Ashwarya: The Intersection of Cultures in Music

ASHWARYA: Embracing Vulnerability, Celebrating Strength

The day ASHWARYA shared her debut single was a blur. Titled PSYCHO HOLE, the single was an introduction to Melbourne-based Aishwarya Shah and her musical project, arriving to rapturous applause as her home city descended into what would become its lengthiest pandemic-induced lockdown to date, one that would make international news due to its severity.

Doing anything amongst the uncertainty and anxiety of lockdown feels like a chore to most, so you can understand the flustered feeling ASHWARYA gets when recollecting the day – a day she had been building towards for what felt like her entire life.

Navigating Lockdown: ASHWARYA’s Creative Space

“It’s a sentiment that’s echoed nearly a full year later, as we talk on the eve of her debut EP NOCTURNAL HOURS. ASHWARYA is once again in lockdown; stuck within the confines of her Melbourne home which across the last year, has been the backdrop of everything from music videos to editorialised magazine photoshoots. “I’m used to it by now,” she laughs.

Over the last year, it’s become clear that she isn’t the type to spend her entire lockdowns baking vodka pasta or binge-watching TV. She’s done some of that, she admits, but a lot of it has been spent breaking through as one of Australia’s most promising new pop exports; the musician carving a place synonymous with pop music’s creative and experimental future largely from the confines of her house.

The Sonic Revelation: ASHWARYA’s Musical Fusion

From the second ASHWARYA made her entrance, there was a feeling in the air that she was unlike any other Australian pop musician to emerge from the last few years.

Her debut single PSYCHO HOLE remains an almost unexplainable mix of textures and genres a year later; pop-sounding with its nods to Billie Eilish’s dark edginess, but full of the experimentation and intricacies you’d expect from hip-hop innovators like Kanye West and Tyler The Creator, mixed with a touch of Bollywood culture that makes ASHWARYA sound unlike anything else in Australia right now – let alone the world.

It’s something that carries through to her second single BIRYANI too, a symbolic ode to her Indian upbringing (and named after a popular, Indian-curried rice dish that her mother used to cook on special occasions) that fuses already unconventional club-pop and hip-hop with bhangra drumming and Hindi-sung lyrics.

Roots and Influences: ASHWARYA’s Cultural Tapestry

ASHWARYA’s family moved to Australia when she was just six months old, and her parents – trying to make ends meet as first-generation immigrants – largely left her in the hands of her grandparents, who raised her with the Indian culture and values that stick with her two decades later.

In the care of her grandparents, ASHWARYA was surrounded by 50s and 60s Bollywood music, which they’d play on an old record player (“I was always listening to that,” she remembers). These roots in 50s Bollywood culture would soon blossom into a fascination with Indian culture from the 80s, and the song sequences popular in Bollywood film.

Then, ASHWARYA underwent the same rite of passage as many Australian teens, discovering So Fresh compilation CDs – seasonally issued recaps of Australia’s charting singles at the time.

For ASHWARYA, So Fresh CDs led to her discovery of Western pop. They were the vessel to her infatuation with artists including Rihanna, Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas, as well as the occasional older artist they’d throw in for nostalgia’s sake: Queen being an inspiration that remains with ASHWARYA, even 20 years following the death of their frontman, Freddie Mercury.


For ASHWARYA, however, NOCTURNAL HOURS is just an introduction to everything that makes her who she is, and as someone forced to assimilate and split herself between Indian and Australian worlds growing up, her presence is something she wishes she had while growing up herself.

Also Read:Smitha Antony: Crafting Cross-Cultural Musical Narratives

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