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Just press priest

Updated on: 24 October,2020 07:45 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Shunashir Sen |

This Parsi gent who spreads the divine word by day and moonlights as a DJ by night has launched his debut hip-hop EP, which has a nuanced aesthetic

Just press priest

Jehan V Bhesania in his avatar as a music producer

It all started with the sole TV that was kept for students in a room at Dadar Athornan Institute, a religious school for Parsi boys who are from priestly families. That's where Jehan V Bhesania was introduced to music for the first time, when he'd fight with his classmates during recess to watch Vh1, a channel that plays all sorts of Western music. The youngster didn't pay much attention to his studies. His mind was focused more on becoming a musician. So, when he joined a day school later on, his parents struck a deal with him — pass your SSC board exam and then you can pursue your passion. Bhesania kept his end of the agreement, and that planted the seeds for Jayhaan, the artiste moniker under which he has now launched Zaiavli, his debut hip-hop EP.

These seeds were watered further during his first year at junior college. There, he came across rap cyphers and DJ battles at festivals. "I really liked their vibe and that's how I started getting into hip-hop music," the 22-year-old says. Meanwhile, he was also wolfing down YouTube tutorials on producing music, learning the art of sampling tracks and mixing beats. His dream of becoming a musician was falling into place. But then came another chapter in his life that required his attention. Bhesania's father is a full-time priest at the Parsi Fire Temple in Gamdevi. So, given his education at the religious school — which all the men in his family attended in childhood so that they could carry the priestly legacy forward — the youngster was called in to fill in for his dad on and off at the fire temple.

It makes him possibly the only person in the Indian hip-hop circuit who is a Parsi priest by day and a producer/DJ by night. Bhesania tells us that his mornings start at 6 am, and he reaches the temple within an hour of waking up. His divine duties there take him till noon, after which he returns home to work on his music. Things got tough when he had gigs to play at night (when the joy of concerts was still alive before the pandemic). On such occasions, he would leave home at 9 pm, return at 4 am, get two hours of sleep, and then wake up at 6 am to don his priest's robes again.

That's the sort of dedication to his art that's now resulted in Zaiavli, which is a play on words of a popular Marathi slang. It's a five-track offering with a nuanced, old-school aesthetic that cuts through the clutter of the new-fangled beats that have crept into hip-hop music. Bhesania has collaborated with rappers MC Azad and Darpan, who are also part of Most Wanted Records, the label he is signed to. And thanks to Darpan, he also got 100 RBH on board, an artiste Bhesania always had immense respect for and wanted to join forces with.

Together, the four of them have displayed that Indian hip-hop is now starting to find a voice that has an authentic desi touch to it. Bhesania tells us that he found his groove when he realised that as a producer, it makes sense for him to sample Bollywood songs, so that he can fuse sounds from the East and the West to create something new. But he also feels that the market is starting to get too saturated with new labels that want to monetise the genre, resulting in an overload of content. "There will always be people who turn our dreams into business," he says, adding that every second person these days wants to be a rapper or a hip-hop producer, and that even DJs who play Bollywood music slip in rap tracks to capitalise on the audience's changing tastes.

But when it comes to himself, Bhesania is already working on a new album that he aims to launch sometime next year. Given what we have heard of Zaiavli, we will keep an eager ear open for what he eventually produces. Thank god he passed his SSC exams so that his parents had to keep their end of the bargain. Or more specifically, thank Zoroaster, should we say?

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