Rasika Shekar leaves her musical imprint everywhere she goes, whether in India or around the world. A trained vocalist and flautist both in Carnatic and Hindustani classical music, Rasika has the ear to recognize any kind of music from the street-driven jazz and blues of New York City to the melodious styles of Sufi singing to the pure-heartedness of a Ghazal. She is a master of style who is able to emulate all possible worldly sounds.
Born in Dubai and raised in the US, Rasika started her journey with a tour of the U.S. accompanying the Ghazal legend Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan as a vocalist. She was introduced to the Bansuri while in the U.S. by her guru Dr. Bhavani Rao who also trained her in all facets of Carnatic music.
My mother’s side of the family has many people that are trained in classical music. I guess I always had an inclination but I didn’t realize it until much later.”
From The Blues to Bollywood
She then made her Bollywood playback debut when national-award-winning composers Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy offered her the opportunity to sing for the award-winning film, “Dekh Indian Circus.” Following that, Rasika started performing with the trio in their live concerts all over the world. She is also the voice behind Bollywood songs ‘Hulla Re’ from Karan Johar’s movie ‘2 States’ and ‘Daiyya Maiyya’ from YashRaj Film’s ‘Kill Dil’. Her recent playback song is ‘Sau Aansoon Roye’ from the film ‘Katti Batti’.
“It’s hard for me to exactly specify one genre that I perform.” That’s because Rasika is so multi-talented. The past few years have been remarkable in terms of her exploration into multiple genres and dimensions of music. These have ranged from Jazz to Latin music to Bollywood to Arabic music to Ghazals to Flamenco. They have all deeply influenced her taste and style of music to a certain extent. Of course, Rasika’s roots lie in Carnatic music and that’s the framework or vocabulary she naturally uses. However, in terms of expression, she brings in influences from these various sources.
Did Rasika’s dream of becoming a musician ever feel like it was too hard to come true? “Haha! The moments come every now and then. I now just take it as a part of the journey. There’s beauty in feeling this chaos!”
The Inspiration Behind This Musical Marvel
Rasika says that she got her musical inspiration from her grandmother, both as a musician and as a human being. “I look up to her for so many things. If I can be just about 10% of what she is, I’d consider myself to have achieved something.” Her professional inspirations include plenty of world-renowned musical artists like Shankar Mahadevan, again, both as an artist and as a human being. “I’m just always awestruck every time I’m around him.” Nature and travel inspire Rasika heavily as well. “Traveling helps one acquire so many different images and experiences and so much about oneself. It’s truly humbling.” Ideas for her work come from different places depending on the type of work. But most of the time it starts with something she hears in her mind, either a melody or a groove. “And once I shut my eyes, I can visualize something around it to help build it further.” Rasika is truly one musician who was born with melody flowing in her veins.
Rasika’s family has been extremely supportive of her and for that she is grateful. Having that kind of a strong support system really helped her find her inner strength and motivation. Of course, it took some time for her extended family to understand the nature of work since no one from her family was a professional musician.
Rasika loves spending time writing her own material in the midst of performances and travel. Over the last two years, her ability to imbibe sounds and emotions has become sharper. She loves to channel various images she sees through music. “I’m loving the fact that I can jump from different types of performances and opportunities.” Rasika will perform for two colleges in Jodhpur and Jaipur which would be more of a Bollywood repertoire. She’s then off to New York to perform a more experimental and original set of repertoire bringing in a more diverse set of influences. Rasika says that travelling has helped her develop her music immensely, allowing her to hit all the right notes with her audience.
From Balancing Equations to Balancing Melodies
Believe it or not, Rasika was a chemical engineer before pursuing music as a professional career. When asked what’s the difference between Rasika the chemical engineer and Rasika the musician, she replies playfully, “I love the question! Hmmm…Rasika the chemical engineer is more analytical, logical, systematic in nature. I guess. Rasika the musician is a bit dreamy, introspective, pensive. I guess I’m somewhere in between these worlds.”
As a flautist, Rasika has been performing solo Carnatic flute concerts at various venues in the United States, Dubai, Chennai, and Mumbai, winning numerous awards along the way. She also recently performed with guitar legend John McLaughlin in Spain and did collaborations in Spain last year both as a vocalist and flautist, taking Indian music to different audiences in different contexts. She also released a new single two months back which has been getting great reviews and even made airplay on the BBC Asian network. Last year, Rasika was invited to perform at the very prestigious World Flute Festival in Delhi. She was the only Indian flautist that year to stage her own production and received a remarkable response from the audience. Seems like Rasika can definitely toot her own horn.
Rasika’s advice to others who aim to make music their career… “Go for it with all your heart and soul! The learning never stops. Surrender yourself to music as much as possible. And of course, open your ears and heart and absorb as much as you can.” She boldly encourages other budding musicians to keep fine-tuning their amazing talents and march to the beat of their own drum!