Music was in my life even before I was born – Shefali Alvares
[dropcap]”I[/dropcap]’ve always wanted to vary from what you were told to do,” says the passionate vocalist, Shefali Alvares. Having grown up in a musical atmosphere, singing comes naturally to this talented artist. But she isn’t your typical Hindi film voice and has yet carved a niche in the industry owing to her versatility. She has her own rock-funk band ‘Distil Soul’ and bedazzles audiences with regular live performances. And with chartbusters like ‘Tu Mera Hero’, ‘Party on my Mind’ and the most recent, ‘Badtameez Dil’ to her credit, this songstress is creating waves in the world of Bollywood too.
In a freewheeling chat with Pandolin, Shefali talks about her musical roots, the gateway into Bollywood, her band, inspirations and much more.
Born into a musical family with a legendary father like Joe Alvares, how did your journey into singing begin?
Music was in my life even before I was born, because even when you’re in your mother’s tummy you’re hearing it. I started humming at the age of 3 and when I was around 4 or 5 years old I did a recording for a kid album. The first time I sang in public was in church for Christmas alongwith my sister. While growing up, I sang a lot with my sister. We both grew up singing but then she chose a completely different path and I kept singing. So yes, I started very early and I’ve always been singing; through school, college and so on.
Infact I’ve had several funny instances. I once got kicked out of the choir for not being able to sing the way everyone was singing. I’ve always wanted to vary from what you were told to do.
[pullquote_left]For me inspiration always comes from nature and travel. Music comes from nature, the sound of animals, and ambient sound of being out in the open.[/pullquote_left]
You have been trained under Celia Lobo, a western opera singer and then you shifted towards Hindi film music. How did the shift happen?
I’ve trained with Celia Lobo for over 9 years since I was 13. She starts training youngsters right after they hit puberty. I did a lot of training with her which has helped me tremendously. I use all those techniques in my singing. For the Hindi songs, I didn’t think the industry would change like this. I don’t sound like the typical Hindustani singer. But people began to call me to sound myself, for my own voice and that is how I decided to give it a shot.
How did your first song in Bollywood happen?
It happened by chance. I suddenly got a call from one of Pritam’s manager’s who wanted me to come and try something. I said no as I wasn’t interested in singing in Hindi at all. I’ve never been brought up in that atmosphere. My father has performed Jazz around the world and I’ve sung with him. We have close family friends who have been in Bollywood for long but it never pushed me towards trying Hindi film songs.
One of the boys who work for Pritam is a friend of mine and he asked me to come as they wanted to try a new voice, so I finally agreed to try. That was the song ‘Yeh dil hai nakhrewala’ from Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji which was my first song. Since then Pritam has been calling me regularly for his films. I was open to it because it was like a rock song, completely my thing and it fit well. But I did have to work on my diction.
Do you think that the film industry has become more open to experimentation and new voices now?
Yes, the industry is definitely more open today. It takes a while to break into a path but today there is a lot of acceptance in Bollywood. They are using western influences also, like in Barfi, there was a lot of Bossa Nova and Jazz influence and he pulled it off beautifully.
Tell us about your band and how was it formed?
I was part of a band during college called the ‘All Girl Band’. My dad had produced and put that package together. All of us were in college at that time and did quite a bit of shows all over the country. But that frizzled out in time.
Then ‘Distil Soul’ happened, around 9 years back. We regularly perform live gigs. I created a western album called ‘I am’ which was out on ArtistAloud around 5-6 years back. Since then I’ve been so involved in Hindi that I haven’t been able to put out another English album. I’ve written a couple of songs but haven’t had the time to record them.
You have traveled all over India and also performed internationally, how would you describe this whole journey?
For me inspiration always comes from nature and travel. Music comes from nature, the sound of animals, and ambient sound of being out in the open. In the city you miss all of that. So I get a lot of inspiration from travel and being outdoors.[pullquote_right]It is something else when you sing in your own language to a different audience who respect you for what you are. But it is totally different when you are doing what they do and they still appreciate it[/pullquote_right]
You have sung some of the best Bollywood numbers, the latest being “Badtameez Dil”, how was the experience? How is it collaborating once again with Pritam?
‘Badtameez Dil’ is a catchy number with lovely lyrics. Recording it was fun and I secretly wish I could do even Benny Dayal’s part too as it’s so catchy. I worked with Rana who is part of Pritam’s team and dubs us. With me they are very helpful because of the diction, correcting words etc. It is always fun with Pritam’s songs as he lets me do what I feel like doing. The notes are given but I can add my own feel to the song. Also, the songs are mostly young like I’ve done quite a few Deepika Padukone songs. So I like the fact that it is new sound, new music and they give me the space and freedom to work according to my way.
What kind of preparations go into the recording of a song? How important is it for the singer’s voice to match the actor’s persona?
There are absolutely no rehearsals prior to recording. You get called in the morning for a recording in the afternoon. They make you hear the song once or twice and then you start recording. You improvise as you record. Then if need be they might call you in a couple of days or just before the movie is out to change a line or two. It has happened with me before. But nowadays, they usually have been working in a way that they come up with the final lyrics. Generally the entire recording is done in a day.
It is very important for the singer’s voice to be in sync with the actor they are singing for. The composers do explore that angle while choosing a singer. I’ve been singing for a lot of young actors which makes sense because the actor is in the video and mouthing the lyrics so the voice needs to fit. This is a new thing that they are now realizing and putting together.
Apart from your father, who has been your greatest musical influence in singing?
In addition to my dad, there is Louis Banks whom I’ve grown up. There is also Gino, his son. Sheldon D’Silva and I started performing together since we were 15. All these people have helped me grow a lot and have been my musical family. Also my keyboardist of Distil Soul is someone I’ve grown with. Through our musical journey we have done various things together. Right now he is playing for Sunidhi Chauhan’s band, with Salim Suleiman and so on. He has also grown and it’s great to see that everyone’s grown and are branching out doing different things.
Apart from Pritam, which are the other music directors you have worked with? If you had to pick a favorite music director, who would it be?
I’ve worked with Vishal-Shekhar and also just started working with Amartya Bobo Rahut. His first film, Aurangzeb releases next month. I really like his sound. I have done a song with him for an Arshad Warsi film that releases in July.
I don’t really have any favorite. Each music composer is different and there is no comparison as everyone is doing the best of their ability. But if there is one person that I’m thankful to for the arrow into Bollywood, it is Pritam. They kept pushing me and hence I am here today.
What do you enjoy the most – Live Performances or studio recordings and why?
I love live and hate being in a studio. But since you have to go and record in a studio there is no option. I don’t like studios for the simple fact that when you’re inside you can’t see the daylight and I don’t like that feeling. I love the songs that I’ve been doing in Hindi but I feel that I need to go back to my roots every now and then. So we just did International Jazz Day at Blue Frog and I had a blast performing. I miss doing that so it was a great experience.
How do you juggle time between Bollywood and live performance?
Recordings happen around once a week or once in two weeks depending on when they are shooting and when the film is releasing. Sometimes they need to change lyrics or some melody so you need to go accordingly. So recordings do not take much time, it is usually a one day thing. I keep doing live concerts of all sorts. With Hindi, there are a lot of college festivals, weddings and corporate events. I just did the Vero Moda All Star Jam with Rabbi, Ankur Tewari and others. I also perform with Distil Soul, do my jazz gigs etc.
We recently also tried a new concept called the B-Sides which includes, Shilpa Rao, Meiyang Chang and me. It is a different concept where each artist showcases their musical talent along with their artistic hobbies. So Chang takes pictures, Shilpa does stand-up comedy and I paint. So we did this show featuring our art and music. We are working on taking the concept around the country by the end of the year.
[pullquote_right]I love the songs that I’ve been doing in Hindi but I feel that I need to go back to my roots every now and then. So we just did International Jazz Day at Blue Frog and I had a blast performing.[/pullquote_right]
If asked to recall one of your best performances, closest to your heart, what would it be?
The time when my dad and I went to Cuba for the Havana Jazz Festival in 2011 is closest to my heart. That was very intense as we were on stage with various artists we have grown up listening to. It was amazing as they appreciated what I did to their music in front of them. It is something else when you sing in your own language to a different audience who respect you for what you are. But it is totally different when you are doing what they do and they still appreciate it, that was one of my best performances.
When would we get to hear your next album with your own songs and music?
I have started writing again. I’ve found a young pianist from Bangalore. So let’s see how it goes.
What next in terms of your musical journey?
I have some movies coming up. There’s an Arshad Warsi film in July. Then I am also working with Pritam, Amit Trivedi, Vishal – Shekhar and so on.