Singing in 9 different languages ​​earned her 9 million TikTok likes. What’s next? – CBC.approx | WHs Answers

Screenshots of Shefali Panicker’s TikTok videos. (Tick Tock)

Just prior to the pandemic, Shefali Panicker was enthusiastically singing along to Chris Brown’s “No Guidance” during a car ride when it occurred to her, “What if I added a Bollywood spin to this?”

After nervously posting this experiment on her TikTok, the Western University student and native of London, Ontario saw her phone explode with notifications from thousands of new followers. It was the beginning of a social media singing career for the 22-year-old, who has built a global audience online, with nine million likes and half a million followers on her TikTok, plus thousands more spread across Instagram, YouTube and SoundCloud.

From that first viral video, in which she sings in three different languages ​​— Hindi, French and English — Shefali has made hundreds more, sometimes singing in nine different languages ​​on one track, all the while carving out her own TikTok niche.

The roots of her multilingual success lie in years spent attending French immersion school, performing at local Diwali shows and other cultural events, and attending Carnatic music classes. part of the Indian classical tradition, Carnatic music hails from South India and includes chanting in Sanskrit, Telugu, Malayalam and more.

We reached out to Shefali via video chat to discuss her singing career and how she plans to continue using her musical platform to break down international barriers.

CBC Arts: What are your ambitions with your singing? Is this just a TikTok endeavor or are you hoping to do something bigger?

Shefali: I only downloaded TikTok because it was like Vine but crazier, and I grew up on Vine. I had no intention of posting music or anything like that, but in January 2020 I posted a song from the “Pooja what is this behavior“Meme because I didn’t know what to sing about. I made a song out of the meme, so I sang it with the intention that not many people would see it since I only had about 200 followers at the time. People really loved it and thought it was funny. They started saying, “We love your voice,” so I kept posting. That’s when I started making mashups.

What made you want to sing on TikTok, especially singing in multiple languages?

I went to what I do best. Within Carnatic music itself I sing in Sanskrit, Malayalam and Telugu. Even in India there is much more than just Hindi as each state has its own culture, language and music that accompanies it. I started making little mashups by mixing two or three languages, and then I wanted to try to accommodate as many languages ​​as possible. At first I stuck to familiar South Asian languages, but then people started saying, “Sing in Korean or Sinhala or Arabic.” I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone and it became a challenge for me.

I’m sure it was a challenge to learn all these languages. Did you encounter criticism?

Arabic was the hardest because there are so many different dialects. Some of the pronunciations are extremely difficult if you are not a native speaker. I got a little criticism for my Spanish but I made it clear that I’m doing my best and that I’m just a one-person team. I want to respect people’s languages ​​and the importance of pronunciation. Even in classical music, my teacher was very careful about pronouncing words correctly, because words have a lot of meaning.

Why do you think your mashup No Guidance and Nashe Si Chadh Gayi went viral? How did that make you feel and how did that change what you’re going to do with your singing platform?

People have been so supportive and that’s partly why I keep singing because of the encouragement I’m getting. I think my cover went viral because it contained English, French and Hindi, so it resonated with a lot of people. I noticed that people appreciate Bollywood, not only in India. Even in Africa, commentators from Morocco say, “I love it when you sing Bollywood songs.” Growing up I never thought that music would be something I could do or that so many people would watch me. I know I still have a lot to improve, but having people appreciate my art means a lot.

As a fellow creative, I fully understand how difficult it can be to create something when you have one in mind. How did you manage to honor your creative process while also acknowledging your audience?

Within an hour of my first viral song it had 100 views and that’s never happened to me. It can mess up your brain. You can have a viral video, but retaining that attention is so incredibly hard. I felt the pressure to post constantly and according to what the audience wanted. I ended up posting three times a week and burned out real quick. Just making a 30-second cover takes me two to six hours, from finding the music to the lyrics to the practice and recording.

I’ve learned the hard way that if I’m not doing something I really love, the audience will know. I keep losing followers from not posting for weeks. It’s so important to keep your feet on the ground because this interaction is great, but it shouldn’t affect your sanity. Some videos don’t perform well or get viewed as often and now I don’t care. It’s more important to sing from my perspective because I don’t want to burn out. I realized that I will do stuff on my own terms because at the end of the day I do it because I love music.

I know you mention that you try to break down international barriers through music. How are you trying to achieve this?

I started this journey with no intention of creating a platform like this. I also have impostor syndrome and it’s so common because you’re going to see people who are more technical than you, but I think I’m bringing something unique to my audience and I’m proud of that. There is always room for growth and I have become a lot more confident knowing that I inspire others too.

My TikTok journey has allowed me to appreciate all kinds of cultures and languages. It’s not just about the music, I’m trying to understand the meaning of the song or why the artist made the song for the covers that I’m singing. People from all walks of life around the world tell me how much it means to them that I sing in their language.

So would you ultimately want to monetize this?

Recently, TikTok launched the Creator Fund, but it’s only in the US and nothing is set up in Canada yet. I’d absolutely love to be in music full-time, but I’m trying to be a little more realistic about financial stability. I also have many other passions, such as healthcare. However, I’ve been fortunate to work with a few brands, like South Asian dating app Mirchi, so I creatively promoted their business through music lyrics.

How do you think your platform messaging will change over time? What are your plans for the future as an artist?

I want to keep doing this because there are many languages ​​that I haven’t explored yet. To further my art I want to release my own music. I’ve talked to producers before and I want to make songs in different languages, but I don’t see much of it in the South Asian region. I hope to be able to release original music in the next few years. As much as I love singing covers, it’s someone else’s art that I interpret in my own way.

I’ve also had people ask me to sing at their wedding. With COVID-19 out of the way, it would be something I would love to do personally. However, it’s more fulfilling when I have my own music to share with others. If that happens, then I can do more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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