Sounds Local: Life as a musical nomad
Shanta Paloma was first drawn to music at the age of 7 when she discovered an old piano in the basement of a music shop in Paris.
Her parents agreed to purchase the piano as long as she would hunker down and learn how to play. Paloma did just that and ended taking piano lessons throughout her childhood, but it wasn’t until she was a teenager and taught herself guitar that she found her true musical calling.
“When I was taking piano lessons I was playing Bach and Chopin and music was something that you read off the page,” said Paloma in a recent phone interview. “I couldn’t figure out how I would be a musician because you had to learn this mountain of repertoire.”
She figured it out when she discovered her father’s guitar and started teaching herself songs by ear. The guitar gave her a whole new appreciation of music and proved a source of inspiration in a way that the piano never did. By the time Paloma was 15, she was writing and playing her own songs.
Since that time Paloma, who now resides in Holyoke, has written many songs. She released her self-titled debut album earlier this year and will perform material from it when she takes the stage at Mocha Maya’s, 47 Bridge St., in Shelburne Falls on Friday, Dec. 13, at 7:30 p.m.
She will be accompanied by Jesse “JAMessiah” Mushenko on bass and Tina “T-Belle” Horn on drums.
Opening will be Show of Cards, the duo of siblings Karen and Mike Cardozo, who will be joined by guitarist Dave Chalfant for this show.
But why after writing and performing for over a decade did it take so long for Paloma to release an album?
“Well, money was a part of it but the other part was more psychological,” she said. “There was a part of me that knew I wasn’t quite there.”
When the time was finally right Paloma had about 40 songs to choose from and ended up choosing edgier material over songs that had more folk and jazz leanings. She said that audiences in the area have shown the strongest response to these songs.
The disc opens with the song, “Outspoken,” a Melissa Etheridge-style rocker that finds Paloma belting out lines like “Some things are better left unspoken/Don’t break a heart if a heart ain’t broken,” but this disc can’t be pegged as solely as a rock album as much of the material is played unplugged. A song such as “Like a Little Girl” has strong folk-pop elements whereas “Sweet Cheeks” has a playful, almost retro sound. You’ll also hear traces of funk, soul, jazz, even a bossa nova groove on “Under Your Kiss” and much more. Throughout the album, Paloma’s strong voice and direct lyrics come through.
The daughter of a diplomat, Paloma grew up in France, India and Turkey, and this nomadic lifestyle impacted her openness to new and different sounds.
“I think living around the world made me appreciate diversity very deeply,” said Paloma. “I am generally interested in new and different things. I think being exposed to so many places nurtured that in me. I love punk, I love jazz, I love rap and so many other types of music.”
Paloma in particular cites the free-spirited singer Bjork as having a major influence on her own music.
When asked if there is a particular theme she finds herself going back to, Paloma said that songs of unrequited love dominate this album. While she doesn’t write “woe is me” love songs, Paloma instead merges a sense of vulnerability and strength in much of her work.
“I write songs that empower people to get over the hopelessness and move on, sort of like Taylor Swift,” she said with a laugh.
Since releasing the album, Paloma has been performing throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut, all while completing her master’s degree in social work. Paloma strives to achieve balance in her life and finds that attending school has enriched not only her mind, but her spirit and music as well. “I think my songs are better now,” she said.
You also might recognize her as the Shanta who hosts the radio advice show “Help Me, Shanta,” which airs every Sunday night from 6 to 7 p.m. on Valley Free Radio, 103.3 WXOJ-LP in Northampton. During the show, Paloma takes listener calls and dishes advice on a variety of subjects.
“I did an interview on Valley Free Radio and thought it was fun,” Paloma said, explaining the origins of her show. “I thought ‘you could do your own show,’ and I wanted to do something different, something that would balance me spiritually, because it’s so easy to get wrapped up in yourself when you are playing your songs and trying to market yourself. Every time I go in and spend time thinking about other people I feel good.”
While she won’t be giving advice during her Mocha Maya’s show, she will be treating concert-goers to a markedly different experience. In an effort to bring a bit of performance art to her show, Paloma will have a painter named Matty painting while she is performing. This is something she does at many of her shows and finds that people are surprised by her shows as they do not fit their preconceived ideas.
“I think that people try to pigeonhole me as a singer-songwriter and kind of folkie, or they see the way I look and they think I’m mainly a singer,” she said. “When people actually see me perform they are surprised — they didn’t expect me to play guitar as well as I do and just to be the way I am.”
You can also catch Shanta Paloma every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. at Elizur’s Pub, 876 Hampden St. in Holyoke. She will appear at Luthier’s Co-op, 108 Cottage St. in Easthampton, on Thursday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m.
Admission to the Mocha Maya’s show is free, but tips for the performers are appreciated.
Zydeco Connection will host a Zydeco Dance this Friday, Dec. 6, at Dance Northampton. Dance lessons at 7 p.m., the band follows at 8 p.m. The cost is $13 and includes the lesson and the concert. The date was incorrect in Sheryl’s Nov. 14 column.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.