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Desi. Rapper. Activist. Shaili Champ: CFMU Artist Sketch

Blog/MusicOctober 31st 2018
Roohi Kailey

Photography by @harshiyatheva

Basmati is my personal empowering clap back to this colonized world

Shaili may be the new kid on the block, but with a revolutionary sound that is far better experienced than explained.

Hailing from North York by way of India, her music is an authentic reflection of self; a marriage between the comforting sounds of Classical Bollywood music and her deep love for hip-hop.

Shaili offers unflinching and honest lyricism on a bed of catchy and upbeat melodies, creating a space of both empowerment and self-celebration.

We recently caught up with Shaili Champ after she snagged the number 1 spot on our Top 30 charts twice with her single Basmati for a quick interview:

Dr. Seuss was my sh*t too

When did you begin to write/make your own music?

SC: I came to Canada when I was 5 & I knew no English.

I essentially learned English through the music I listened to at the time with my sister living in the North York area- a lot of Tupac, Biggie, Eminem, Missy, Aaliyah, Sean Paul. I remember rapping Eminem in my elementary classes and getting in trouble cause I had no clue what the words meant.

I was captivated by the rhyme schemes and wordplay --Dr. Seuss was my sh*t too-- when I learned how to write English on my own and learned poetry I wrote my brains out.

I always made beats on tables and counter tops while singing random melodies.

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In terms of 'Basmati', can you take us back to when you wrote the song? What does it represent for you?

SC: I finalized the lyrics of Basmati in July, but actually wrote the hook over a year ago.

Following the release of my song ManKind where I talk about women’s adversity - It was heavy but raw AF.

My song ‘Like After Like’ was a chill/drip hop that spoke about social media addictions. I wanted to continue talking about shit that matters to me, but I wanted to do it in a catchy, upbeat way so the song -and the message it has- could become an ear worm.

So when I thought about writing a song talking about brown culture being appropriated but in a fun/witty/catchy way- the hook kind of just came to me. I wish I could tell you where the ideas come from but its literally like they are dropped upon me by some higher energy.

Basmati is my personal empowering clap back to this colonized world that tries to strip coloured people of their own cultures, but monetizes on it.

As someone vocal about breaking stereotypes, do you ever feel limited by being labelled a "brown" or "desi" artist?

SC: Hell nah.

People can label me whatever they want but I know I don’t fit into any one box. Yes I’m desi & proud, and yes I vocalize on adversities we face, but I’m also a mix of the environment I grew up in Canada.

Growing up in North York and the GTA, I had a lot of friends from the Caribbean, so I have a lot of dancehall/reggae influences along with hip hop & rap influences. This influenced my style, my moral compass - everything.

Also with the blow up of the internet in our generation, I’ve been able to tap into knowledge and influences from around the world in all time spans - like the counter culture in the 1960’s introducing me to rock and psychedelic music, which is why I started playing electric guitar. I’ve never been one to care about what people want to label me as, I just do what feels right to me as an artist and creator.

We have a maturity and qualities that single background folks will never capture.

What are your own thoughts on representing a generation of kids who are not seen as "Indian" enough and yet not "Canadian" enough?

SC: You ain’t need to be enough of anything for anyone, embrace your story. Being first generational is beautiful. We’re so dynamic, flexible, and resourceful. We’ve lived one life time experiencing an explosion of culture, our roots, our home country, the new country which is a melody of various cultures in itself.

I feel like we’re lucky as hell yo.

As hard as our lives have been trying to ‘find’ ourselves, treading between retaining our roots and assimilation, I find it extremely fascinating and beautiful.

We have a maturity and qualities that single background folks will never capture. Im surprised that psychologists don’t study us more. I’m not sure if I represent an entire generation but I sure hope my music is something this generation can use to feel empowered and celebrate themselves with.

I feel like we’re lucky as hell yo.

Shaili is currently in the works of coproducing and writing a dancehall single set to be released soon.

In the meantime, keep an eye out on her Instagram for announcements and live concerts, as well as her Spotify for all her latest hits.

WATCH NEXT: Bass player and host of CFMU's Out of the Bassment Keiko, tells us about her band PAINT and her love for CFMU.

Listen to a mix of Hindi, Punjabi, Bhangra & Bollywood music featuring the latest beats from India, UK, and the world. Listen to Surtaal Radio