Nashville-return, Bollywood singer

He’s sung Lip to Lip in Katti Batti, but is about to release his indie EP. Here is how Nikhil D’Souza strikes the balance

In India, there is no such thing as co-writing,” says Nikhil D’Souza, fresh from returning after writing his next EP with legendary singer-songwriter and publisher Jeff Cohen in Nashville. D’Souza, known for straddling both Bollywood (you’ll remember him from hits such as Shaam from Aisha and Mere Bina from Crook) and the indie scene (Storm Without a Sky), has spent a lot of time
in Nashville, the centre of music in America.

His heart may lie with his indie career, but Nikhil D’Souza says Bollywood is the best way to gain an audience. pic/shelz photography
His heart may lie with his indie career, but Nikhil D’Souza says Bollywood is the best way to gain an audience. Pic/Shelz Photography

“I learnt how songwriting really works. So, I would go to Cohen with a verse and a chorus, and he would help me understand the emotion better, and then we would flesh the song out,” he says. He even got a chance to play at the legendary Bluebird Café, where many greats played, and got discovered, including Taylor Swift in 2005. His next EP, out in the next few months, is all about love, or at least a dysfunctional version of it. “You grow up thinking about love in a fairy tale way. But what happens is that one person feels it intensely, but the other just sort of gives in. It’s about that kind of love.”

D’Souza says he drew from his own experiences, of being in love, on and off, and Cohen added his bits and experiences. “For example, we wrote the song called Simple Kind of Love, about the feeling you get before you enter a relationship, when you just want everything to be okay. But eventually, we always complicate it. Cohen had just come out of a relationship, I was just getting into one. And so, it worked,” he says.

Back home, D’Souza has a reputation of being an Indie artiste who has also found success in Bollywood. Born in Vakola, his parents thought he would die drunk at 30 if he became a singer. But the ex-geologist, who has worked on an oil rig, decided to pursue music seriously eight years ago. “Validation came when people came up to my parents and told them ‘we heard your son on radio’,” he laughs. He got his big break in 2009 when he sang the Airtel jingle Dil Titli, which prompted music director Amit Trivedi to ask him to sing Shaam in Aisha. “Like most other Indie artistes, I looked down on Bollywood. We thought if we sang for it, it’d be ‘selling out’. But, I have gained respect for it now; it’s hard work. It also helps you build an audience, which would then even want to hear your own original stuff. And, if you can make a good living, that lets you go to Nashville and record your album, well, there is nothing like it.”

The 33-year-old, who has sung for Katti Batti and is now planning the release of his album and video, says surviving in the music industry is about maintaining a balance. “I was at a college in Delhi two days ago for a youth conference talking about Indie music. They asked me to play my Bollywood hits. I said I would do that if they let me play my original English song. They agreed. So I sang, and I got them to sing along as well. And then I sang Mere Bina. You have to respect your audience, give them what they want. It’s the only way.”

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