Singer Shalmali Kholgade On How The Resurgence Of Indipop Is Already Here And Here Is Beautiful!
As a 90s kid, I often pull an Atmaram Bhide from Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma and talk about “Humaare zamaane” ka music, particularly the Indipop era. Singers turning composers, starring in their own music videos, and giving us some truly memorable songs that have stayed with us. While we still go crazy over American pop music, the pop music scene in India fizzled out. But not anymore, because… do you smell that rekindled fire burning? A lot more artists are keen on creating their own independent music instead of going the popular playback singing way. And one of them is singer Shalmali Kholgade, who assures us, we don’t need to be ‘Pareshaan’ anymore about the pop music scene in India. It’s here, and Here Is Beautiful!
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‘Here Is Beautiful’ happens to be the name of Shalmali’s new single, which she has collaborated with Sunidhi Chauhan on. It’s one of the stepping stones of Shalmali’s journey of creating independent English music, something she’s wanted to do since a long, long time. In fact, as far back as her debut playback gig in Ishaqzaade (2012). ‘Here Is Beautiful’ is set to a rather lovely music video, which is garnering a lot of love and acclaim. In fact, it’s made it to VH1 India’s Summer League 2021 Battle Of The Tunes, which kicked off on May 19, where a bunch of popular songs, both Indian and international, are vying for the title of the Summer Anthem based on the votes of fans on social media platforms Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
We spoke to Shalmali Kholgade about Here Is Beautiful, her album 2X Side A, competing in VH1’s Battle Of The Tunes, and all the incredible things she has been up to, including that stunning makeover she’s gotten!
Q: ‘Here Is Beautiful’, you’ve said, is a step closer to creating independent English music albums. How long has this dream been in the making?
A: I think from the moment I decided that I wanted to do music, it was English music. But it’s been 10 years in the industry without realising my dream.
Q: What was it like, collaborating with Sunidhi Chauhan and shooting that music video together? it looks and sounds so soulful and you both look stunning!
A: Collaborating with your ideal is the dream. It’s still something very surreal for me that I got to collaborate with Sunidhi, who is my idol, got to know her, and work on a song that has come from a very honest place. Here Is Beautiful wasn’t written to prove that I wanted to or could do English music, or that it would top the charts. It was just with the intent of making music that appealed to both Sunidhi and I.
The tuning on the song has been so amazing for both of us, and it reflects in the video. It is plain simple, with beautiful visuals and a feeling that the song itself brings out, about the beauty in the here and now.
I’m glad that the song has gotten so much love despite being an English song by an Indian artist. It’s very encouraging.
We see that Shalmali Kholgade!
Q: Now, I’ve been to Times Square, and anyone who has, always imagines having their face up there someday. But you’ve lived that dream with ‘Here Is Beautiful’. What was that feeling like?
A: Honestly, I never thought my face would be up on any billboard, let alone on a billboard in Times Square this early in my journey to creating independent English music. To get that kind of love on that scale… I still have no words that can explain my happiness.
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Q: Speaking of love on a scale, let’s talk about your song making it to the VH1 Battle of the Tunes! You’re in such exciting company and you’re pitted against Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Driver’s Licence’!
A: Yes! Doing the Summer League 2021 with VH1 and being on the same platform with so many amazing songs by artists that I have so much love and respect for feels so fulfilling!
Q: If you had to make a quick appeal to your fans to vote for you, what would you say?
A: I’ve never done this before! But I think it is so exciting and cute and I have that competition spirit in me! If you’ve heard and liked Here Is Beautiful and appreciate Indian artists trying to do English music, please vote for the song!
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Q: Apart from ‘Here Is Beautiful’, of course, which other track are you rooting for Shalmali Kholgade?
A: I am huge fan of Anderson .Paak and their song, ‘Leave The Door Open’ also featuring Bruno Mars and Silk Sonic is pitted against ‘Break Free’ by When Chai Met Toast. This is a really difficult choice for me because I love their music too, and the fact that they’ve chosen to create multilingual music, which is something I aspire to as well. So if I can do multiple votes, I just might!
In fact, with music I can never choose! Although between ‘Peaches’ by Justin Bieber ft. Daniel Ceaser and ‘Save Your Tears’ (Remix) by The Weeknd and Ariana Grande, I think ‘Peaches’ would be a favourite!
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Q: You’ve been in Bollywood for almost 9-10 years now, but we haven’t seen much of you lately. Are you moving completely towards English music?
A: Bollywood is not something that’s really in a playback singer’s control. Although I am doing playback, those opportunities are not that often coming my way as they used to because there are so many new voices. And people are looking for new voices to explore. But that’s actually turned out great because now it is giving me the opportunity to do what I came here to do.
Q: Us 90s kids are still so obsessed with the Indipop boom of our times. Unfortunately, while a lot of indie artists have gotten popular, it’s still not there yet. Do you think that we’re ready for a resurgence of Indipop or it’ll ever happen?
A: There’s no escaping that! I’m not saying it will happen anytime soon, I am saying it is happening now! If you look around us right now, people are listening to more independent music than they are to Indian music. We’re going to hasten that process and build that fire. In fact, I think we should never have let it go out in the first place.
It’s amazing that it is happening, and that I get to be a part of it. Many artists are soon going to realise how liberating it is to create their own music for themselves, instead of being the voice for someone else… to be an entire artist.
Q: Speaking of a reverse trend to that, we’ve actors singing their own songs in films now. Does it feel like encroachment in your territory as a musician or do you welcome the trend?
A: Oh, absolutely welcome it! Tomorrow, I’d want to be an actor and they couldn’t say I’m encroaching in their territory either. It’s in no way right for one to determine what the other ought to do or not do. If an actor wants to sing their own songs, they aren’t just an actor anymore, they’re an actor-singer, and why not?
Also Read: Anuradha Paudwal Wants Actors Who’re Singing In Films And Music Videos To At Least Maintain The Song’s Dignity. Preach!
Q: This is something I am very curious about. Do you see gender disparity in the music industry in terms of employment, promotion, and pay for female artists?
A: Well, in playback you could see a disparity in the number of lines a female vocalist is singing compared to a male vocalist. But in independent music, I don’t see that at all, because you pretty much write your own fate. You are your own boss; you can promote your music all you want. If you’re with a label, you can push them to promote you because you are the artist. In my personal experience so far in independent music, I haven’t seen much gender disparity in terms of visibility and opportunities.
Q: I also believe you’re starting out as a music composer with a Marathi film June. I’d love to more about that!
A: Yes, June is set to release very soon! It’s quite exciting how June happened. Two years ago, I was doing the Berklee Summer Programme and I got chosen into the songwriter showcase there. The song that I sang in the showcase, ‘Love You Double’ is part of the album that I just released, 2X Side A. The producer of June, Nikhil Mahajan, heard that song and wanted it for his film. I told him, how about I create a new song for the film? And he agreed.
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I ended up composing four songs for June and it has turned out beautifully. I’ve bene waiting two years for this to release. And I am excited because it is music for a Marathi film. It’s music I have grown up with. Marathi and English are my first languages, I think in English and I speak Marathi at home. So it is even more special.
We love this peek into Shalmali Kholgade’s life.
Q: I LOVE that pixie cut silver hair; it adds an extra oomph to your personality. But when women do something unconventional, the trolls and naysayers are ready to dish out judgement. How do you deal?
A: I’m not going to lie, it has been very difficult. Even though I signed up for being a public figure, I get very affected by what people say. I try to ignore it but I do feel hurt, and I have reacted badly to it because I couldn’t deal with it. People feel this need to impose their opinion on what other people do and it can be very disheartening. Having said that, I don’t think I get as much trolled as others do.
Two things I’ve wanted to do for myself for the longest time. One was to get a pixie haircut, which I did last year when I released my first English single, ‘Regular’. And second was to colour my hair a very ridiculous colour, an ash blonde. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I loved it.
It’s actually the question I go back to—when I look at myself, do I like what I see? And that answers it for me. Everyone that I value, loves it, including my parents. They think it’s amazing. In fact, a lot of the older generation has told me how much they love how I carry my white hair, and it has given both them and me the confidence that our greys can look fabulous.
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Q: As an artist, creator and public personality, do you ever feel the pressure that you need to be constantly creating something to stay relevant? Especially during this pandemic, when it was an extra struggle?
A: For Shalmali Kholgade, being productive is the only way to stay sane. But if I were being honest, I’ve been able to do that much better in the first lockdown than during this second one. I haven’t been feeling myself, happy, or productive, and it has been harder. But I’m just about picking myself up right now, and I hope that when I do, there’ll be magic!
Q: And finally, I cannot let you sign off without getting Shalmali Kholgade’s Top 5 favourite tracks of all time!
A: ‘Uncool’ – Shalmali Kholgade (2X Side A)
‘Find Your Way Back’ – Beyoncé (The Lion King)
‘Best Part’ – Daniel Caesar, with H.E.R
‘Bodies’ – Jazmine Sullivan (I’m a huge fan!)
‘Girl Like Me’ – Jazmine Sullivan ft. H.E.R.