Shilpa Rao, known for songs such as Ghungroo and Khuda Jaane, shares her musical inspirations, travel playlist and why she wants to visit her hometown, Jamshedpur, with her husband Ritesh Krishnan. By Anushka Goel
T+L India: Your collaboration with Anoushka Shankar on her album Love Letters—how did this come about?
Shilpa Rao: Anoushka and I met years back when I was performing at the NH7 festival with Karsh Kale. She was also there for that festival and we met through Karsh. Anoushka and I got back in touch two years back [when] I was in London on a break. We met over lunch and spoke about various things. Anoushka shared with me a bunch of her tunes, and I played some of mine. She said, “We should work, we should collaborate,” and last year, she sent me this song. It was just beautiful, and that’s how we thought of adding vocals to this song. I reached out to Shirin [Anandita], who’s been my friend ever since I came to Mumbai. She wrote the lyrics in Punjabi, which is what you hear in the song [Those Words]. So yeah, that’s how the song happened, and I feel it has a certain call or attachment to it when you hear it. It’s not a very external journey but an internal one, and that was inspiring for me.
T+L India: Take us through your music creating process.
Shilpa Rao: My music creating comes from whatever is in store for me. It could be a series or it could be somewhere I am travelling, or a film that I am watching or even a piece of music that I’m listening to. I think it just comes from the moment I am in, so there is no one particular method to create [music].
T+L India: Did you always want to be a musician?
Shilpa Rao: Actually, no! I loved listening to music and all, but I wasn’t very sure of being a musician. It happened a little late in my life.
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T+L India: Talking about travelling – an Indian destination that fuels your creativity?
Shilpa Rao: I feel Amritsar is one such place. Whenever I go there, I leave realising that I am very attached to that place, so I find the city very inspiring.
T+L India: Who has been your role model during your formative years?
Shilpa Rao: Obviously first, my parents; my guru, Hariharan ji; and the biggest idol is Mehdi [Hassan] sahab – that never changes.
T+L India: Bucket list destinations that you want to check off with your husband?
Shilpa Rao: Well, Ritesh [Krishnan] and I have travelled a lot in the years we have known each other, but I would like to visit Jamshedpur with him and show him my childhood and where I had been. I would also like to visit his childhood home, Lucknow, and see where he grew up.
T+L India: A song that reminds you of a family holiday?
Shilpa Rao: I feel Kolkata is the pillar of Hindustani classical music, as most of the classical singers are from the city. My entire childhood had been of learning classical music, and raags remind me of this place—which my parents and brother Anurag used to often visit for his piano exams or my classes.
T+L India: A song on your road trip playlist that you love grooving to but are embarrassed to talk about.
Shilpa Rao: I am pretty open-minded about my playlist, and usually, I am the one in-charge of music on road trips, so mine is very unique. It can go from Mehdi sahab to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sahab to Sting and even Zero 7 and Dua Lipa or Beyoncé. I don’t have a particular playlist, but it depends on the scenery and the drive.
T+L India: What’s the most memorable concert you’ve attended?
Shilpa Rao: I think all the concerts I attended as a child were classical music ones that my father used to take me to. I started going to them when I was just three years old. I was a kid, but from what I remember, those concerts were special. In Jamshedpur, I’ve seen everyone perform—from Bismillah Khan to Amjad Ali Khan to Sitara Devi to Parveen Sultana.
T+L India: An artiste you want to share the stage with?
Shilpa Rao: I don’t know because I feel as much as I perform and I see other artistes perform, it’s great for an artiste to do their thing on the stage. I’d rather sit in the audience and watch them perform, but yeah for collaborations, it [performing with another artiste] is great. When you are collaborating on something, it’s great to be on stage together.
That being said, I would love to collaborate with Sting and share the stage with him. I would also like to be on stage with Snarky Puppy, among others.