Amritha uses her voice to openly talk about issues which are common among children of immigrants. She started learning Carnatic music from her mother at the age of four. During her teens, she taught herself Hindustani and Bollywood vocals before discovering her love for Soul, Jazz and The Blues in her 20s.
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You can watch Amritha's "This Is My Story" video by clicking here.
Do you consider yourself strictly a musician? Or would you consider yourself more of a storyteller in various mediums which happens to include music?
I think the latter is very much how I identify. I just see myself as someone who is very passionate about certain things, and uses her voice (whether in song or not) to convey her message and somehow contribute to creating a higher consciousness and vibe.
I know the creative arts isn't as embraced as it could be in the Tamil community. Did you experience this or see this with others?
I definitely did experience this - I think it's interesting, a lot of young Tamil diaspora kids are taught music and/or dance growing up and we're taught that this is something to embrace. As long as it's a hobby. The moment we start to lean into this creative side as a form of income or as our career, it is absolutely looked down upon. I experienced this personally, and I see it all the time - not only within the Tamil community but also more broadly as South Asians.
What role has your family played in your journey?
Music wouldn't be such a big part of my life and being if it weren't for my Amma and Appa! Amma taught me Carnatic music at home when I was 4 years old, Appa always walked around the house singing classic Tamil film songs. Music was a part and parcel of us as a family growing up - from classical to Illaiyaraja, to Yesudas to SPB, it was everywhere and in every facet of my upbringing. Along with this love for music, came my Parents' love for their homeland, and I inherited that same love through music.
You describe yourself on your website as a “Hippie with an MBA?” Why even pursue an MBA if you knew you were passionate about music?
I don't see myself as a single-dimensional person - I have always been passionate about the social impact sector and sustainable development in India. I pursued an MBA to enable me to make a greater impact in this field - and throughout my life, music has always been something I came home to and that rejuvenated me, inspired me and made me feel connected to a higher power. I don't see these two sides of me as mutually exclusive - to pursue one at the expense of another would be inauthentic to who I am.
Who is an artist that you would love to collaborate with musically?
There are so many! I love Sid Sriram and Navz-47, and I think Rajakumari is doing amazing things with her work as well!
What was a defining experience in your childhood where you may have felt like the “other” or someone who didn’t belong in Australia?
One of the most painful experiences I have never quite been able to forget is when I was around 12-13 years old, coming home from school on the train. The whole way back home, for around 30-40 minutes, a group of teenagers sat behind me and whispered audibly horrible things about me in the background - I vividly remember them saying - "she's brown, ew. How disgusting". I said nothing, but on the way home I cried so hard and felt so deeply 'othered' by the incident. It's something that used to infuriate me everytime I looked back on it - but nowadays, I see it with this sense of "they didn't know better". And while back then, a part of me believed them and I started to hate myself - now, I can hear these sorts of comments and brush them off as their problem, not mine - I know I'm worthy.
How would you describe the Tamil community in Australia versus in Chennai?
I think the Tamil community in Australia is so much more united and collaborative. I didn't grow up in Chennai, but I'm there a lot - and from what I can see, the arts scene - and for that matter, any endeavour here - seems to be a much more supportive, united and uplifting vibe.
If you were given $1 billion, how would you allocate the money to change the world?
I love this question as it's something I think about ALL the time - I would use that money to build an institution that brings together all the key streams and methodologies of poverty eradication in the world, and I would hire a bunch of brilliant and kind people to figure out a way to sustainability empower communities out of poverty through a replicable model that makes us as the organisation obsolete. In other words, I think all the social sector needs is a unifying force that brings together hundreds of years of theories, practices, projects and also brings together major players across sectors and functions to deliver holistic development solutions.
What do you think the 14-year old Amritha would tell the current you?
14 year old Amritha hated herself and didn't believe in herself. So I think if she saw me now, if she saw the woman I became - she wouldn't believe it. She'd be thrilled to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, that one day I did learn to love myself, back myself and stay true to my heart's desires.
Have you ever thought about giving up? What’s kept you going?
To be honest - regularly. As recently as one week ago. What always keeps me coming back is this - in some small way or another, I have a platform here. So let me use it so that even if one young girl doesn't have to go through the same growing pains as I did, then that in itself makes this pursuit worthwhile.
What is your favourite book and/or movie?
My favourite book is The Alchemist - it's such a rich and layered text and I always derive so much meaning, wisdom and inspiration from it!
What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?
The concept that has currently captured my attention is 'flow'. So flow is this amazing state of being in which you are so absorbed in the activity that you are undertaking, that you become one with it, time stands still, and you being to tap into a higher power that starts acting through you. In this state, everything is...effortless. It's like rowing your boat with the current rather than against it - and it's something that we can manufacture - we don't have to wait until it happens to us. So these days, I'm really really conscious of stopping what I'm doing and asking - "am I in flow?". Even when I wake up in the morning, I ask myself - "what activities would put me into flow today?" and I build my day around that. Living this way is energising and even hard work feels seamless. I'm still working on mastering it, but it's such an incredible mindset shift from the "work hard, hustle and burn out" mentality that we tend to glorify as a society.
What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?
Omg this one is so hard!!! But I can't go past my Amma's sambhar and rasam, with a side of potato curry!
What is your favourite Tamil movie?
I have a lot, but the one that comes to my mind is either Padayappa or the Bharathiyaar biography.
What does Tamil culture mean to you?
Tamil culture is home. It's the language I fell in love to for the first time. It's the sound of 90s AR Rahman. It's the feeling of being with my Parents. It's Chennai when we visited every summer. It's Besant Nagar beach at sunset, and the auto drivers swearing at people in the traffic. It's what makes me and my music unique and...personal - and we need more representation in the mainstream. If I can contribute to that in some small way, I'd be very happy.
***If you want to connect with Amritha, please reach out via her TC profile - https://tamilculture.com/user/amritha-shakti ***
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