Meet Shanaaz: Toronto's R&B Singer Working To Normalize Indian/Bengali Culture

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My name is Shanaaz, a singer and songwriter from Toronto/Mississauga and I create R&B/Neo-Soul music.

I was born into a very musical family and I’ve been singing and writing poetry for as long as I can remember. My grandfather was a pianist for films in India, and all of my fathers sisters were singers in Bangladesh. Singing has always been my passion but it was difficult to take the career path seriously at first because of the stigmas surrounding creatives about money, and also because it’s not always seen as a well-respected career. When I was younger I was bullied a lot, left out and left feeling as if I was worthless. I thought that doing music would just be another waste of my time because it was too big of a big dream, though I couldn’t make myself happy with anything else. As I got older I realized that I couldn’t deny myself from what I was made to do. I went to school for Event Management for two years, and during my not so enjoyable second year I decided to take music seriously and begin vocal lessons, along with song writing. Currently I have 5 songs released and a music video.


 How do you want your music to impact youth culture/ what kind of impact do you hope to leave?

When I was younger I was embarrassed of it and I could tell being Indian wasn’t really a desired ethnicity just because of all the negative stereotypes associated with it. A lot of the bullying I dealt with was race related, with people using it as a way to put me down. I didn’t understand why I was so undesired and why only my race was made fun of in these ways. I guess now, looking back at it, the beauty of the Indian and Bengali culture isn’t brought out in society, so people only see the bad things they create or some of the unusual differences in brown culture.

I try to infuse my music and style with Indian/Bengali culture to normalize and bring the beauty of my background out to my audience.

I hope that I can make younger girls and boys not be ashamed of where they come from.  I want girls to know that its okay to enjoy dressing masculine while also wearing make up and being girly. I want girls to finally appreciate their body type and not always try to look like something else, like I did. And overall, to find beauty through confidence because if you don’t love yourself nobody else will.

In terms of my musical impact, I would like to make others feel like they are not alone in whatever they’re experiencing. Most of my music expresses my feelings of when I’m lonely & in a depressed mood, so having someone or something to relate to is always comforting. I would also like to normalize the idea of women being sexual beings through my music, especially in the South Asian culture. We are all sexual beings and deserve to be able to express our desires, along with being respected and loved.

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 Inspiration/motivation for making music:

The motivation I have for making music is my love for singing and creating. I knew I needed to pursue my dream because I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.

I know for sure that I would regret doing something that wasn’t my passion. As for my writing, I get inspired by things that happen in my life, such as relationships, life events, and the depression that I deal with; though many of my songs have not been my personal experiences. I would say I am an empathetic person, so putting myself in the shoes of others is easy for me, and something I find myself doing often. I create stories through my music and as I go on through life I find myself relating to the experiences that I’ve written about, and no matter what it is, someone will listen and be able to relate. Most of my recent songs have been about my experiences, which makes the song mean a lot more to me, and you can actually hear the sadness in my voice, which is something I struggled with when I wasn’t writing for myself.

What is your creative process, specifically for your newest song “Late Night”?

My creative process usually starts off with me playing around with words that describe the way I feel at the moment, which is mainly when I’m sad and feeling alone. It usually starts off as poetry, with patterns in the writing. Then later sitting down with my vocal coach who helps me format my writing into an actual song rather than a poem. She also plays the piano so I can brainstorm ideas for a melody, as well as visualize the direction I want to take. After that I bring it to my producer, Akeel Henry for production, recording and mixing. For my newest song “Late Night”, the process was a little different. I met a producer from Paris, named @OrisBeats on Instagram and we liked each others sound so we decided to collab. He sent me a few beats, and when I heard the Late Night beat, the lyrics and melody came to me right away. This song kinda goes hand in hand with my track “No Distance”. They both have more of a sensual tone to them rather than a dark and gloomy mood, like my other songs. 

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            What was it like shooting your first music video for your newest song “Late Night”?

Shooting a music video for the first time can be scary and somewhat unreal. I knew I wanted to have a visual aspect of my music, but I was unsure of the logistics of shooting a video until I met the videographer @rodahatesyou at a creative event who helped me through the whole process. For the Late Night video, I wanted to mainly focus on purple colours and shades of pink to set a sensual tone. We wanted to focus on retro styles, which led to the transparent phone in the video, along with the cassette in the beginning and VHS footage. Planning how everything would play out was a long process, and finding a perfect spot to shoot with a low budget was a bit challenging as well. Looking back at it now there definitely were some things that I could have planned better, but that’s part of the learning process, and I hope as I make more videos, each one gets better and better. I definitely love the video for what it is, I feel like it shows me in the light I wanted it to, with my cultural jewelry, imperfections, and also it does an exceptional job for setting the mood. Being able to work with people who understood my vision definitely made it easier, and a fun process through all.

What are your upcoming projects? What are you working on now?

I’m excited to say that the next project I am currently working on is my first EP. I’m hoping to form it into more of a story or a piece, mixing poetry and music with a darker vibe. The goal is for it to be cohesive rather than just a collection of songs. The EP will have 6-8 songs on it and I am aiming to release it by April 2018.


We would like to thank Shanaaz for following her dreams and creating a platform for women of colour to continue to be represented within this industry! Keep doin great things babygirl, we SEE you! 



Jeneen YanesComment