“I love you like biryani,” croons Melbourne-based musician Ashwarya in the opening line of one of her most popular hits. A few seconds later, in what might come as a pleasant surprise for most listeners, she dips into Hindi.
“Tum ho meri dil ki dhadkan (you are the beat of my heart) / it keeps on beating for you. Galti se bhi paas mat aao (don’t come too close by mistake) / I won’t let you go.”
In the last year, her bilingual single “Biryani” has garnered over 600,000 streams on Spotify and the number only seems to grow. It might’ve been a gamble to incorporate Hindi lyrics while starting out, but she simply views it as combining the best of her two worlds.
“Yes, it’s a bit experimental, but there’s not a massive catalogue of bilingual music for me to refer to. So really, I’m making my own rules as I go,” the 21-year-old told Indian Link.
“Biryani” is one of the singles from her debut EP Nocturnal Hours that released last year, accompanying “Psycho Hole”, “Love Again” and “To The Night” featuring Chicago rapper Vic Mensa. Ever since, Ashwarya’s been touted as the next big thing in Australian pop, featured in Paper Magazine, NME’s 100 Emerging Artists for 2021, and being the top pick of best finds on Triple J’s Unearthed.
In fact, she adds, she’s had non-Hindi speakers singing along to “Biryani” at live shows too.
“They had taken the time to learn the Hindi lyrics, I couldn’t believe it,” she smiled. “It proves that you can convey a feeling with music even if people don’t understand what you’re saying.”
In late September, the Indian-Australian musician dropped a new track “Flare” that she considers to be some of her best work yet.
“It’s a song about the tension that plays out between not knowing if someone likes you back and searching for their signal, treading the line between letting people in and letting people go,” she elaborated.
Working with British-Australian producer Jarrad Rogers and mixer Jamie Snell, Ashwarya finds herself in the company of internationally renowned artists like Boyzone, Annie Lennox, Mark Ronson, Dua Lipa, Ellie Goulding, and Noah Cyrus. Last year, she was the first artist signed to NOiZe Recordings in a joint venture with Sony Music Australia.
It’s no mean feat for a young artist who launched her career in the middle of the pandemic.
“It’s been hard, missing out on international travel opportunities because of the pandemic. I haven’t even been able to visit Sydney!” she confessed. “Still, there have been a lot of new skills learned in lockdown, like making my own music videos at home.”
Growing up in Melbourne in the company of her grandparents, Ashwarya (real name Aishwarya Shah) found herself immersed in old Bollywood films, introduced to the music of Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and the hits of the ‘80s. In recent years, the work of Arijit Singh (“the Ed Sheeran of India”) and the soundtracks of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil and Padmaavati have caught her attention.
Combine these Bollywood influences with musical inspirations from the 2000s like Rihanna, Tylor the Creator, and The Weeknd, and it’s given her a unique sound that she can only define as “experimental” and “forward thinking.”
She’s understandably reluctant to box herself into one single genre, but some common elements that come across in her music are strong emotional qualities, high production value, and tempo changes that you never see coming.
“My general idea is to keep people on their toes,” she grinned.
From a young age, Ashwarya felt drawn to exploring her musical side, participating in community choirs, and continuing to explore her sound. She went back and forth on whether to take it music seriously as a career and eventually took the plunge after high school.
Amid all this success and press, it’s the direct messages from fans that mean the most.
“In the past year, I’ve noticed how much my South Asian background has had a direct impact on people. It’s so satisfying. I’ve had teenagers reach out to say my music allowed them to feel like themselves and be proud of their heritage,” said Ashwarya, whose own family hails from Ahmedabad and Lucknow.
So what’s next on the agenda?
“I’ve already started writing my next project and I know where I want to go visually and sonically. Just keen to get started,” she smiled.
Ashwarya’s currently loving…
… reading The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
… watching The new season of Brooklyn Nine Nine
… listening to Ckay, he’s this talented Nigerian singer-songwriter whom people should definitely check out!
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