Which means unimaginable in Hindi


Interview with Shweta Shetty

(Indian pop icon, Hamburg / Bombay)

Ruby Sircar: First of all, I'd like to know about your upcoming album.

Shweta Shetty: The new album will be released on Orbit this summer, in August, produced by Dave Roth and Stephan Aurel. The first song to be released as a single in April is called "Jaane Ja", which means darling in Hindi. It will be the first album that will be released in Germany by an Indian artist. Some video clips for the album will also follow. It's actually an English language album with some Hindi phrases that stand out from the English text. The structure of the album is based on Indian influences, for example an alaap etc. It also has other western influences, so it is an Indian, a pop and also a dance floor album.

RS: Pop albums with Asian influences have also been made by Western artists and musicians.

SS: Yes, artists like Madonna and Prodigy have also worked with Indian music, Madonna has even produced a song in Sanskrit, but these are western artists who mainly produce for a western audience and only temporarily include Indian elements in their music. So far I've been producing for a mainly Indian audience, now I'm going to open up a new market for myself that is not exclusively Indian.

RS: What is your musical background, how did your career start?

SS: I come from a South Indian family and I started singing classical Indian when I was 14 years old. It was very important to my mother to give us the best possible education. It was difficult at first, but then I discovered the possibilities outside of classical music. At that time I started performing in musicals, at the same time I was experimenting with styles outside of classical music, such as soul and pop. It is often difficult for people abroad to imagine Indians who function outside of the cliché ideas. Although I have a very rough voice, I am able to cover various highs and lows, probably also through my classical vocal training. For many foreigners, such a range is unimaginable for a popular Indian singer. My real career began with A.R. Rahaman. I was lucky enough to work for and with someone like him from the start. During the past decade, he has been one of the most important figures in the popular Indian music industry.

RS: Your voice is quite unusual for an Indian singer, if you think of Lata or Asha, I also think that A.R. Rahaman was only able to bring about such a change in the structure of the Indian film industry with this voice. As far as I remember, the soundtrack for "Rangeela" was only such a great success because of your interpretation.

SS: My voice is really not what you might expect. It is atypical in the business, just think of "Mangta Hain Kya"! For the first time a playback singer was allowed to interpret freely as she felt it. A.R. Rahaman let me edit the song as I thought it was important ... in my interpretation. It wasn't the standard in the soundtrack industry, but audiences and critics alike thought it succeeded.

RS: Your interpretations made it possible for a new female voice to establish itself.

SS: I was one of the first Indians who had the opportunity to sing the songs "black", for example, and for the first time an Indian woman did not sing "Indian" to Western music, but rather combined both elements. The music itself was also something special, for example in "Rangeela", here Indian music was combined with rhythm 'n' blues.

RS: How did your own style develop after your classic training?

SS: After "Roja" my next big step was "Rangeela". It was an experiment that was extremely successful; it has been the most successful soundtrack album in Indian film history to date. "Rangeela" as well as "Roja" were both created by A.R. Rahaman produced works that were influenced by rhythm 'n' blues, after which I worked with bhangra elements - also featured in "Bichoo", which will be released in April. I found working with Bhangra interesting for a number of reasons, including because it is part of Indian folk music and is experiencing a renaissance in India, like perhaps the hit in Germany now.

RS: You are very successful in India, why did you decide to go abroad?

SS: I have been asked the question several times: Because of my husband, he is German. When I decided to come here, I didn't expect my career to develop any further, especially not in Germany, where there are no real links to Indian pop music (viewed from the production side). However, I was lucky and was able to work with Orbit in Hamburg. Perhaps my career can now even be continued on a larger international level. At the same time, it is also easier to address a not exclusively Indian audience if you live outside of India, as the Indian market in India is quite self-contained. It is therefore a good opportunity to have the opportunity to work internationally in the media city of Hamburg. It should also not be forgotten that Germany has the largest music market after the USA and England.

RS: Is there a difference for you as a woman in your life, your work, here and in India?

SS: I have never had a negative experience as a woman while working in the Indian music industry. Or maybe it has to do with my work ethic and my background. My family has always spoiled me a lot. At home, we always had all the freedom we wanted - neither did I have an arranged marriage. Even so, my sisters were all married at 23 and had families of their own. Although my parents lived separately, we all lived in the same house and had a very warm family life, maybe that's where my strong sense of family comes from and the decision to give up my career for a family of my own. When I decided to come to Germany, everyone around me warned me. Everyone said it would be impossible to live here without servants etc and to have to do all the housework yourself. I've got used to it now. I even enjoy using public transport and taking language lessons. Of course, as a well-known artist in India you will be perceived differently by the public than here, but the working conditions are not really different. I think it always depends on how you present yourself. For example, you shouldn't see your work colleagues as your family members, a typical mistake in India. Of course there are women who are willing to do anything for a career. I also believe that women are treated differently in the music industry today. If you are on a level with A.R. Rahaman, Anu Malik or Anand Millind, you will be seen and treated as an artist with equal rights. The difference to Germany is perhaps the lack of punctuality, which is at the expense of the employees. Women of my generation probably have a different starting point, perhaps due to their career education (compared to singers like Lata and Asha). Still, I don't think starting a career is more difficult or easier than it was then.

RS: How has the Indian music and music clip industry developed compared to the film and television industry in recent years?

SS: As you probably know, India has the largest music market in the world. Pop music was part of that industry, at least as a movie soundtrack. In recent years, however, the music industry has developed very quickly independently of this, also supported by the marketing and advertising strategies of companies such as T-Series. The music videos are their own smaller market, independent of the film industry and its soundtracks. However, the video clip industry, along with the film industry, is one of the fastest growing industries in the Indian media, perhaps paralleling the growing middle class. This industry has a strong financial base. T-Series pays a good 1.5 crore per clip - that is more than is ever spent in Europe or the western industry. Or take a look at the Millennium Party on Chowpati Beach, Bombay, where Amir, Twinkle and I performed and how much money was spent on it. It is actually very annoying that people outside India do not perceive the importance of this media industry, but are only shown poor India. The music industry has talented artists in both classical and popular music, but these are only slowly being noticed.

RS: How did you see the development of MTV Asia, which today has a mainly Indian program?

SS: I was the first Indian singer to appear on MTV. MTV today took over Channel V, a television station that mainly broadcasts Hindi music. MTV has also become more popular by including Hindi Pop in its programming, as the Hindi film soundtracks, which preceded the video clips, remain very popular. Furthermore, one has to consider that 950 million people do not speak English and therefore prefer to listen to Hindi rather than English pop.

Translation and editing: Constanze Ruhm