A western sensibility in Bollywood – The Hindu

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December 18, 2015 12:00 am | Updated March 24, 2016 10:42 am IST
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I still think in English when it comes to music, says Clinton Cerejo
ou may have heard his breezy anglicised vocals in songs such as Kya Karoon from Wake up Sid or Hey Ya from Karthik Calling Karthik . His sophisticated sound production and skills as an arranger are behind some of the best works of AR Rahman and Vishal Bhardwaj. He has also given Coke [email protected] India its biggest hit in Madari. Music producer, singer, arranger and composer Clinton Cerejo is many musical things rolled into one. Coming to the forefront of Hindi film music with his first album as a composer, the 38-year-old Juhu boy talks to SANKHAYAN GHOSH about the upcoming Jugni , how he bent his sensibilities to suit Indian listeners and the benefit of working with ARR and VB.
You have been one of the most sought after arrangers and music producers in Hindi film music. Finally, you have your first film album in Jugni . Tell us about it.
It’s a 12-track Hindi album that has its roots in the sonic landscape of Punjab. It is easily the most organic album I have ever released. This is a lot earthier than the fusion of, let’s say, Coke Studio. Yes, the music of Jugni also has a soundscape. I couldn’t have kept the instruments restricted to harmonium and tabla. But at a song-level, they are very earthy. It’s a challenge for me because it’s a little out of my zone. Also, from an emotional perspective, I could connect to the story of a free-spirited girl, a music producer who travels to the interiors of Punjab in search of a folk singer. But musically it was a challenge because it is a little out of my zone.
Why do you say it is outside your zone?
Because my primary musical influences are Western and I still think in English when it comes to music. But I’ve slowly realised that if I need to make a mark in India as a composer, I need to embrace the Indian musical traditions because the Indian listener responds to music in a certain way.
How did you learn Indian musical styles more deeply?
A lot of it happened because of my experience of working with Vishal Bhardwaj, Rajat Dholakia and AR Rahman. Earlier, I used to use my Western sense of harmony and chord vocabulary to enhance melodies. But I realised I could colour songs with harmony and chords but the basic structure needs to be Indian, raag-based. I started talking to Vishal about it and he explained to me the ethos of how Indian melodies are constructed, how he exploits a raag to his advantage while composing. I started using keyboard like a harmonium while composing tunes. I have learnt this over many years but the first time I lived it was during Coke [email protected] in 2012. Madari was a result of that.
It has proved to be career-defining for you
Yes, it has taken a life of its own. While composing it, you can never know what it will become. I was just having fun with it.
You have pulled off a coup by bringing together AR Rahman and Vishal Bhardwaj in one album. No other composer has ever used Vishal as a singer.
Yes. It’s while writing the composition that I felt the song would sound amazing in Vishal’s voice. It naturally felt right. I never plan the singer for my songs in advance. I let the song dictate it, it starts talking to me and acquires a personality and character. The kind of ease with which Vishal renders a song and feels every word he sings is very original. Getting AR Rahman also happened organically. Not just me, but the film’s producers are also very close to him. The song he’s sung is composed by Kashif, his spiritual guru (who’d also composed Khwaja Mere Khwaja ).
You have worked with the background score of many films before. How did that experience augment your first album as a film composer?
When you score for so many films and work with VB and ARR, it gives you a holistic experience. Because of all the time you’ve spent behind the scenes doing the background music, you are able to indentify with the characters, approach the songs from an authentic perspective and dive right into the fabric of the film.
Jugni has been in the making for over a few years. How has the process been?
The music of the film grew over two years. I would keep sending the scratch versions so that the crew could use them for shooting. There was a lot of back and forth. And the feedback really helped the music evolve. The director, Shefali Bhushan, was very involved with the making of the music.
I’ve realised that if I need to make a mark in India as a composer, I need to embrace musical traditions here
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