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Grammy Winner Tanvi Shah: “Life Is More Interesting When You Don’t Have Any Expectations”

Tanvi Shah dons many hats. Besides singing in more than fifteen Indian and international languages, she is an eco-conscious jewellery and interior designer. She wrote and lent her voice to the Spanish version of “Jai Ho”, and this collaboration with AR Rahman on Danny Boyle’s 2008 blockbuster Slumdog Millionaire helped her bag a Grammy Award for the Best Song Written for Visual Media, thus making her the first Indian woman to be bestowed with the honour. To add another feather to her cap, she recently won the YFLO Young Women Achievers Award. We caught up with the songbird to find out more about her journey and inspirations.

The most remarkable aspect of Tanvi Shah’s skills is not her ability to sing in fifteen languages — both Indian and international, including Tamil, Telugu, Spanish, Arabic, German, and French — but the fact that she did not train herself linguistically. Without possessing much working knowledge, with the exception of Spanish, she is able to sing in all those languages. Discussing her acquisition of this rather enviable trait, she says, “I have a habit of watching people and paying attention to their body language, the way they talk and pronounce every word. That’s how I picked up the nuances and I try to make the most of those observations.”

After graduating from George Washington University with a master’s degree in Ceramics, life took a turn for the better when Shah’s penchant for singing in the bathroom made its way into the world outside. As she comes from a family of designers, she emphasises that she was always supposed to follow suit. She elaborates, “Singing was never my plan of action. A recording of one of my karaoke sessions somehow reached Rahman saab, and the rest, as they say, is history.” She recorded her first song with Rahman, “Fanaa” for the 2004 Mani Ratnam film Yuva. She further adds, “When God throws something at you, I think it’s disrespectful to not give it a shot. So, I took it up very seriously and this is where I am.”

In addition to enjoying a long-standing and celebrated history of collaborating with the world-renowned maestro AR Rahman, Shah also has a history of regularly collaborating with another musical genius active in the Tamil film industry, Yuvan Shankar Raja. She describes both of them as being “very supportive and very encouraging”. She credits them for teaching her something new with each visit to the recording studio, not only about music but also about her vocal techniques and modulation. She says of her experience of working with Rahman, “There have been times when he has thrown challenges at me such as, ‘Think like Beyoncé but sing like Shakira.’” Shah has also worked with Amit Trivedi and several other South Indian music directors, but maintains that she feels blessed to have had the opportunity to work with those two in particular.

Tanvi Shah performing with Amit Trivedi at Coke Studio; Image:

Shah’s career soared to greater heights when she won a Grammy Award along with Rahman and Gulzar. It opened up new frontiers for the songstress in the form of collaborations with such international artists as Snoop Dogg and JHawk. “I believe that life is more interesting when you don’t have any expectations, and I’ve always gone into the studio without any expectations. So, when I found out that I was in Snoop’s studio and singing a song with him, I thought, ‘Oh, wow! This is incredible!’” adding that working with him “was quite an experience”. JHawk, she says, “is an amazing person and music director, so it’s been a very interesting journey. Learning different genres of music really helps, not only musically but it also helps me grow as a person.”

Her experiments with different genres and singing techniques are reflected in the eclectic mix of singers she admires. She counts Asha Bhosle, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Udit Narayan, Shreya Ghoshal, and Sunidhi Chauhan amongst her inspirations. Globally, she also looks up to Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, and Hisham Kharma, whose vocal nuances she has picked up and imbibed in her own music. Using the knowledge she has acquired through her experiences, Shah is now eager to give back to the society, not only by contributing to the music industry with her End Polio campaign, but also through her skills as a creative designer.

Putting her pedigree and degree to good use, Shah also designs jewellery and interiors. She up-cycles waste material and creates intricate home decor articles out of it. She exemplifies, “I have made chandeliers out of used alcohol bottles, and tables with broken ceramics. Music and design are the two things I’ve always had in my life, and they keep me sane.”

Shah just finished putting out five tracks in different languages such as Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and German. There is a sixth track, in Algerian Arabic, that is expected to be released in a couple of months, after she and her team finish shooting the music video.

Before we bid adieu, we ask her to partake in the signature DSSC Rapid Fire.


Who is your favourite music composer, apart from AR Rahman and Yuvan Shankar Raja?

Amit Trivedi and Vishal-Shekhar.

One artist or musician you want to work with?

Idan Raichel Hisham Kharma, again.

What’s next for you?

I definitely want to make more music. Music is the one positive thing in the world today. I don’t think we should politicize it. There’s nothing negative about it. It’s the one thing that makes us smile and brings people together, so I think we should leave it pure.

A pro-tip for those looking to set foot in the industry?

Follow these four rules and you will not go wrong in any field, not only music: dedication, diligence, discipline, and focus. Don’t chase fame; do your work because it is what will do the talking at the end of the day.


Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of DSSC & its affiliates.


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