In 2015, Shreeps Zala (J.D. ‘22), a professional guitarist and singer, noticed a change in audiences at his musical performances.
“It coincided with the primary season for the national elections,” he said. “I saw a societal shift going on around me.”
Zala, born in Philadelphia to parents from Eastern India, was performing at shows across Georgia. In metro Atlanta, his audiences were diverse and international. In rural areas, things were different.
“In Georgia, it’s very common for me to walk into a gig and be the only person of color in the room,” Zala said. “Before 2015, I could get on stage and play songs from the Great American Songbook and they would connect people of all stripes. It became more difficult to bridge those sentiments because the political environment was pressuring us to look at our fellow Americans as strangers.”
This is where Zala’s path to law school began. He wanted to bring Americans together with legal change, not just music. “I was considering how I wanted my future to look. I was happy with my creative side, but I didn’t have anything academic to hang my hat on.”
When he enrolled at Georgia State College of Law, Zala already had more than a decade of musical success. He found his second calling when he immersed himself in his legal studies. He started off taking classes part-time, but soon realized he wanted to give as much of himself to law school as he did to music.
“It was a sea change. Law school is so demanding that if you want to do well, you have to be wholly committed. After my first semester, I cut down on gigs and went in full time.”
He committed to more than an education. At Georgia State Law, Zala gained a new way of thinking about music as a means to spark change.
“Music is a universal language. It has a transcendent, therapeutic quality, but it can also be political and a means to raise social awareness,” Zala said. “I wrote a song for Ukraine, ‘Pisnya Dlya Ukraini,’ inspired by their color revolution and the current war. I don’t know if I would have done that before law school, but now I have a law mind to go with my music mind.”
Today, Zala is an executive legal assistant at Joel Cohen Attorney at Law, LLC. He makes time to perform as a musician, describing a “rebirth” of his musical career.
Soon, he plans to transition to copyright law for music and film, helping fellow creators protect their work. He’s concerned about the global political climate and what it means for artists who speak out.
“Being an agent for positive change is different for every person. For me, as a first-generation American, my values are about equality, integrity of the law, and the integrity of our democracy,” Zala said. “If my future law practice involves working with artists who are deliberately political in their art, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
To his analytical mind and his musical mind, Zala can now add a new mindset of preserving the rights and freedoms of those like him, who have a song to sing for America.
Written by Henry Lake