How did you landed up with ‘Kabul Express’ as a music composer?
Kabul Express happened around seven months ago. Initially I was supposed to do only one song. The brief that was given that the song should be catchy, extremely entertaining, lots of energy, sufi element, something related with Afghanistan. I made the chorus melody and called my friend Aditya who writes lyrics for me. And told him that the words shouldn’t be lovey dovey…it should be philosophical. ‘Kabul Fiza’ happened and then we added a qawwali section to it. Everybody at Yashraj liked it very much. Then they told me why don’t you come up with something even better. Then we came up with ‘Keh Raha Mera Dil’ which is slightly closer the film. Then we made ‘Yeh Main Aaya Kahan Hoon’. ‘Banjar’ was the last song. And it represents Kabul pretty well.
Your sound carries world music flavour…
I started very early. My dad played harmonica. I heard it and told him that I want that instrument anyhow. Next day he gave me a seven note harmonica. I used to listen to a lot of ‘Chirahaar’ in those days. Whenever I heard any song I used to play it on harmonica. Mom and dad saw that and said that this guy seems to be dedicated towards music. Then I had a deal with my dad that I will not ask for anything the entire year but on every birthday I shall be getting a new instrument. I ended up going to Australia for my bachelors in music. Now I play twenty five instruments as much as my age. The advantage that I have is that I can express myself in a lot of different ways. My forte lies in playing woodwind instruments like saxophone, clarinet, harmonica. Saxonet is the instrument that is played in the beginning of ‘Kabul Fiza’ and the end. It is a new instrument that I have just picked up from Germany. It’s a blend of a saxophone and a clarinet. I think it has a very nice and hollow kind of sound and the texture that I was looking for. I was brought up in Delhi and my music education is western and style of playing is western but the soul and essence of my music is Indian. So, there’s a natural blend of Indian and western.
Fusion element in your music comes across naturally….
‘Kabul Express’ doesn’t have situational songs. My brief was that there can’t be lovey dovey songs. I had to be really creative to come up with something different. My first album ‘Raghav for the first time’ in 2003. That came out immediately after my studies got over. I had all the knowledge and excitement. But a lot of it went over the head. For it was too technical and it was too musical for people to understand it. That album was largely based on melodies of popular Hindi film songs. I think it was way ahead of time. Second album was ‘24 Karat’. I realized that the melody should be simple enough for people to understand. Then there has to be a hookline. If your melody keeps repeating again and again in a song then you are bound to get hooked on to it. Tabla, dholak have always been there in my system. I can jam with a classical musician and it will all sound fine. In ‘Kabul Fiza’ I wanted to use Tabla, dholak and dhol, but the whole idea was that people should understand it. The entire qawwali section is comprising of tabla and dholak. I am happy that I am able to create the right mix.
In the ‘Kabul Fiza remix’ you haven’t gone overboard with the tempo…
‘Kabul Fiza’ was liked by one and all. I thought once it is released then people would like it in discs. I have heard obnoxious remixes. I laid a bed of nice techno groove on which I didn’t have Indian percussion but purely for dancing. But I didn’t go overboard in raising the tempo. I personally prefer doing my own remixes for I feel that I can do justice to my songs.
Any plans of doing any private albums?
My third album is going to be released with Universal by next February. I am under a two year contract with them.
What are your musical influences?
Jethro Tull, Kenny G, a band called Incognito, R D Burman has influenced me a lot, Guns and Roses, Bon Jovi, Sting, Charley Parker and Dizzy Gilespie. My favourite instrument would be saxophone and flute. In Australia I was surrounded by musicians all the time so that influenced me a lot.
And what about your singing influences?
Singing happened in my last album. I had called Sunidhi, Kailash Kher, Kunal home and I made them listen to my dummy vocals. Sunidhi said why don’t you sing? That gave me a lot of confidence. In ‘Kabul Fiza’ I had made them listen to my dummy voice and they said great why don’t you go ahead and sing it as well. In singing, Mohammad Rafi has had an impact in my singing. Western singing comes very naturally to me. Singing English songs comes naturally to me. Kishore Kumar is another influence.
You play a lot of instruments….What about live performances?
I am more a performing artiste than a composer. I’ve been known for my performances. People get to see me jumping on stage. In my shows you would be a part of the music. I personally enjoy live music the most as you can get to know as to what you are all about. I like large amounts of audiences. My ultimate dream is to make a world music band. For one of shows, I played seventeen instruments at one time.