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Issue 55 / Direct From The UK Singer Shapla Salique Knows "No Boundaries"

Direct From The UK Singer Shapla Salique Knows “No Boundaries”

Jun 19, 2016


    The British-Bangladeshi soul/pop/funk/folk singer talks letting her eclectic influences run wild on her aptly titled album.

    For many of us, finding our calling is a struggle, rife with false starts and dead ends, before the right path finally reveals itself — if it ever reveals itself at all.

    For Shapla Salique, the search lasted about three years. And to be clear, we’re not talking about a post-high school, backpacking-through-Europe-to-find-yourself three years. We’re talking three years from birth — that’s when the soulful Bangladesh-born singer took her first wobbly steps onto a stage and found the place she’d call home for the next 37 years and counting.  

    “Singing has never been a hobby,” Salique reflects. “It is, quite simply, a way of life, and always has been. Even as a child artist, I was singing professionally and I was paid for all my performances. There have been [professional] gaps in my life, but I have never been away from music.”


    Shapla Salique with her current band.
     Photo Credit: Deimante Meilune

     

    Really, music would’ve been tough to avoid. Her father, uncle and grandfather were all well-knownfolk singers in Sylhet District, and when her dad moved to the U.K. in the ’70s (followed by his young family in the early ’80s), he brought his music with him, introducing Britain to the dulcet tones of Bangladesh via an upstart folk band he dubbed Dishari Shilpi Gosthi. Before she was 10 years old, Salique was the group’s lead singer. Albums, international tours, TV gigs and even a Royal audience ensued.
     
    “Music is, without doubt, in my blood . . . my first love,” she says. “To be honest, that’s the only thing I ever thought I’d be.”

    Beginning in the mid-’90s, Salique would embark on a solo career, releasing two albums — 1997’s folk-oriented Siyono na Siyona and 2002’s Hindi pop affair Lai Lai. Neither shot to the top of the charts, but that suits Salique just fine. “I think in my career so far has been a gradual process for me,” she says. “It hasn’t been like an overnight thing and I have eased my way into things in my own time and pace.”
     
    And that time has seen her go through substantial artistic evolution. Though her Bengali roots remain deeply entrenched in her work (she still sports that signature harmonium), being exposed to new genres and modes of musical expression over the years has had its impact. The same can be said of any burgeoning artist of course, but Salique seems to embrace new sounds more readily than most.
     
    “My taste in music is incredibly varied,” she explains, “from Bengali folk/classical, Sufi music, funk, reggae, opera, jazz, soul, blues . . . I listen to everything and appreciate all these genres. And I guess as a child listening to so many different sounds, I just soaked it all up.”

     
    Shapla Salique
    Photo Credit: Deimante Meilune

     

    It means her own sound is a tad difficult to categorize these days, but for Salique, not fitting neatly inside one box or the other is only natural. “I believe my sound is unique because it reflects my personality and it describes me,” she says. “I am emotionally connected to the songs I perform and produce. It reflects the true heart and soul of me.”
     
    Unique is a word that could also be applied to her distinctly striking fashion sense, which includes dashes of traditional and modern, South Asian and Victorian, sarees and tuxedos, bowler hats and military caps and whatever else might happen to strike her fancy that day. “I love experimenting and to have fun with the way I style myself. I never play it safe, I don’t generally follow trends. I wear what feels comfortable and my style always showcases my personality.”

     
    Shapla Salique
    Photo Credit: Deimante Meilune

     

    That eclectic sensibility is also very much encapsulated by her third album, No Boundaries, released this past April. In addition to being her most Western-influenced album to date, it’s also her most personal work, given that she had full artistic control — producing all of her own tracks in addition to performing them.

     

    “It has been an immense journey for me, with many musical challenges in terms of the quest for different sounds, and inspiration to fuse Western sounds in the right places through the album, without ever losing the flavour of the original songs,” Salique notes. “It is a long, long process of creation and cultivation — endless hours in the studio. I’ve aged about five years making this album!”
     
    Ultimately, though, it was worth the effort — a fact she was recently reminded of not by album sales or sold-out venues, but an intimate moment during the No Boundaries launch party at Wilton’s Music Hall in London.
     
    “A fan came up on stage and told me that she had travelled all the way from the U.S. to the U.K., just for my concert. I was touched and overwhelmed; that was a truly amazing moment . . . For me, it's the small things that tend to stick in my mind rather than the big events.”

               

                        

    Shapla Salique's latest album, No Boundaries.
    Photo Credit: Deimante Meilune

     

     

    A moment like that, one imagines, serves as validation not just for the drops of blood, sweat and tears that were spilt on a single album, but the oceans that were poured into her career as a whole. Because even though Shapla Salique found her calling when she was still a toddler, that doesn’t mean her path was an easy one. Like just about everyone who has ever chased a dream and managed to catch it, victory was a matter of both passion and persistence.
     
    “Oh yes, I have been discouraged by many people along the way; for many years, I faced challenges and obstacles,” she reflects. “Those were hard times, and yes for a short time I did change my career to fit in and to be accepted. Being a Muslim woman and pursuing a career in music and trying to maintain your religion and culture hasn’t been easy. But you see, music is my motivation and my drive, so when people discourage me I turn to music for comfort, it makes me want to do it even more.”
     

     
    Shapla Salique
    Photo Credit: Deimante Meilune

     

    Main Image Photo Credit: Deimante Meilune
      Matthew Currie

      Matthew Currie

        Author

        Having gotten his start with Anokhi Media as an intern in 2009, Matthew Currie was honoured to accept a position as the magazine’s Arts & Entertainment editor earlier this year. A graduate of the Professional Writing program at York University, he’s spent the past four years working as a fre...

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