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Shalmali’s got Soul

Updated on: 02 May,2021 10:16 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Aastha Atray Banan |

Despite a shining Bollywood playback career, Shalmali Kholgade has gone back to her college dream of being an English independent music singer-songwriter. Her debut album with producer Sunny MR is unabashedly 'Amy Whinehouse' and could be the gamble that was worth taking

Shalmali’s got Soul

Shalmali Kholgade and Sunny MR

It was in 2012 that singer Shalmali Kholgade burst on the scene with the stunning Pareshaan from Arjun Kapoor and Parineeti Chopra’s debut film Ishaqzaade. Ever since, it’s been one Bollywood hit after another—her strong voice shining through in Balam Pichkari (2013) and Baby Ko Bass Pasand Hai (2016) among other masala numbers. So when we put our headphones on and pressed play on her indie English album,  2X Side A, we didn’t really know what to expect.
A friend, who had seen Kholgade perform at festivals while she was a student at St Xavier’s in Mumbai, offered this perspective—“she has gone back to what she had started out with and it’s so good to hear”. 

When we share this with Kholgade on a Zoom call, the 31-year-pls singer laughs. “Yes, exactly. This is what I always wanted to do. When Pareshaan came out, my friends from college said, ‘that’s not you!’ This is what I have always wanted to be—a singer-songwriter.”

Shalmali Kholgade and Sunny MR have released an album that’s heavy on R&B notes, and mellow but strong vocalsShalmali Kholgade and Sunny MR have released an album that’s heavy on R&B notes, and mellow but strong vocals

If the album is anything to go by, Kholgade has crossed over into another realm. Produced by composer and sound engineer Sunny MR, who has composed for many a Telugu movie, and worked as sound designer for Race 2 and Barfi!, the album has an R&B vibe that’s mellow but distinct. When you hear Kholgade’s smooth, yet strong vocals, you may not associate her with the Bollywood songs she has rendered. It’s also been mixed and mastered by Stuart Hawkes, who mixed late British singer, Amy Winehouse’s record-breaking album, Back to Black. The work put in shows, and shines. “I had started writing the music and lyrics four years ago, when I was at Berkeley, where my instructors told me I had a Soul style of writing. I had even sent Sunny a recorded voice note of the song, Uncool, and he said, let’s do it. And then last October, we got into a studio. It was Sunny who gave it this shape,” she says. Sunny MR, who loves John Mayer’s musical styling, has a candid take on it all. “We got Staurt to mix the album, because we wanted that Amy Winehouse feel. I think music these days is an amalgamation of all the music we have heard in our lifetime, and there is nothing that’s not really influenced by something.” At this point Kholgade says, “Yes, I am so glad that he has said that. When I was writing the songs,  I had that Winehouse treatment going on in my head.”

When it comes to the lyrics, Kholgade is honest that most songs, like the soulful Love You Double, were inspired by herself and her feelings about love. “I wrote Love You Double after a fight. I felt I had done something wrong, so I said I would love you double [to make up]. Most of these songs are about me—I don’t know how long I will be able to sustain this kind of writing, though,” she laughs. 
As far as the business of music goes, both are aware that the market for English independent music in India is limited. But they hope to stay committed to doing what they love. “This is me, and I want to continue doing this. The best thing Bollywood taught me was how to be behind the mic. I am just so happy being here. And it may be at a nascent stage, but I think it will grow. It will for sure,” says Kholgade. “There is a certain kind of freedom in doing this. With music for any film industry, there are constraints you grapple with. But here, there is creative freedom,” adds Sunny MR. 

They both are waiting for the release of the second part of the same album, Side B. It will also have six songs, though different in vibe and feel. “They will be less about heartbreak, and more about moving on,” he says.

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