New grad Shefali Panicker has turned into a TikTok star, thanks to her passion for music and the ability to sing in more than nine languages.
The 22-year-old, who recently graduated from Western University with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences and a major in French, is a lover of sciences and is also an amazing singer with a beautiful voice. Videos of her unique mashups of different songs in different languages have been seen around the world after going viral in 2020. To date, Panicker’s TikTok profile has gained nearly 450,000 followers and close to nine million likes.
“I first went viral in early 2020, for creating a song out of a popular meme at the time. I went from having 100 followers to 15,000 within a few days. Many people kept asking me to post more covers because they liked my voice – so I did what I knew best,” she recalled.
“The idea for the mashup came quite organically, as I started posting covers of songs in languages I was comfortable singing in (Hindi, French, Punjabi, Tamil etc.). Then, people started asking me to sing in their respective languages. The whole idea with the language mashup was to create a cohesive song with languages that are not often heard together (for example, Arabic and Telugu or Nepali and English).”
Panicker said she was “totally surprised” when her videos went viral, since she was just doing it for fun.
“I have been very fortunate to have been showered in nothing but love and kindness on social media. It makes me very happy to know that my music resonates with people from all around the world.”
Panicker has been doing music since she was six years old.
“My parents realized I had some musical inclinations, so they put me in music lessons. I was specifically trained in Carnatic music, which is an ancient form of music from South India. Initially, I felt pressured to do music just because my parents told me to do it. However, as I learned more, I realized the profound value that music had, not only as a singer but as an individual, too,” said Panicker, who moved to Canada with her family from Kerala, India, when she was just two years old.
Like any immigrant child, she also experienced feelings of “not belonging and feeling ashamed” of her cultural identity. “Music was a tangible way to connect to my culture. It gave me direct insight into its history and relevance in my own life. I am forever grateful to my music teacher for her guidance,” said Panicker explained.
And since embarking on her musical journey, Panicker has taught herself to sing in more than nine languages. She said she never had any intentions of going viral on social media and originally didn’t set up TikTok to do music.
“Singing in various languages is simply a matter of practice. I don’t necessarily speak all the languages I sing in, so I take the time to re-listen to the original songs to understand the lyrics and pronunciation. I also ask native speakers for help, if needed. I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself out of my comfort zone.”
Music aside, Panicker said science is a close second love, even though she is still unsure what aspect of it she wants to pursue.
She will also be starting her master’s degree at Western this coming fall.
“Health care is my second passion and I’m very excited to be pursuing a master’s in this field, in the fall. I’m not 100 per cent sure on what exactly my career will be, but I am very interested in learning more about epidemiology and medicine,” she said, adding that her Western experience thus far has been nothing short of amazing.
And while her two passions cause her to have quite a hectic and demanding schedule, Panicker said she has no problem making time for the things she loves.
“I truly believe that if you truly care about something, you’ll find time for it, no matter what. Having a set schedule helps me achieve both my aspirations in music and academics. At the moment, music is more of a hobby for me, so I post covers when I have free time,” Panicker said.
Whatever path she takes for her career, Panicker said music will always remain a constant for her.
“In the next five years, I hope to create some original music or release an album. As much as I love singing covers, it is someone else’s creation at the end of the day. Music production and writing is a field I want to learn more about. In terms of career, like I said before I’m not too sure, but I know for a fact that music will always play an important role in my life no matter what I do.”