Sparsh Shah uploaded a cover of Eminem’s “Not Afraid” to YouTube in 2016, when he was just 13 years old. A student of Hindustani classical music, Sparsh incorporated Indian influences into the song to create a genre he coined called “raga rap.” The cover went viral and was shared by artists such as Akon, Aloe Blacc, Chris Brown, and Jay Sean. To date, the video has more than 18 million views.
“One day I was just trying to find the chords on the piano for the song, and once I did just out of the blue came this alap, or that beginning section in Indian classical music,” says Sparsh, who is now 19 years old. “That’s how the cover became kind of a unique thing.”
The lyrics to “I’m Not Afraid” took on a new meaning when sung by Sparsh, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that makes his bones extremely fragile and brittle. In his lifetime, he’s had 150 fractures that required eight rods and 22 screws to mend. With the platform he acquired from his viral video, Sparsh has traveled the world, performing, giving motivational speeches, and helping raise more than $2 million for charity. Now Sparsh is checking another dream off his list by earning his bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Music Studies at Berklee Online.
“Being at Berklee, I think it’s amazing because of two big things,” says Sparsh. “One is being able to learn so many things from so many amazing instructors. And two that there’s so much community here. A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, you don’t really need to go to college to be a great artist.’ But at the same time you can’t find this kind of community anywhere else but in a place like Berklee.”
How Sparsh’s Musical Journey Began
Sparsh became interested in music at a very young age. He remembers his parents, Hiren and Jigish Shah, would play songs from the huge library on their iPod, and they would also listen to pop radio in the car.
“I would be in my car seat and I’m facing the other direction, but they were hearing me hum,” he says. “Then at one point I started correcting them when they were singing off key. I think that’s when they said they realized, ‘Okay, this kid has something special in terms of music.’”
Hiren and Jigish enrolled Sparsh in Hindustani classical vocal lessons at the age of six. At age 11, he won the prestigious Young Voice of NYC competition, where he was named the 2015 Youth Ambassador for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In middle school, he joined the school choir and picked up keyboard. It was around this time that he discovered Eminem and there was only one problem—Eminem uses some colorful language.
“I joke with people that I got punished for saying ‘heck’ when I was little,” says Sparsh. “So I went up to my mom and dad and I was like, ‘Okay look, I want to cover this song. I want to make sure that both kids and adults can hear this so I wanna make it clean.’”
This is how Sparsh came up with his artist name “Purhythm,” which combines “pure” and “rhythm.” In his 2017 TEDx Talk, Sparsh explains “I’m clean, no curses, but I’m all about the rhythm.” In this talk, he went on to list the goals that he wished to achieve. In hindsight, he predicted many of his completed accomplishments, and laid the groundwork for objectives that are currently in progress.
Performing For Billions
The first dream was to perform in front of 1 billion people, a goal that he has since tripled. In 2018, Sparsh performed on the TV show Kaun Banega Crorepati?, which is the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? On the show, he was interviewed by host and Bollywood legend, Shri Amitabh Bachchan and the episode was broadcasted to about 185 countries around the world, reaching at least 1 billion people.
Sparsh upped the ante on this goal, aiming to perform for 2 billion viewers. A year later, he did just that. In 2019, he performed the Indian National Anthem at the Howdy Modi! event at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, where 50,000 gathered to honor Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“It was absolutely surreal,” says Sparsh. “It was my biggest in-person event—there were 50,000 people in the stadium. Almost every seat was filled and seeing everyone, the whole crowd, it was just mind blowing. I think about a day or two before the event, one of the organizers said ‘Oh yeah, 2 billion people are going to watch this on TV and on the internet.’ And I was like, ‘What?’”
Writing His Debut Album
Having performed now for 3 billion viewers between his in-person and broadcasted audiences, next on Sparsh’s list is to complete his bachelor’s degree from Berklee, release an album of original music, and earn a Grammy award. Now in his second year of his program, Sparsh is in the process of hitting two more of his milestones at the same time.
“My biggest musical goal right now is to put out a debut album,” says Sparsh. “Most of the songs that I’ve been creating through Berklee are with that in mind. The production and songwriting courses, I think out of everything have been the most helpful, because it helps to build my creative assets. You come out with new songs and those songs are the biggest thing that a musician can have: your own music.”
Sparsh has been doing a lot of songwriting and stockpiling songs for his album, which he would like to release by the time he graduates Berklee. He says that music and songwriting have always been a way of processing both physical and mental pain.
“Especially when I was younger and I would break bones almost all the time, throwing on music definitely helped me cope,” says Sparsh. “Going through those times and being able to put my own experiences on paper really liberated me too. I don’t just have to be a passive participant in music. I could create, I could tell my story. And that’s why I would want to put my own music out there now more than ever.”
Breaking a Guinness World Record
It’s been more than a year since Sparsh has had any fractures and he hopes to keep that streak going. In fact he’s been feeling so good that in July 2022, he broke a Guinness World Record for the longest raised leg hold, at two hours. His doctor recommended he do leg raises to strengthen his core, and Sparsh realized he could hold this position much longer than the average person.
“I started at a minute or two minutes, and every time I would keep going up one minute, building endurance,” says Sparsh. “I got to the point where on average I was able to do an hour every day. It’s been a part of a big health and fitness journey that I’ve been on.”
Sparsh has added Guinness World Record holder to his list of identifiers, along with singer, songwriter, philanthropist, and motivational speaker. And because of his expertise in motivational speaking, he has some words of wisdom for his fellow Berklee Online students:
“Never give up on yourself and your potential,” says Sparsh. “If you have a vision, stick to it, because your vision, what you can bring to the table, nobody else can. We all have the same 12 notes. We all may have the same words to draw from when we write songs. But at the same time, the way we put those notes together, the way we put those words together, nobody else can do that but you.”