Shayan Italia is a multi-faceted personality. He was named “Global Indian Of The Year” for his contribution to India by immortalizing the Indian National Anthem; his version is the most viewed national anthem of all time on YouTube. In 2020, his global music initiative, “Power Of Love” went viral across Facebook during the COVID-19 pandemic lock-down receiving critical acclaim for inspiring and helping people cope through the trying times. Shayan also recently released his new music video called Sha La La featuring 21 artists which also boasts of 65 musicians from across the globe. The music video is touted as a profound ballad with a deeply pertinent message of ‘Love Without Boundaries’. The song which is bold and showcases celebratory statements of passion and queer confidence has been applauded and loved by the Industry and many came in support of Shayan’s passion project.
We had a chat with this award-winning entrepreneur, musician, and philanthropist.
1. Tell us about your background. What influence has your family had on your music and philanthropy?
I’m born to a simple Zoroastrian Parsi family in Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh. My father was a PhD in Engineering (where I get my love for technology from). My mother read a lot of books in her life to open her own small little library that grew to be very popular in the locality (where I get my creativity from I guess), and my elder brother is an award-winning Chartered Accountant.
Music, in every Zoroastrian household, is a large part of one’s life. The songs of choice in ours were mainly melodic themes that have echoed through the ages. My elder brother exposed me to a lot of pop music at the time. I raise money in memory of my parents who died when I was very young. My Mum died of Cancer of the Bone Marrow and my father lost his battle to Multiple Sclerosis. Now my shift has gone from Cancer and M.S. to education.
2. Your version of the Indian National Anthem on YouTube is the most viewed version ever. How did the start of this project come about?
When I came to India in August 2010 I was taken to see a movie. Then, I was told to stand when the National Anthem came on. This was a rule only in Maharashtra at the time. It was bizarre. Coming from the UK or anywhere else around the world, this rule really made people uncomfortable. There is also no RULE that you HAVE to stand for the national anthem. It is implied, but there is NO RULE as stated clearly by the Supreme Court of India. And furthermore what I was standing to was a pixelated flag and some tinkly-tonk version of a great theme I have come to admire since childhood. So you can imagine me going “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?”
Since then, I came up with the idea of creating a version of the Indian National Anthem, that when people saw the same, they would feel proud of; it would connect on a deep emotive level and inspire patriotism from “within”, than how the Govt. of India splashes the flag at every turn (like that’s going to make me feel more patriotic). The story of the boy who lost his mother as a child and his ode to her for the gift she left him with was worthy presentation to me as something everyone could relate to, more so, WANT TO STAND TO. It is from this ethos, that the video I guess connected with a lot of people, both in India and the world over and I stand up for everyone that viewed the video in respect.
3. Sha La La features 65 musicians from across the globe. How did you orchestrate this massive project, and how long did it take?
I’ve been recording with large orchestras since my late teens in the UK and the world over. Sha La La in its original English dialect was recorded with some of the most well-known session musicians in the world. Once the video was cut, we wanted to see if the song could work in dual languages. Hence we introduced it into the Indian market subtly to test the response and the same. Its original version will be released internationally out of COVID-19 and have a lot more mass appeal, as the English music market size is infinitely larger.
When you get the right people together who know what they are doing, things fall into place rather well. In music, I’ve been fortunate to have worked under the best from the very start and also add value from my own learnings to the pot. It’s been a type of meritocracy where I’ve had to earn my way up the ladder step for step.
5. What’s the response to Sha La La been like? Any memorable responses?
Sha La La is a one-of-a-kind video; it’s artistic, provocative, suggestive and has a deep meaning running through its runtime of approx. 5.5 minutes. The song is incredibly catchy. For me, it always starts and ends with the music. You just want to sing along to it as soon as the first chorus strikes. So far the reactions have been rather positive. We’re treating this like a Cannes debut, in the sense that we want to showcase the product, but then release it formally down the line out when the marketplace restores itself. Right now no one knows what is going on with the music business as a large bulk of its revenue comes from Live Performances and that is a far away thought due to COVID-19.
Many from the LGBTQ community have come out in support of the video, its message, and its production values. These include well-known actors, actresses, writers, journalists and more. You can’t have the positive without the negative, and the negative comments area always more fun to read. Because they are so extreme. One such was a woman who had a serious issue with the “Cat scene” and went on and on for PAGES on how inappropriate it is for INDIA and how the country is not progressive enough for this video bla de bla. You have to applaud her, I mean she took so much time to see the video, analyse it, write me pages and pages on her thoughts…You can only admire someone’s tenacity for the same.
6. Apart from being a musician and philanthropist, you also founded and sold a food delivery startup called Biryani360! How do you juggle all these various projects? Do you ever find time for yourself?
I don’t like to multi-task. It is scientifically proven that those who multi-task end up not doing one thing very well. So I like to take on projects one at a time. I also do a lot of research before I start something. I have to be invested in the idea for a long time before taking it on. Sometimes this is a boon and sometimes it is a curse. We’re in a world which is ever dynamically changing so you have to be ready to change with it on-the-fly. This is more difficult than one thinks, but those who are most adaptable eventually win the greatest reward. Biryani360’s setup was accidental; it was never meant to be. A silly viral video sparked interest that led to a business being setup and sold within a year. Guess you can say we got lucky.
7. How has the pandemic affected your various pursuits, and how have you adapted?
As an individual, I’m pretty disciplined. I manage my time very well and always have. I’m never late for anything. In fact I have this saying “If I’m late, I’m dead”. Right now there are 3 major projects I’m focusing on, none related to the other, and when they materialize I tell myself “the party will start”. I’ve also invested in businesses that need to mature. Finally there are some court cases that are also on the verge of materializing to fruition. Right now, COVID-19 has completely rocked the legal system. Imagine if it was slow before, what it is now…So we have to be patient, understand the situation the world is in, as we are all in it together, and take things slowly step-by-step. I’m sure it will all work out fine and we’ll all come out better human beings it in the end.
8. We hear you’ve visited over 75 countries and cities. What are some of the most fascinating places you’ve visited?
My favorite cities I’ve traveled to, those which I would live in, in a heart-beat, if I spoke to native language fluently, are ROME, BARCELONA, ATHENS. Some of my most memorable travels of mine are: Santorini, Prague, Malaysia, Dubai, Bangkok, Venice. I love to travel and seek to travel each month to a different country in search for inspiration. Everyone in my family knows I do this.
I feel we are on this Earth to live and explore; not to make money, and show everyone how big a home we have, how popular we are or how fast a car we drive. If you’ve not explored the world, and such a beautiful Earth is she, you’ve kind of lost in life. That’s what my Mum and Dad taught me; as from travel you experience different cultures, different tastes, different sceneries. All this keeps things fresh, lively and vibrant.
Your soul is full with love for what you have and love for what others have and have created. You respect people more, you understand people more. This is why I aim to create a life filled with travel. Oh, and travel is not going to a city to SHOP. It’s to explore its historic sites and culture, its history, it’s food, its story. Having said that I’m a total CITY buff and I do love breath-taking man-made architecture.
To end, something poignant my Mum told me when I was young: Find a woman and travel with her. You’ll never fight, your romance will blossom as every scenario is a different aphrodisiac. Most times, your problems only come from other people who have a problem with your happiness.
It was words of wisdom to live by…don’t you think?