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Not Your Regular, Mundane, Superficial Interview
It seems to me that this year started with a series of interviews. In just forty days, I had the opportunity to interview up to five artists. The first three interviews were painful to say the least. These three artists (whom I interviewed separately) insisted on meeting in a bar or restaurant. I don’t think either is the best place for an interview. Overcrowded. Too much noise. Too many distractions. Ideally, the venue should be a place where the artist can pick up their instrument and sing parts of the songs or play pieces of the compositions they are talking about.
The first three interviews were inevitably malicious, closed affairs, the artists had to voice their opinions to be heard above the noise. And in one case, the artist stopped making sense after the third whiskey soda.
So when I had to interview Sanjo and Chandrani, a composer-lyricist duo from New Delhi, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Sanjo chose their residence as the venue for the interview. “All my instruments are at home,” he said cheerfully, with childlike enthusiasm, “we can chat and jam a little.”
Sanjo casually, nonchalantly says this about “all my instruments”, and those who don’t know him have no idea what that word is.allSanjo is truly a versatile musician. He plays six-string acoustic guitar, twelve-string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, mandolin, keyboards, flute, harmonica, drums, tabla and a variety of percussion instruments. In his debut album with Chandrani, he composed and arranged all the songs, sang and played all the accompanying instruments.
Not to be missed, Chandrani is an equally talented artist. A trained classical singer, Chandrani has written most of the songs in her debut album, Barson Huey, which was released earlier this month (February 2006). She also provided lead female vocals and background vocals for several songs. His vocal range is impressive, and in one track on the album he harmonizes across three octaves and hits incredibly high notes.
We choose Sunday morning for the interview as both Sanjo and Chandrani are at work. At the appointed time, I arrive at Sanjo’s Dwarka residence in West Delhi. Sanjo greets me warmly and we sit for a while, drinking tea while we wait for Chandrani to arrive. He is driving down from his residence in East Delhi – a long drive through the city. As we finish our tea, the bell rings. Chandrani has arrived and we are ready to begin.
We are sitting in Sanjo’s sparsely furnished living room. Right behind me is a room he calls Sanjo’s ‘Music Factory’. It’s full of guitars, amps, speakers, microphone stands, cables, keyboard stands and other instruments. Sanjo selects his favorite guitar – the twelve-string acoustic guitar – and carefully, almost lovingly, takes it out of its case. He uses musical cues to illustrate what he’s talking about, so the guitar stays in his lap during the interview.
I begin by asking how and when the two artists met and how their collaboration began. Apparently it happened by accident. Sanjo was vacationing with his colleagues at a hill station called Mussoorie. Chandrani was a guest of one of her colleagues. That’s how they met – five years ago. He had Sanjo’s trusty guitar with him. Chandrani joined the jamming sessions during the evening. Sanjo couldn’t help but notice that Chandrani had a great singing voice. He toyed with the idea of making an album and asked Chandrani if she would sign up. And so the partnership began.
There is an ironic twist to the tale. Chandrani initially joined the project with a very limited role – she was only supposed to do female vocals and background vocals. However, a few months into the project, the songwriter dropped out after writing only four of the ten songs planned for the album. Chandrani, who has a natural flair for writing, offered to step in. The first song he wrote was the title track, Barson Huey. Most fans consider it the album’s best work.
So I popped my next question to Chandrani. Which song is your personal favorite? This Barson Huey? Surprisingly, the answer is no. “It’s hard to pick just one, as every song is very close to my heart,” he replies. “However, On the shelf is Pe Tha it gets a few extra points from me as I find it lyrically rich. In terms of composition, Sanjo has beautifully captured the emotion the song is trying to convey.”
I ask Sanjo the same question. The answer is pat. Undoubtedly his favorite Barson Huey. “When I first read the lyrics, I felt a wow factor,” he says, “and after I finished writing the song, the wow factor was still there.” I rate it as one of my best compositions, and the lyrics are true. something for me.” He strums the guitar and sings his favorite verse from the song, and I silently marvel at how great the song sounds with just one guitar.
One of the characteristics of the songs composed by Sanjo is that they all have rich, varied and complex instrumentation. This comes from Sanjo’s ability to play so many different instruments and process them seamlessly. Almost every fan talked about the depth and richness of the music, especially that the sound is completely acoustic and natural, which sets it apart from the swamp of synthesizer and computer music that floods the market today.
Given the orchestration-rich quality of Sanjo’s music, you’d expect it to be just an acoustic guitar, charming and inconsequential. But as Sanjo plays his closing chords Barson Huey, I realized that the freshness of the melodies, the clarity of his guitar work and the softness of his voice is what makes the compositions so memorable. Instrumentation simply gives it more body and content.
I ask Chandrani what she finds the most difficult part of working with Sanjo. Interesting question as they seem to typically go together. He is a workaholic. He is too. Creatively possessive. The same applies to him. Even after a 12-hour shift, you can work on your music all night. So is he. The subject of the debate is much simpler than one might expect. “Sanjo and I sing in completely different scales,” explains Chandrani. “It makes it very difficult to get the coordination right and at the same time keep the emotion and mood of the song intact. If I stick to the scale, then I’m fine, Sanjo has problems – and vice versa. It’s hard.”
I’ll take Chandrani’s word for it, but personally I don’t see any such conflict. The artists created a duet titled Sapno Ka Ek Shahar on the album, and the quality of the vocals, the musical arrangements and the sheer intensity of the guitar interludes are amazing.
This talk of conflict allows me to ask an awkward question: do they fight when they work together? They give each other a quick look. Sanjo slowly shakes his head with a wry smile. Chandrani laughs. I’ll take that as a “yes”.
I ask Chandrani how she sees songwriting. Is this an artistic endeavor? Or is it just a hobby? “This is how I connect with myself,” he replies, “music and writing help me relax.”
I have the same question for Sanjo. “Difficult question,” he replies. “Music is many things to me. It’s a passion, a tool for stress management, and most importantly, a channel to develop my creativity. Every creative professional has to explore different ways to avoid creative fatigue. Some people paint, others write.. . I compose, play and sing. Music is at the center of my existence. I cannot live without it.”
So what does the future hold for this extremely talented duo? What do you plan to do next? Online music sites have reported that the material for their next album is ready and they will start recording songs soon. Both Sanjo and Chandrani confirm this news. This is definitely impressive. Most debutantes take a long time to come up with the next job. I ask them to say something about the new album.
“We tried to be more experimental on the second album,” says Chandrani. you identify with it as if it happened to you. I feel that if the listener can relate to and identify with a piece of creativity, then the song has done its job well. All the songs on the second album are trying to do exactly that.”
“We also became a little picky about the style of the compositions,” adds Sanjo, “on our first album we had some pop songs, which I think is a crowded, crowded place. Our producer thought that these songs would give us an advantage purely from a commercial point of view. On the second album, we avoided that and largely focused on what we do best – creating melodies that are pleasing to the ear, emphasizing the acoustic feel that characterizes our music, and building on the guitar-based sound that is the essence of our songs. And let me share something else. with you: the album is a big surprise – you’ll see Chandrani make her debut as a composer!”
The chemistry between these two artists is very evident. You can see it in the way they look at each other, the way they interact, and the fact that they feel very comfortable in each other’s presence. So I decide to ask the obvious question: do you have any romantic inclinations? Chandrani throws back her head and laughs heartily, while at the same time making a vehement “No” with her arms, moving them vigorously from side to side like a windshield wiper.
In rebuttal to my observation, Sanjo, in his characteristic understated manner, points out that if that had been the case, the album would be full of crowded love songs. Instead, some tracks focus on a more mature version of love, dwelling on the pain of separation and the sadness of failed relationships.
I understand your point. I back off.
To close the interview, Sanjo picks up his twelve-string guitar and sings an unplugged version of my personal favorite, Shaayad Kabhi. Composed in a swinging bluesy vein, the song was written as a kind of farewell song from Sanjo and Chandrani, promising to come back again. With their second album around the corner, it looks like they’ve kept their promise.
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