Female Music Artists Have Taken Their Own: Shilpa Rao

“There’s nothing like overnight success. If you make a song and it connects with people, it stays forever and I believe in those kinds of songs,” the award-winning singer said. Shilpa Rao at His history Women On A Mission Summit 2022. Shilpa has been the soulful voice behind several Bollywood hit songs like Javeda Zindagi from the movie Anwar, Woh Ajnabee from The train, Khuda Jaane from Bachna Ae Haseeno and Manmarziyan title track among many others.

She was talking to His history Women on Mission 2022.

Shilpa is known for her prodigious mastery of classical Indian ragas and has collaborated with many top musicians, from Agni to Nuri and Anushka Shankar. Being here and making music for over a decade and a half, Shilpa looks back Tose Naina as the song closest to his heart.

“I think it’s one of those really beautiful songs that has stood the test of time,” she added.

As the pandemic has ravaged the entire world, forms of entertainment like music, which sits at the very top, have been a lifesaver for people going through different emotions and torments in their lives. Shilpa thinks it’s because music is so “malleable” and should only be defined by its lyrics and audio and not the visuals.

“The music itself is so powerful and charismatic. Since music is a solo process, even a pandemic cannot stop people from making music. So we made a lot of music during the pandemic and used the internet to exchange audio files and lyrics. What the pandemic has taught us is that clean food, air, water, food and art make you happy without a substitute,” Shilpa recalled.

The only Indian musician to feature on Coke Studio, Pakistan, Shilpa is extremely vocal about the representation of women in the Indian music industry. She believes that women artists got their due by changing into clothes instead of waiting for others to give them their due.

“There was a phase where female vocals were reduced to maybe two lines in a song or the small second antra (para). But in 2021, there have been huge songs, albums led by women and the credit goes to the female artists because they never gave up. We weren’t getting any songs so we made them and created a niche. We created our own albums and videos and kept the female voice literally and metaphorically,” she said.

Shilpa collaborated with Anushka Shankar for her album Love letter in which she sang the song These words. The album was nominated for the 2021 Grammy Awards. Talking about the deserved recognition of Indian music globally, she noted that when one thinks of Indian music, one does not think of Hindustani classical music or Carnatic music, which they should be.

“The true identity of the subcontinent is as follows. It has been the greatest driving force for art and culture across the world. Mainstays like Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Mehdi Hassan have toured the world with this music, and it’s the music that really defines us,” said Shilpa.

She added, “It’s something that I want young people to own with pride because there’s still a bit of hesitation when I ask them, what is real Indian music? It’s not Bollywood. It’s our Indian classical music, our folk, Carnatic music and there’s so much more to list. I don’t think any country has such diverse music, which is so, so strong.


Many thanks to the sponsors of Women on Mission Summit 2022, an initiative of HerStory, Presenting Partner BYJU’S, YourStory, and other sponsors – Kyndryl, Sequoia Spark, Zilingo, Atlassian, Akamai, Freshworks for Startups and Netapp Excellerator.

Edited by Rekha Balakrishnan