(July 2, 2022) Self-love, identity, and spirituality – these purposeful terms beautifully envelop every song of Indian-Australian singer and songwriter Amritha Shakti, whose music has a life of its own. A Tamilian raised in Australia, she often found herself in a constant struggle between the East and West, until the Global Indian discovered her true self through music. And now she is using it to empower South Asian women as well as create a dialogue around issues that matter. “I sing about things that I think matter – love, mental health, social issues, and spirituality. My aim is to represent my beautiful Indian roots in everything I do,” she says in a video on her website. Infusing Indian heritage in everything that she does is what makes Amritha different from many others, who are gravitating purely towards the Western.
Oscillating between East and West
The Chennai-born was just two when her family immigrated to Australia. Being one of three brown girls in her school, Shakti experienced two different worlds growing up. Her home was a warm cocoon of ‘Indianness’ – filled with the known waft of dosas and rasam and the sounds of MS Subbalakshmi and KJ Yesudas. But as she stepped out of the comfort of the known, she was met with curious gazes and constant mocking. “They looked at me as though I was the strangest creature they had ever seen,” she said in an interview. As a youngster growing up in Australia, she found it hard to fathom that a culture she celebrated at home meant little to others.
“She struggled with her sense of identity and the concept of ‘home’ for a long time. One obvious thing, however – was her love for India,” mentions her website. And she kept this love alive through music. She was just four when she started training in Carnatic music from her mother. While that set the foundation for her as a singer, she taught herself Hindustani and Bollywood vocals during her teens. It was only in her twenties that Amritha discovered her love for soul, jazz, and the blues. But like most, she planned to do an MBA and keep music as a “side hobby” because she had never seen anyone “who looked like her” on mainstream television. Music was “something very private, more of a meditation” for Amritha, she says in her video.
Carving a niche
After graduating from Columbia Business School in New York, she worked as a consultant with United Nations and World Bank. But after realising that the original plan wasn’t the real deal for her, she turned to her first love – music. Things changed for this singer and songwriter after she posted her first video on YouTube, and soon the journey started to take a “path of its own.” Being an amalgamation of East and the West, she found music to be a perfect channel to represent both the worlds she grew up in.
Empowering South Asian women
A staunch feminist, she uses her music to explore the topics of female empowerment and South Asian representation. “You realise to what extent not seeing people like you growing up has mentally closed off doors,” she told IndianLink in an interview. It took her years to shut the noise around her. “I spent my teens convinced that I was not quite good enough compared to western ideals of beauty,” she added, and it was in her twenties that she understood her “self-worth.” This gave way to her first single Deserve Me. “I wrote the song as an act of defiance and as a way for me to vocally and openly reject all the norms that had been imposed upon me from both worlds. And yet, the song also celebrates my bi-cultural upbringing, fusing R&B and neo-soul with Indian classical elements, bringing together my 24 years of Indian musical training and my love for soul and the blues,” she said.
Featuring 30 South Asian women, the video puts brown women in the centre in all their glory and splendour. “Amritha’s obsession lies in fusing her beautiful Indian roots with the power and strength of soul and neo-soul – and creating music that heals and empowers,” mentions her website.
Amritha, who collaborated with Canada-based producer and DJ Khanvict for Kingdom, believes that her work addresses the lack of South Asian representation, and steers away from the tokenistic representation. The world is slowly opening up to representation, and Amritha hopes to see more of such change in mainstream media, creative arts, and leadership to make many Indian girls like her have a sense of belonging.