Vidya Shah – A Delightful Versatile Vocalist

I met Vidya Shah at ‘Sacred Music Festival’ in Pushkar

Excerpts of my interview with her

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With the first rays of the sun, every ghat of Pushkar city echoed with her melodic renditions. “Dharan sarika pehru ghagra, ambar sari odu…..she sang explaining Mirabai’s flight of fancy. Vidya Shah, a delightful versatile vocalist from Delhi is as comfortable in singing Khayal, Thumri, Dadra and Ghazal as she is in Sufi and Bhakti singing.
“I am so happy I could be part of this beautiful ‘Sacred Music Festival’ here. Singing at the ghats is the best thing a performer can ask for,” she said as we settled for a quick chat after the concert.

Steeped In Music From Birth
Born in a family of musicians, Vidya was steeped in music from birth. She picked up the family’s Carnatic form of music at the age of 10. As a student, she performed in various competitions. But there was a lot more in store for her. After completing her studies from Delhi University, she decided to take a plunge in the music arena. “It was a conscious decision after much contemplation,” she tells. “To be good in music and perform for fun is one thing but to be a professional artist, is another. I thought I would probably not enjoy music so much ie not have so much fun if I became full time professional artist. Secondly, I thought it was a risk whether I will be able to make a mark for myself,” she shares. “After 10 years of being in this stream, I can say I am happy to take that decision and have no regrets whatsoever.”

My Mentors
Vidya always admired Shubha Mudgal and was on top of the world when she became her disciple for good 9 years to get training in Khayal. “Apart from my mentor Shubhaji, I am indebted to Shanti Hiranand for teaching me thumri, dadra and ghazal gayaki.”

My Music is Free Flowing

Vidya calls her music free flowing and fresh. It is a mix of influences that include traditional khayal, sufi, folk, pop and bhakti. “I feel fortunate that I am an artist in this era when I can sort of bridge the gap between the hard core traditional music like thumri and more popular contemporary fusion form. That’s why my music has no rigid ‘lakshman rekha’ (boundaries). I started initially with Carnatic music and khayal – but today I also ‘indulge’ in other forms, like Bhakti, jazz, electronica and so on.”

My Belief

She believes that music should evolve and make you move. “The foundation has to be strong. If you give due importance to ‘taleem’ and ‘riyaz’ (training and practice), build your strength on these two pillars, then one can mould one’s music according to one’s own aesthetic sensibilities.” “For instance, I enjoy singing bhajans at the ghats as much as singing fusion at coke studio,” she smiles.

My Fav Artists
Ask her about her favourite artists who have sort of inspired her and she chuckles. “I have a long list of artists I admire. I have been an ardent admirer of Ghazal Diva- Begum Akhtar. What a woman, how much she struggled and then emerged as such a powerful character.”

On Begum Akhtar
As a tribute to her, Vidya gave a theme concert in various cities. “It is a concert about my understanding of Begum Akhtar, my perspective on her, her journey from being a bai to a begum, and in these journeys how she empowered herself with music and poetry. The performance is woven with a narrative that highlights interesting aspects of her life with anecdotes which reveal how she could make such a huge impact on audiences even today.”

Women On Record
Beyond a performer, Vidya likes to take up interesting projects. One of them is the project ‘Women on Record,’ celebrating Music of women in the Gramophone era. (www.womenon Presently she is working on its sequel, “Singing Talkies” on what happened after Grampohone era. She also loves to write on music, and is a member of the cultural committee of the South Asia Foundation. She is also the Director of Programs at The Centre For Media and Alternative Communication.

Moving on to her everyday life, she laughs and says, “Ohh I am a normal girl next door. I play badminton to ease off my stress and experiment with different cuisines. I love to cook for my kids and friends. I also like to check out new restaurants. Like everybody else, I also have a dream.”

“My only dream is to break the myth that traditional form of music is fading. I strongly believe, music in whichever form cannot die. I have seen how people have so eagerly attended my concerts even where there was no major publicity. Look at the ghats here, the audience comprised of safai karamcharis to rural folks to devotees. Nobody asked them to sit and listen. So much so that one woman blew my mind as she approached my dais, took out 10 Re note and placed near my tanpura. At that moment, I was singing Meera Bhajan only for her. That was the kind of energy I got and that is what defines my music. The passion, thought and relevance constitutes my form of music. I draw inspiration from various genres of music and don’t like to make it monotonous.

So if my music can draw people from various walks of life, why this worry of losing it. I think we need to be pro active in involving artists in various projects rather than lamenting the unnecessary negative thought,” she concludes on a serious note.


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