People who know and work with Navin will tell you that he is charismatic, full of life and when he walks into a room or on a stage he fills it with energy.
The master of his music came to perform for the second year in a row at desifest – the largest South Asian concert in Canada, with the crowd already chanting his name before he appeared from back stage at Yonge-Dundas Square. And when he did make his appearance, he lit up the square and enticed the audience into joining in with him on his fast paced tracks.
His adrenaline runs at a high level and is obviously captured through the energy he generously and eagerly shares with his fans. When singing his slower love ballads, his fingers strum across the strings of his guitar while every fiber of his body is consumed in the drama of his music and displayed through the crystal clarity of his voice.
You could hear the lyrics echoing back to him from the enthusiastic and sometimes frenzied fans. Drawing in his audience even more to interact with him, he chose two random participants from the audience (male and female) and covered Bruno Mars’ Just the Way You Are, singing it from the guy to the girl. Their respective friends joined in the fun by putting them on their shoulders above the crowd.
After all was said and done with his performance, professional and fan photos and various short interviews, Navin took the time to sit down with me for another very candid and personal interview. Please join me in getting to know more about Navin Kundra not only as an amazing talented artist, but also as the man who so many people want to know about.
ICB – So here we are in Canada once again Navin – Sort of déjà vu. Thank you for taking the time out of your extremely hectic schedule to be with us tonight.
NAVIN – It’s my pleasure. Thank you as well.
ICB – So we’ll get right to it shall we? Aaja, I know, is a song that is really close to your heart; the reaction to it is phenomenal. It captures the essence of traditional Asian music but with a contemporary feel. You portray it as a reflection of your musical journey. How so?
NAVIN – Aaja is a reflection in the sense that it combines so many different elements together in a way that has never done before, at least not by a British/Asian artist. It’s something I’ve wanted to make for a long time and just having the opportunity to work with some fantastic musicians was unbelievable. Working with an amazing guitarist and Pandit Dinesh Ji on percussion to fuse all those elements and styles together was incredible!
I was very particular about wanting to present it in the style of a Punjabi soul singer and my producer, Mushtaq, has done a fantastic job. Lyrically Aaja picks up where Tere Liye left off, so you’ll notice that there are lines from Tere Liye which are incorporated into the chorus. I suppose all these elements are a reflection of my journey so far.
ICB – And speaking of new songs, you wowed Toronto once again by dropping a brand new track at desifest again this year as you did with Jee Le last year. Canadian fans are privileged to be the first ones to hear the debut of Nachle. So, what is the story behind this outstanding new single that had the crowd going wild?
NAVIN – Again I wanted to do something very different. People in the industry have always told me bhangra music is what gets you noticed. I have been lucky in the sense that I have been able to make a name for myself with a completely different sound, but I do love Punjabi bhangra music and Nachle is a song which captures that with a twist. You can imagine Nachle being a straight up bhangra song but the treatment we’ve given it is very non-bhangra. It’s almost like a hip-hop/R&B/dance track.
Also with Nachle I was very adamant that it would be sung in the way that you would expect a Punjabi bhangra singer to sing it; very high-pitched and with a lot of energy. On this single, my voice doesn’t sound like it does in Tere Liye or Aaja, so when people hear it they ask if it is really me. That’s exactly what I wanted, because I wanted to stretch and pull my vocals until it had that piercing sound where I could sing it loud and proud. I was adamant about the end of the song as well. I wanted a real desi drop because I like that half-time beat, something that’s unexpected in a record like this. So at that moment I’m really representing my roots and Punjabi music.
I feel Nachle is a song that’s good for the guys as well as the girls because typically I am known for singing deep love songs which resonate mostly with females. Nachle is a song that guys and girls can just blast in the car all day long or listen to it in a club or on the radio and really feel the energy behind it.
ICB – You mentioned something in an interview once, and I wished that you had elaborated on it. So if you don’t mind, I wonder if you would do so now. Your quote was “I have a genuine love and obsessive passion for music – it’s like my oxygen. I hear and see music differently than a lot of people – sometimes it can be very intense; I pick up on certain things like subtle chord changes or the warmth of the bass or the weight behind the drums or specific intonations of the voice.”
NAVIN – It’s very hard to elaborate on that because you can’t put it into words. I remember growing up listening to music and I would put my ear next to the speaker not only to hear the bass but feel it too. As a matter of fact there was a space at the bottom of the speaker where my hand would fit in and I would love feeling the vibrations of the bass on my hand. I used to love experiencing the bass line on the Bally Sagoo’s remix of Churaliya – I recommend you try it!
I have a strong sense of music where I would listen to singers and instantly appreciate the intricacies of what they were doing. It’s almost like when you don’t know anything about dance but you’re watching a dancer perform and you can appreciate the gracefulness and complexity of it. That’s what music is for me. Sometimes I hear the smallest strum of a sitar or a violin piece and I’m instantly drawn to that rather than the big chorus that everyone likes.
ICB – Is something inborn do you think or can it be acquired?
NAVIN – I would have to say inborn. I think if you don’t have it inside of you, it would be very difficult to acquire it. I meet a lot of people who want to do music because they want the glitz and glamour and the fans and it’s fantastic but they think that’s all it entails. So I ask them to sing or play something and send it to me. Ninety-nine percent of the time they have this sense of music in them and they just need a bit more development. We all need development, including me. But there is that one percent that unfortunately doesn’t have that inborn sense.
You have to understand music to know that when a note is played whether it’s higher or lower than another note, and have a basic grounding. Otherwise it is very difficult. You can give them lesson after lesson but they will still struggle because they don’t have that musical sense. It’s just one of those things. There are lovers and listeners of music and then there are musicians who create it. The two are very different. And it’s not all as glamorous as it seems on the surface. There is a lot of hard work that goes on in the background.
What often amazes me is that people who don’t have a ‘musician’s sense’ of music have a really strong sense of music when listening to it – I guess that is the magic of music – it’s not meant to be analyzed or understood, it’s just meant to be felt.
ICB – As anyone who has been in the industry for sometime knows, it’s not easy to get to where you are at this stage of the game. And when you do, you can’t stay stagnant or rest on your laurels and expect to reside there. You have continue to maintain that status but also keep pushing ahead and reinventing yourself, always creating something new and fresh. With that thought in mind, on your journey there must have hurdles or roadblocks you came up against along the way. Can you share what are some of them are/were and how have you triumphed over them?
NAVIN – There have been many and there still are in many ways. But there are certain people in my life that I just think about or hear from and they immediately refocus me back to what I want to do. When there are hardships or things just aren’t going your way and you feel like giving up, you need to re-instill the belief that you’re actually blessed with this life and you should make the most of it. You should do what you enjoy doing and then it becomes a blessing and a joy to live. Unfortunately not everyone gets the opportunity to do this.
Take my family for example. I’m sure they had their dreams or aspirations that they couldn’t achieve themselves because they were struggling to make a life. My grandparents came from India to start a new life here. They didn’t accomplish those dreams for themselves but they created the opportunity for me to do it. So in that way they live it through me. If you haven’t had the chance to do all that you wanted to, that doesn’t mean that it is a wasted life. It just means that you’re at the point where you know that your children can move ahead and do it. And that is a beautiful thing.
ICB – Let’s talk about ghazals, a brief description on what they are, Ghulam Ali Khan and more specifically Hangama Hai Kyon.
NAVIN – Ghazals are one of the most beautiful forms of poetry put to music; essentially the most melodious, intricate Indian music. They consist of rhyming couplets, mostly about love or pain. People who enjoy them usually like to sit in groups together sharing alcoholic drinks whilst listening to them, although you definitely don’t have to do that! (laughs)
The gatherings where they are performed are called mehfils, where there is typically a harmonium and tabla player which form the foundation of the accompaniment. They are chilled out tunes but the depth of the lyrics cannot be captured in any other songs. They will repeat the lines again and again and change the melody. They have a very ethnic and beautiful sound which is incredible.
ICB – Having Gulam Ali Khan as your judge in Sa Re Ga Ma, what were the thoughts running through your head at that time?
NAVIN – I knew his name but not who he was at the time. I didn’t know about pitch or anything when I did Sa Re Ga Ma. I just went up to sing. Little did I know he is very intricate with pitching and so forth. When I got back home I researched who he was and when I realized it I was glad in a way that I didn’t know at the time because I would have been shaking on stage. When you’re young and you don’t know, you have no fear, so you just go and do it. Just being nineteen at the time, I was fearless. Now that I know, I’ll be more careful and nervous.
ICB – Has Hangama Hai Kyon or any song for that matter ever made you really cry?
NAVIN – There are so many songs that have made me cry. That’s the magic of music. It can pick you up when you’re at your lowest. It can pull you down and it can bring out emotions that you never knew you had otherwise.
This song by Ghulam Aliji doesn’t make me cry though. Actually it reminds me of my nanaji in India. Whenever I spent time with him, this was the song that he would sing. So when I hear it now, it brings back those memories. Again that’s the magic of music.
ICB – You’ve worked on several collaborations as of late. Can you tell us about those?
NAVIN – Yes, actually quite a few Canadian ones. When I came here last year to desifest, I heard many talented South Asian artists who didn’t just say let’s get together and do something. They would send a track and ask me to record something to add to it. And I believe in supporting good artists who have been doing their thing for awhile and are looking to step it up or take a different angle on their music.
One song is Dance which I performed tonight with Prita Chhabra which she let me hear last year and I just sang a few lines that she loved and wanted to add to it. I’ve featured in a song with Biltz Krieg called Love You the Same, which Roach Killa produced. He already had the rap and asked me to add something to it.
Featuring on projects like these gives me access to different genres, markets and audiences as well. When you start out it’s important to establish your own sound as far as an artist, but then you need to start branching out.
There’s also a song I’ve recorded with the British Asian rapper from India, Hard Kaur, who is doing very well in Bollywood and a new singer, Pritraj. It’s called Down 2nite, produced by Phat Kat. Another one is Nachle with 3Mix, the first British Asian boy band in the UK, where part of my song Nachle is compiled in that single. Again they are all different vibes and I hope the fans like them.
There are a few more in the pipeline that I can’t talk about right now but I can say that some are quite substantial.
ICB – Do you have any other obsessions besides music?
NAVIN – Twitter, Facebook and walking on my hands – I should do that on stage sometime.
ICB – We would certainly love to see you do that. Regarding the social networks Twitter and Facebook you commented in the past that they bring your fans closer to you and allow you to interact with them on a level never known before. To what extent have you done this and would you say it also gives you an edge on the playing field compared to those celebs who don’t take advantage of them?
NAVIN – Social networks in general are really fun. It’s so great to do a show like tonight and to go on my Facebook and Twitter pages to see what people think, did they enjoy it, etc. Just being able to listen to the people who buy your music and who you make music for is wonderful. Before when it didn’t exist, you could hear the fans screaming, “I love you” or shouting out your name and that is so amazing to experience on that level. It’s definitely given me an edge in the sense that if it weren’t for social networks, I don’t know if I would be as popular as I am right now.
ICB – What was the lowest point in your life? What was the best time of your life?
NAVIN- The best time of my life is right now. I’m doing everything I’ve ever wanted to do. I love having people in my life that make it pleasure to wake up in the morning. I look forward to opening my eyes and begin another day living my life. It’s wonderful.
ICB – It’s like what we were discussing earlier tonight about living your dream.
NAVIN – Right, it’s everything you’ve ever dreamt of and then someone gives you your dream right there in front of you and all of a sudden it’s a reality. What do you do with it? And I’m not saying, ok I’m there now, so I can just sit back and chill. I’m still focused in terms of driving forward, making new music, pushing myself as much as possible, break boundaries and do something very significant for our people. I would love to be someone who is remembered afterwards, not just someone who is current and trendy or popular at this time.
ICB – Top 5 things you want to have or you want to do in life (combination thereof)
NAVIN – I’ve always wanted an Aston Martin or a Ferrari even though that’s very materialistic. We’ll leave out happiness for parents and world peace because those are givens. To be honest with you, I don’t want much more. When I was younger I used to pray a lot for the things that I wanted – for my exams to go well, for me to be able to write this song, to become famous, etc. But for the last two years, I’ve stopped asking for anything and instead thanked him for whatever I’ve been given.
So in many ways, I don’t actually want anything more materialistic except for a really flashy car, flashy house, flashy holidays (laughs!). And it is all of those things I mentioned before, happiness for my family and friends and a steady career. That’s pretty much all I want.
ICB – Anything you’d like to add?
NAVIN – I love everyone that is supporting me and I want to thank you for allowing me to do what I love doing. I hope I can continue to make music that you all want to hear! Keep in touch with me through Facebook and Twitter and hopefully, see you soon at one of my live performances. And thank you Simran for always being so supportive.
ICB – You’re most welcome and thank you once again Navin for another great interview.
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