Amritha Shakti’s journey is one that feels incredibly familiar. And I know why.
She’s a South Asian woman who has chosen to be an artist.
And that’s still a rare and brave thing to find in the diaspora community that you grow up, belong to, connect with, and are pressured by, as a brown woman.
The Australian/Indian-Tamil singer-songwriter, who started on YouTube a few years ago making video covers of a range of songs, from jazz, r and b, soul, to Indian fusion and Bollywood, has just finished recording her first EP, featuring five original songs.
“It’s been a crazy journey,” she says. “It’s been incredible.”
Her decision to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter came after what she calls the ‘old plan’ for her life fell through.
That plan was to do an MBA, pursue a career in international development, while keeping music as a “nice side hobby.”
But after realising that what she had planned wasn’t for her after all, she turned to music to help her through. And after uploading her first cover song to YouTube, it clicked.
“I thought, omigod, that felt so good. We should do this.”
And even a quick perusal of her YouTube channel shows why. With her full, husky voice perfectly suited to the jazz, soul, and r and b that she clearly loves, and beautifully shot and costumed videos, she is an incredibly engaging performer.
She also incorporates a South Asian fashion aesthetic into her videos, which is a deliberate choice: intersectional feminism, female empowerment, and South Asian female representation are issues close to her heart, and issues that she wants to explore through her music and videos.
“You realise to what extent not seeing people like you growing up has, mentally closed off doors,” she muses.
Despite the joy and fulfilment she has found in her work, owning and feeling comfortable with it, without guilt, is still a ‘battle’.
“I think, is it okay that I’m South Indian, in my late twenties, and an artist? I feel so much weird South Asian guilt for that… it’s a process of unlearning what we should be doing and shouldn’t be doing.”
And writing her first original song Deserve Me was all about letting go of that guilt and self-doubt.
“It’s ridiculous to me that there’s this pressure from our community to be a certain way. And when you overcome that, there’s a pressure that you’re not worthy in the eyes of Western media… and it was kind of like just a moment of like ‘eff you’. None of these pressures are worth it, and this song is for me.”
It’s also all about putting brown women front and centre visually, in all their glory, splendour and confidence. The video for Deserve Me features around 30 South Asian women, including women from Pakistani, Indian, Sri Lankan, Nepalese and Bangladeshi backgrounds. Furthermore, nearly everyone on the project was South Asian and female.
“There’s nothing out there that shows us in a really empowered way. The way [the women] responded was just incredible. They were like, yeah, we need this.”
She hopes this song and the video – which will be released mid-June – will lead to more work being created that addresses the lack of South Asian female representation, and pulls away from tokenistic representation that perpetuates the idea that there can only be one brown woman who has a ‘moment’.
“There’s this mentality of ‘there’s no space’. We need to realise we have the opportunity to stand next to Priyanka Chopra and Mindy Kaling and say, this is my space, and that there’s enough opportunity out there for me to do it.”
You Don’t Deserve Me
By Amritha Shakti
Lately I’ve been feeling a bit
More content within my skin
And lately I’ve been feeling like I’m unlearning
All the lies that I believed
Finally looking in the mirror
And I don’t feel like I need to change
Day by day
I’m learning that I am enough
the way I am
You Don’t Deserve Me