Singer Tanvi Shah on discovering new frontiers with music

Tanvi Shah has moved on. The past continues to entice with sparklers like a Grammy triumph. The singer who shared the Grammy with A.R. Rahman and Gulzar for the Spanish lyrics of “Jai Ho” though firmly focuses ahead. “One has to move ahead. These are like a crown which someone else will get a year later,” says Tanvi about awards.

The singer, recently in Kozhikode to perform with Haricharan at the National Institute of Technology’s Ragam fest, says she prefers to treasure the priceless eye-opening moments music has thrown open.

For Tanvi, music in itself has been a surprise. With hardly any formal training, she was scooped into another orbit when Rahman plucked out her voice from clutter. He gave it wings and tailored it to songs like “Fanaa” (Yuva), “Pappu Can’t Dance” (Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na), “Kedakkari” (Ravanan) and “Magudi, magudi” (Kadal) among a host of others.

“When God throws things at you, you should not disrespect it,” says Tanvi. She knows life will not be the same with a Grammy and a BMI in her kitty.

“Now I want to learn something new everyday. These awards have grounded me, shown me this is what I wanted to do and asked me how I am going to take it forward,” she says.

She takes it forward through small joys. She talks about the random track from an unpretentious music session that made an autistic kid sleep through the night. For her musical self there are Rahman and Yuvan Shankar Raja to doggedly throw challenges. Rahman, she says, constantly tests her. “He would tell me, ‘Think like Beyonce and sing like Shakira’,” she says. Such a brief might set off a war in her head, but it also spurs her to experiment, to delve deep to bring out four different voices and as many ways of singing.

Working with Rahman is about thinking out-of-the-box, she says. “His creative mind is always on the go.” Recounting a normal working day with Rahman, she says, recordings often stretch to one in the morning. “Just as you are about to enter deep sleep, he would come in and say, ‘Sleepy, eh?’ If your voice is a bit heavy with sleep, he would say, “That’s the voice I want,” explains Tanvi.

Rahman is the mentor who gave her confidence, one who treated a newbie with no musical training and a stalwart with equal respect. “The two most important things I have learnt from him are patience and diligence,” says Tanvi.

Background scores and chorus too are nourishing experiences for her. “The chorus has to have a chemistry and sound like one.”

Apart from her musical skills, composers delight in her strength as a lyricist, especially in foreign languages. If it was Spanish in Slumdog Millionaire, it was Croatian in Rockstar. “I can save my life in Spanish,” she jokes. A take away from her years in the United States studying ceramics with multi-cultural friends meant a working knowledge of Spanish. The “Jai Ho” experience was about simple words, but right pronunciation, she says.

Her fetish for languages aside, Tanvi also juggles music with a career as a creative designer. She eagerly shows off her new work space on her phone. Her work desk has a table top resting on a bicycle and tea coasters turned into pen holders.

She is game for adventure sports too. Multiple interests, though, are taking a toll, with sleep often the casualty. The pink-frame glasses are on as she is recovering from a recent eye surgery owing to strain.

Glitches aside, Tanvi is set to take off discovering music and herself. “I am doing a few projects. In one, I am collaborating with Jeremy Hawkins and with David Batteau in another. I am also collaborating with a few people from Israel and may even sing in Hebrew.”