If you type Siddhi Shah (A common name, common surname) into Google, one of the first suggestions is ‘Siddhi Shah Drummer’. It’s also a temptation I did all I could to avoid. I wanted to go into this conversation knowing as little as possible about her. Being ‘out of the scene’ for twenty-odd years has its perks, one - you have a bird’s-eye view of things and two - you get to marvel at how things are so different and yet the same.
What I most identify with in Siddhi is that she’s a proper hustler. There's a certain clarity with which she describes her journey. She doesn't complain about the music scene, or the world, or life. Even in these times. In fact, these days she’s busy performing live every night and on contract, a project she and one of her bands bagged in Dubai. Could she then be one of the few musicians I’ve encountered since March 2020 who has landed a paid professional gig?
“It’s a Bollywood gig!” She begins, and right then I’m thinking - “Aha! So that’s the catch!”
I’m what you call a conservative Metalhead. I have no qualms in snarling at people wearing Metal t-shirts when they haven’t listened to the band. But I, too, have mellowed down over the years. Still, how could a Metal drummer like Siddhi reconcile Bollywood of all things?
While I admit I didn’t do much with background research on Siddhi, I watched one video of her jamming to Schism by Tool. Playing off-timing was something many drummers have struggled with back in the day. I even double-checked it with a friend, slightly senior, who has been around the scene for many years now and worked as a researcher and music journalist. It’s his opinion I trust most in matters of Metal. His response was merely, “Not bad, Schism on drums is difficult...”
That’s how I knew for sure it was good. Also, she’s effortless, especially when she drums Korn. Almost as though halfway through it she’s already looking for another challenge.
Siddhi was quick to put my Bollywood-phobia to rest, “If you want to be recognised solely as a Metalhead and a Metal drummer, that’s fine. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong, but I enjoy doing things outside my comfort zone. That’s where most learning happens. When I’m doing things that I’m not comfortable with, it helps me grow, not only as a drummer but also as a person. Trust me, Bollywood is not my comfort zone!”
By now, I’d remembered something someone told me once - “Sometimes you’ve got to go beyond your idols and masters. Find out who your idol’s idols and your master’s masters were. Like Ozzy Osbourne, who was inspired by the Beatles. Someone listening to Sabbath for the first (or Nth) time, would never guess that.”
“There were days I bunked college and hung out with friends watching Slipknot and Korn videos. Watching Joey Jordison and his rotating kit really intrigued me,” Siddhi reminisces. But she also makes it a point to remain pragmatic and true to her roots.
“I connected with the drums because I had a background in dance, in fact I’ve been inclined to any and everything creative since childhood,” she points out, “I was always into painting and dancing, mostly alone. I’m quite the loner. I’ve tried my hand at the keys, singing and the guitar too, but drums just stuck. It’s where the rhythm factor came into play.”
So was it just the passion, the interest, the acquisition of a drum kit - Siddhi describes it as being saved by one at eighteen - all it required to reach where she has today? Or did she receive formal training? The answer lies somewhere in the middle. While she did later earn a diploma from the prestigious Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (SAM), often described as the best contemporary music school in India, and has cleared Grade 8 Drums from Rockschool UK with Merit (a Topper in West India), Siddhi is mostly a self-taught drummer and percussionist. She currently endorses Clapbox Cajons and is a Zildjian and Daddario influencer i.e. she helps promote these two brands by using their gear in live shows and videos AND she gets that much sought after artist discount!
Siddhi has shades of a young Suzi Quatro. She plays an instrument uncommon to women in India and also, the instrument in question is twice her size. Yet she thrashes the life out of it.
“I had bought a secondhand Pearl kit after doing data entry odd-jobs at the Commonwealth Youth Games. Now I use a MAPEX MARS - it’s a jazz kit that I chose because it’s smaller than a classic rock kit, where you have big toms, and I’m able to manoeuvre easily.”
Of course, there’s no denying that women face sexism professionally. Siddhi did too, but fortunately, and in her own words, her parents and family have always been supportive of her endeavours. For this I applaud them. I’ve seen so many people quit what they’re fantastic at for the lack of support from the handful of people they’re closest to, even when the world appreciates them. I’ve also seen people get better at what they do when they get this crucial support, even when the world doesn’t think they’re that good. Ostensibly, in the pursuit of excellence, it’s the mere support of one or two people that makes all the difference.
“While I want to be known as a good drummer first, regardless of my gender, the prefix female before drummer does inspire women, especially in a country like India. It helps me get the message across to parents with young daughters who may want to pursue a career like the one I have chosen. And guess what, It DOES works!”
Today, Siddhi plays with many bands and independent artists, expanding her reach in various genres. She also teaches drumming under the brand DrumCore. Her curriculum is extensive, involving information from Berklee College of Music, Boston.
Over the years she has tutored students and helped them with Trinity and Rockschool exams. If that’s not enough, she also runs her own handicraft brand, Dark Reflections, which she started in 2010, at 20!
In fact, when I asked her about her proudest achievement in life, the answer wasn’t anything to do with her drumming (Even though she’s done so much of it), but that she introduced Dreamcatchers to India! She gets orders for keychains, necklaces, pendants, coasters, hand-painted t-shirts, you name it! The response has been terrific for the organic soaps she has made.
And just when you think she can’t do more, after the Dubai gig, she and her instrumental Metal band Reverie are diving right into recording their new album.
Now that’s something to look forward to, fo sho!