Bringin’ the F in Female Vocalist

Written By

Shaapla Sen

Bringin' the F in Female Vocalist.Nov19 2015.Final-02 Loading

As a female vocalist one of the main things I do before any show is take a sticky lint roller and try to get cat hair out of my black clothes. Of course, when I was starting out, I had other problems. Calcutta is a city deeply connected to all sorts of music and that was both a good and bad thing. We had a handful of hastily-arranged band competitions, school bands performing with apprehension as well as fervor, and old pubs where sexily-clad female vocalists used to perform. Being Bengali and being sincere, my mother sent me to eastern music classes where I would sit in front of a woman with a harmonium and sing Sa re ga ma pa with the enthusiasm of a wet sock. Needless to say that relationship didn’t last and I disappointed both my music teacher and my mother by being a Bengali girl who didn’t succeed at celebrating Tagore.

Over the years many things played huge roles in my musical appreciation – Disney, bathroom singing, pop music, angst-y teenage music and choir. I think my mother picked up the not-so-subtle hints I used to give off (when I was screaming Linkin Park inside my room) and enrolled me in choir classes. In choir there were a lot of others and we all sang about maids making cream and the sun shining, and teddy bears on picnics, and the fairness of roses. Choir builds immense skills as well as vocal prowess; but you are one in a crowd and your objective is to sound as one. So when my guitarist friend asked me if I wanted to be a vocalist in his band, I said yes completely without knowing what it’d entail. I didn’t know exactly how much I would have to stand out – how much my uniqueness would start to matter. They were a bunch of boys with dreams bigger than any of us could handle but I wanted to be a part of that miscalculated enthusiasm.

My first experience on stage – my mouth was dry even before I started singing. I don’t remember that show, I might have been so nervous my brain chose not to record any of it for posterity. But as they say, practice does attempt to make perfect and I kept at it. I would participate in competitions which had dirty looking, long-haired musicians in black t-shirts. Usually I was the only girl participating; I used to think of it as such a disadvantage then. But band competitions are nothing compared to what happens to you when you sing in a pub or a hotel bar. First of all, my mother had a heart attack when I told her I was going to do it. She told me – “Do you know what kind of women go and sing in bars??”

People would send me flowers on stage which they had hijacked from the table center-piece. Some would send me money; some would send me notes in tissue papers that asked me whether I would like to have a drink with them after the show and was I staying at the same hotel. There was no categorizing the types of people who did this – young, old, rich, poor, stupid. It’s like you are setting yourself up for weird requests just by allowing yourself to sing somewhere. It felt like I had a sign on my head that said – please buy me drinks and give me money because I am here singing for you.

It gets better though, when you learn to choose your performances. You leave shady bars and questionable clubs and you remind yourself that if it’s singing you love, there must be better places to do it in. Go back to the bathroom if need be! I jumped, hopped and skipped from one band to another – bands with friends, professional bands, wedding bands, corporate shows. The experiences you have range from really good ones where you’re treated like kings and ones where you are a part of all-night entertainment with ‘exotic dancers’.

There are very many good things about doing what I do. I got to bring my singing out of the bathroom and into brightly-lit platforms. The advantages of an expanding and well-appreciated music scene brings you people who genuinely appreciate good music. Like many shows I have done when I was younger, I am no longer background music. I am no longer a show piece up for grabs and nobody even bats an eyelid because I am a woman.

And I’m also incredibly happy to say that nobody has sent me flowers on stage or asked me for a drink afterwards for all of last year…




Shaapla Sen, 27, lives and works in Bangalore. She is physically occupied a few hours each day with HR and sales. But mentally occupied every moment with photography, painting, trees, cooking, music, family, affection and her furbabies.

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