kal kand n.

1. tamil for rock candy
2. a form of candy consisting of crystals of pure sugar offered to favor the gods during blessed times, such as weddings and prayers
3. a genre of music transcending traditional rock ‘n’ roll and incorporating south indian classical ear candy

Shaheen's newest release, Rock Candy
Shaheen’s newest release, Rock Candy

When Nirali interviewed Shaheen Sheik back in September, we knew she was on the cusp of something big. Just a few months later, it certainly seems like she’s on her way. On May 1, Sheik stood in front of a packed crowd on a stage at Hollywood’s Knitting Factory to debut her new full-length album, Rock Candy. “It was a really fun night,” she says. Why wouldn’t it be? Sheik’s set was well received, and the lilting melodies of the album had the audience dancing into the night.

We were lucky enough to chat with Shaheen Sheik after her big debut, and here’s what she had to say.

What did you have in mind when you started this album? What were you trying to convey?
I was traveling this year, and I got a chance to experience music in a different way. It’s different when you’re going to experience different cultures and seeing the world. What I loved about London and Europe was that feel of so many different cultures, because country to country, they’re so close.

I met with a friend of mine in London, DJ Swami, and he told me, “You’re really talented, but I feel like you’re holding back.” So he asked me to talk about myself a little bit. When I told him I was a Bharatanatyam dancer, he said, “We would never know that based on your music. Why don’t we know that about you? Isn’t that the point of being an artist, incorporating all the sides of you?”

When I came back from my trip, I went to my producer, Jay Ruston, to discuss some different ideas. I sat down with him and talked about my vision. I wanted to incorporate more of my artistry, dance background, etc. From about January 1 to the end of March, we were in the studio and worked everyday.

Shaheen Sheik

So why the name Rock Candy?
I kept telling Jay that I was definitely pop rock. I didn’t want to alienate my old fans, but I still wanted to start experimenting with my own sounds. I wanted to add South Indian classical ear candy. That’s when I thought of Rock Candy. I thought, it is rock, it is candy. The auspiciousness of that candy—you offer it at weddings and other celebrations—that seemed appropriate.

Will you be performing live around the country?
I’m in New York right now to get the ball rolling. By the end of summer, I really want to have a little four-city tour: DC, London, New York and Cleveland, my hometown.

The last time we talked, we discussed how South Asian artists are so often made to seem “exotic” and can’t just be straight up rock artists. It even seemed like you resisted bringing desi touches to you your music.

Shaheen Sheik

It’s funny because 6 months ago, I had a vision of this music, and it’s changed. I still want to be authentic—I don’t want to do this because it will sell records. The way I thought about it was, I am not telling my whole truth. I do have such a love and affection for my culture. It’s always been such a big part of my life. That being said, I still didn’t want it to be overt [in my music]. I didn’t want it to be a more classically fusion album. I wanted people to be intrigued. Not, oh, there’s that tabla, but what’s that? That’s how it felt right for me. That’s who I am. I love my culture and customs. I don’t wear it on my sleeve—it’s just a very integrated part of who I am.

What are your favorites on the album?
I really love “Here and Now.” That one has a very fond place in my heart, mostly because my feet are recorded in there. This album was done in three months, but we did it in my producer’s home studio. We recorded my feet in his bathroom. It was very homegrown, from the heart. When I hear that in the song, it just sort of makes me smile.

I’ve recorded some of these songs once or maybe twice before. This version feels right. I don’t have the need or want to record any of these songs again. This is the version it should be.

Are you happy with how things turned out?
I’m so excited and proud of this album. When my EP was done, I felt like that was an accomplishment, but I wasn’t overjoyed. But with this album, I feel really proud of it, and I don’t feel reserved to sending it to anybody. If they listen, they’ll love it. I want to be able to take my fans on a ride for an hour. I hope I accomplished that.n

Ismat Sarah Mangla with additional reporting by Pavani Yalamanchili.
Published on May 2, 2005.
Photography: Courtesy of Shaheen Sheik.
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