feel is a very personal choice, where you can listen to the songs of your choice, but the songs which are playing out of popularity like DJs, Clubs, Pop which are picked up by Radio become popular.”
Future Collaborations, Exploring Genres and which artists she likes to collaborate with, Shibani replied, “There is a collaboration I have done with Taz stereo nation which is a very cool song and another song is with the Singer Suryaveer from Delhi which is a Sufi Folk collaboration, the video has also come up well and we will be releasing it soon. Mika is another musician who is fun to work with, as he is a very focussed artist and a perfectionist. It’s very inspiring to work with someone who is much arrived and doing great in the music scene.”
Talking about ‘Wanna Be Free, “I call myself as a cause singer and always like to give my voice to causes, so one morning I just got up and realized that we have completely become slaves of the digital media and cannot do without Facebook, WhatsApp and so many apps we have on our phones. I wondered what am I and the world turning into…? and so I did a lot of research on the subject and found how people are loosing on the relationships as they have no time to talk to each other, so many accidents happen when people keep messaging while they drive, and something as dreaded like the Selfie deaths, where kids were taking pics of themselves just drowning, so I thought of making a song that talks about being free from the shackles of social media.”
Shibani concluded with her thoughts on exploring different genres of music and performing across the globe, “Frankly speaking wherever you find Indian audiences they like to listen to Bollywood so I am looking forward to the festival of India in the US in August end. Also, I’m very excited about the ‘Reggae Festival’ that happens in Antigua in the Caribbean, where I’m collaborating with this band called ‘Big Mountain’ and will sing only in English. In 2016 I went to Egypt and they loved to listen to Sufi and really relate to the genre. While I performed in Tunesia where I have this property called ‘Jashn-e-Shaam’ wherein I perform with my band along with eight Qawwals which is a ‘Jazz’ and a ‘Qawwali’ Jugal-Bandi, which was much appreciated by the audience there.”