Shambhu Leroux is an underground blues singer. Born in a male body, she struggled her way from West to East and back again to become the woman she felt she was destined to be. Today, she is a woman whose voice makes massive bridges shake and jaded audiences shiver. In Berlin, a city where reality quite often seems anomalous and deluded, it’s hard to find anyone more authentic and real. She calls herself a victim of her emotion. The vibes of her charisma are so strong though, that there is nothing self-pitying or sacrificial about her. She imbues her creations with a powerful, in-charge vibe; she is the mistress of her emotion. Sensa Nostra meets Shambhu to talk about the mystery of the sacred sound and the power of being authentic.
I grew up in Paris, where I suffered a lot of discrimination, humiliation, and violence. France is very nasty and full of hatred for those who are different. Even now, I never go there, though of course I am very sentimental about it. I just can’t be reminded of the terrible years I spent there. Anyway, I got out. When I was seventeen, I got a scholarship and went to India to study classical dance, staying many years. Going from France to India really opened up my mind, and probably saved my life. India was an explosion of colors, of possibilities. Going far away and being charged by this bizarre culture was my epiphany. Indian culture inspired me, showed me directions, new directions, in which I wanted to go. But when I got back to France I fell back into my old habits, so I decided to leave for Berlin.
I arrived here thirteen years ago with two suitcases. Berlin gave me such a warm welcome! People wanted to hear me singing, wanted to make projects with me. I felt like in Berlin I could become the woman I wanted to become; it was like my San Francisco. There is a metaphor about Berlin, I think it was me who came up with it. When you arrive here, you are given four aces to play the game, and you gotta make sure not to burn your cards because you can miss your chance. That’s the way this bitch works because, seriously, Berlin can be such a bitch. Berlin is definitely a lady—a lady who looks like a guy.
My first band in Berlin, The Sin City Circus Ladies, was punk/psychobilly, and even kind of queer (I mean… I was in it, hellooo!). At that time I really didn’t relate to the whole DJ/techno scene, so I kind of wanted to work in Berghain so that I wouldn’t be bothered by it. Made sense at the time, I guess. I heard good DJs once in a while there, but, Christ, I used to hear so much stale crap, and some of those DJs are so full of themselves, my god! Also, control your drugs dude, whoooaaaa! For sure, dance culture can be quite entertaining, and when I go to a party I do have fun, but there’s a difference between people who are just entertainers, and those who are artists devoted to something deeper. A lot of these kids dancing all high as shit are really thirsty for something real and authentic, but they mostly get exposed to superficial stuff. They would come to my bar and tell me, “Oh, you are so different,” and I would say, “You know, it is not that difficult to be authentic, it is not that difficult to make some choices.”
I am not anti-drug, though. If you’re not an idiot, drugs can open your mind, but they can also bullshit you. What you really need is to learn who you are. If you use drugs too much too soon, before you even have a mind to blow, then they can just make you stupider. I really believe that drugs should be a rite of passage to true adulthood. Everyone should have the possibility to experience rebirth, to explore different dimensions, and to have fun. Of course there’re risks and costs, but when society just goes “no” as its only answer, well that’s about the stupidest thing ever. Also, I find it totally retarded and backward not to talk to your kids about drugs. If there is someone who should educate your child about drugs, it is you.
Singing is a lot like therapy for me. I share my sadness and sorrow with all those blues singers and musicians who have their own dark, sad stories. I do a lot of standard rhythm and blues, as well as lost gospel. I don’t really give a fuck about all the Jesus freak shit. What really matters for me is the devotion and the blazing passion that this type of singing carries. Honestly, I find it super hilarious and weird that it is the dopey belief in God that gives them that fury, but that doesn’t make the power in the music any less real. There is something really punk-rock to me in these girls. Sometimes I look at one of them singing, and I think, “Oh, she is such a fucking ass-kicker.” And this is what I am attracted to. Music has to be deep and genuinely emotional, the opposite of superficial, otherwise it is not talking to me. Singing, to me, is beyond words, beyond explanations. I am an extra-sensitive person. Sometimes people can easily affect my mood, just one vibe can destroy my feeling. When I am singing, I am in charge. I am the boss.
I’m not so interested in making studio recordings anymore. I am much more into doing it live, with the energy of the crowd. My band is called Shambu and the True Love Hearts. It is pretty difficult sometimes to work with a group of people because everyone has their good and bad days, and yet we still have to get together and work on the same project. But all that doesn’t matter when we are playing on stage. The only thing that matters then is the energy that we share with our audience. Sadness is my band’s first original song together, and it comes from the bottom of my heart. It was originally a house tune made by Steffi, and they asked me to do a version my way. This was a bit of a challenge, because it had hardly any words, but I gave it a shot and found a way to make it meaningful. It has since evolved from the original arrangement. It’s now even darker and lonelier.
Yes, I am proud to be a transsexual woman, but it is not the way I want to be classified. It’s who I am, but I don’t base my identity on it, or imagine that it automatically means I should be treated as special. It’s not like I don’t want people to read me, but I am also private, and vulnerable. Curiosity is flattering, but most people stomp right over the line. I do like to perform within the LGBT scene, but lately I have been experiencing things that kind of put me off it. I hate cliché, and there are clichés in every direction there, as well as so damn much groupthink! Fucking herd animals—way to piss it away. Too often the LGBT scene seems like little more than a flesh market where no one really cares about other human beings. It seems like that’s all anybody values, as though the concepts of love or monogamy were almost ridiculous. It’s like everything is permitted, but only if it’s vulgar and temporary. It seems like there is no more decency between people, and this is really breaking my heart. I guess pain and suffering aren’t going to go away any time soon, but I guess that’s just how it is. Suck it up and sing that shit.
Misery and difficulty sometimes bring people together, and challenges can make them think differently and grow. We might as well just try to embrace it. Of course, all of these homophobic things happening in the world, like those moronic Russian laws, are horrible, but at least they are getting pushed into the spotlight. With all of the access to information and technology nowadays, I’m sorry, but there’s really just no excuse for that kind of ignorance. But if you are curious, eager to break taboos and question authority, then geography doesn’t matter. And it has always been my aim, at the core of what I do, to break the clichés. Life is about making choices, and my choice is to follow my own voice.