Since your name is practically synonymous with a fusion of musical styles, can you tell me a little about your earliest musical influences? Were they primarily Western?
No, quite contrary. In fact, since my father PL Raj was a choreographer for Hindi films, I grew up listening to Indian music. I’d even get to hear songs while they were being composed by legends such as Kalyanji Anandji and RD Burman. Sometimes I’d even go to their studios and actually listen as the orchestra came alive.
Besides, because of my father’s connect with classical dance and music, I was also exposed to the genius of Ustad Alla Rakha and later his son, Zakir Hussain. All the Khan Sahebs of the classical gharanas were Muslim — there was Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Amir Khan for instance (not the actor, he winks) –– so everyone took to calling me Lesle miyaan. This album draws on all those memories, in fact, everything that has ever touched my heart. That’s why I’m so excited about it –– it’s intrinsically me!
You’ve fused musical genres before and experimented with new techniques. Does this album have anything completely new to offer?
There’s a song called Saawariya Calling which is about a relationship that constantly boomerangs, in which Suchismita Das, a trained classical singer sings my lyrics in the Thumri style. There’s a bit of Tabla, there’s blues guitar and the lyrics switch from English to Hindi with traces of the more colloquial Hinglish, but you have to hear it to understand its freshness. You’ve heard something like it, but nothing like it.
You say you penned Aaja Tu Aaja decades ago. Why have you waited these many years to release it?
I wrote that song in English around 1981, then rewrote it in 1986, but everyone laughed at my composition back then. The Indie-Bossa Nova fusion was too ahead of its time. Then, last year someone heard me play it and really loved it. And, at an MTV-Coke Studio session in Chandigarh, I was amazed to see Sikh couples clinging to each other and swaying to the song. That’s when I felt India’s ready for it now. In fact, I hope to dub this entire album
What’s your favourite song from the album? Are any of the songs influenced by your personal experiences?
Asha Bhosle once said to me, “If you want to be a good musician, you should experience everything,” and Tanha Sa Hoon puts some of my deepest, most internalised feelings out there. A lot of introspection went into that album. I believe that’s what sets a song apart. It’s not so much about a voice as it is about the way the emotion comes across. But I don’t have a favourite song from the album. I love them all. It’s like having six wonderful children, one could be short, another tall, one could be handsome, another particularly bright...you love something about each one. Each represents a different facet of me, so it’s very hard to choose.
Was this always the dream? Did you want to compose music for more Hindi films? Is that still something that would interest you?
My original dream was to work with Quincy Jones. I’ve passed up Indian films before — I didn’t do Sarfarosh and the Shahrukh Khan-Aishwarya Rai starrer Josh — because, at that time, I felt I needed to prove to myself that I was doing my sort of music, which was staying true to me. Besides, Bollywood wasn’t really ready for me then. Right now I’m focused on being a singer, songwriter and composer and I am already working on the soundtrack for one film. It even includes an item number but doesn’t have crass lyrics.