At the start of our interview, Lesle Lewis admits that his throat is bad, and is making him “super-nervous”, especially since the launch of his latest album, Tanha Sa Hoon, is scheduled for later that night.
For the 52-year-old Lewis, who spells his first name differently these days, these are things he has seen and done over the past few decades. He has worked as a producer and mentor for musicians like Sunita Rao (Pari Hoon Main), Alisha Chinai (Bombay Girl) and KK (Pal) and toured the world with singer Hariharan as half of the music band, Colonial Cousins.
For his latest foray, he has written the lyrics, composed and sung for the album, which took six months of inspired composing. “You need inspiration, something has to click and the elements have to be just right for a successful creative process. Everyone can sing, but only inspired songs stand out,” he reasons.
The album also aims to redefine the musician and show the world who the real Lesle Lewis is. “After making stars out of gen-next singers, I felt the need to make time for myself and sing my own songs. The audience and even my close friends have never heard the timbre of my voice; they think they have heard me sing as part of Colonial Cousins, but that was a lot about singing in a Hariharan sur and adjusting to each other. In this album, the style, the voice, the lyrics and the tunes are all mine,” he says.
Lewis says that the seven tracks on the album have elements of romance, humour and introspection, and are based on life experiences and some of the people he’s met. “The title track, Tanha Sa Hoon, is about the angst I was going through, when I kept wondering why I was not singing. I picked up the guitar to express my tanhapan (loneliness) and composed the track.”
The song Aaja Tu Aaja on the album was composed by him back in 1986, but was shelved, as the feedback he received was that it was ahead of its time. “It was a tabla-dholak period when western instruments and drums were not appreciated. The composition was heavily inspired by Latin American Bossanova (‘new trend’ in Portuguese) sounds, which fuses Samba and Jazz.”
The other songs in the album include Oh Jaana, which harks back to the golden age of Bollywood, the playful track Main Jadoo and Tere Bina, which has Jazz extensions and bamboo flute for added effect. No pigeonholing allowed Lewis rues that throughout his career, there has been constant pressure to slot him and his music in one space, something he has resisted. Consequently, he has been known for re-inventing music over the years, be it through his Hindi Pop music tunes, remix songs or fusion compositions.
He finds it surprising that his album in Hindi should raise eyebrows: “What language should I be singing in? After all, I grew up listening to Hindi music, interacting with Helen aunty on the sets of Sholay, while watching RD Burman and Laxmikant Pyarelal compose music. This is the language I spoke at home with my father (Bollywood choreographer PL Raj),” he quips, admitting that while his father was keen on his doing Hindi songs, at the time he was enamoured by songs by Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and The Who.
With this album, Lewis feels audiences will get a close glimpse of the man and the musician. “Tanha Sa Hoon showcases the real 18-year-old Lesle, who would just pick up his guitar and sing from the heart,” he states, adding that in this album, all the songs are memorable. Speaking about his 15-year-old daughter Divya Lewis, who also composes music and has performed on television, he says he is surprised by the similarities between them.
“She is a chip off the old block. She composes in English and her lyrics are dark and grungy; her singing is much better than mine. Though we belong to different eras, this is how I would compose when I was her age. I would soak up music by watching great musicians at work; she also grew up standing in a corner, watching and learning. But I hope she doesn’t end up doing too much, too soon, as it creates boredom,” he reveals.
My father’s son
Quiz him about the role his father played in his musical journey and he says, “He got me my first guitar synthesizer, which could recreate the sounds of the flute, drum, etcetera. It was very expensive and I was one of the first guys to have it,” he says, adding that while he was hell-bent on western sounds, his father prophetically told him that he would have to eventually return to Hindi music.
Our time is up, as Lewis readies for another interview on his packed schedule. Not before reminding us about his album, “The overall sound is organic and uncluttered by overpowering electronic sounds. While it was tough to be both singer and producer at the same time, it’s me back to doing what I do best — making timeless music straight from the heart.” We’re sold.
>> ON REALITY MUSIC SHOWS: They use music as the script for entertaining audiences. Too many good, young musicians let success and money go to their head, stunting their urge to do better and learn more.
>> ABOUT HIS SISTERS: My sisters could have been excellent choreographers, but my dad never really pushed them towards it. He thought it would be a hard life for them. Instead, I ended up dancing a lot during my school days because of my father’s reputation as a choreographer.
>> ON REDEFINING HIMSELF: This album has been accompanied by a change in my life. I wake up at 5.45 am and go for long walks. I head to the studio at 9 am and record till 4.30 pm. Then, I head home and switch off by 10 pm. I do this to not grow old and lose my health, because for the next decade I have to travel, sing and be energetic on stage.