“A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.” ~Leopold Stokowski
This quote is such a beautiful way to express how musicians create their music and that is exactly what the talented Mr. Navin Kundra does so exquisitely. Although being born and brought up in the UK, Navin has taken the music of his heritage, which he holds close to his heart and added to it a style all his own. For his female fans a.k.a. Mehboobas especially, although it is certainly not limited to them alone by any means, he entices us to follow him on this journey through his captivating music … pure magic. Once again ICB has the privilege of spending some time conversing with Navin and finding out what he’s been doing since the last time we spoke with him.
ICB – Thank you so much Navin for being here with us tonight.
Navin - Thank you. It’s great to be here.
ICB – Speaking of painting, with reference to the above quote, I really like your motto, “I like to paint outside the black and white lines of genres, so you can always expect something new from me.” This was particularly true when you mixed genres to create Aaja. Your new track, soon to be released on August 20th, Shudaayi follows that same principle. You mentioned that this has been your obsession for the last year and a half, so just what can we expect with this sizzling tune Shudaayi, for which you’ve changed not only your looks but vocal style as well?
Navin - Well this is a complete flipside to songs like Tere Liye and Khaali Dil. In Shudaayi I am singing English and Punjabi over a heavy Dutch house beat. It’s a track that’s made for you to move to, and the record has a very distinctive sound and energy. I have been working closely with my talented producer Mushtaq to ensure that every element of this song is right.
ICB – Now that’s a riveting combination! I’ll be honest, before looking it up on Google, the only thing I assumed was that Dutch house beat must have originated in the Netherlands; which thankfully was correct. (Laughs) But it has to do with “tracks that are typically made up of complex percussion and drumbeats, dramatic buildups and short riffs of high-pitched synths.” (Quote from Wikipedia) It certainly is a mind-blowing club song; which some who have heard it also say they’ll be adding it to their workout songs! Having pop singer Tina Barrett from the former pop group SClub7 as your “bionic woman” no doubt added to the sizzle of the music video. I would say that you and Mushtaq have certainly achieved your goal with Shudaayi!
Do you have a specific goal in mind when you compose your songs, other than being able to completely connect to them emotionally of course? And does that require adding certain elements to it in order to achieve that goal or am I making the process more complicated than it really is?
Navin - There is no specific goal as such other than to create something that will last a lifetime and beyond. The truth is, I actually hear most of the song in my head with specific instrumentation whilst writing it and spend most of the time thereafter trying to recreate what I hear in my head on record. I don’t like anyone hearing my work in progress because I know that they can’t hear what’s in my head and the working recordings never sound that way until it’s finished. This is where having talented producers around you who are so in tune with what you’re hearing helps. Mushtaq and I have been working together now for five years and during that time we have developed a strong musical chemistry in the studio. He brings my ideas to life and I do the same for him. It is definitely true that there is a lot of going back and forth in the recording process to achieve “that” sound, but in the end it always feels like a personal victory when we hear the final product. If you listen to any of the songs from Tere Liye to Love Thing or Aaja to Mehbooba you will know exactly what I mean. And I believe that you will feel it too with Shudaayi.
ICB – You can definitely feel it when listening to the track. I’m looking forward to experiencing the entire effect when the video releases as well! Thank you for giving us the insight as to how you hear it all in your head first and then recreate it and bring it to life. I can’t even fathom how that works but is so incredible the way you can do that! You have such an amazing gift. Then to be able to have the musical chemistry in the studio with Mushtaq and how you both work so unbelievably well with each other to create the magic that you have given us for the past five years is truly fabulous!
In keeping with that same line of thought and the nuances of music, I learned something very interesting from a comment of yours on Twitter a few months back. You said, “We spend a lot of time putting certain sounds in certain speakers…so do the right thing and check your left and right headphones.” The first thing I thought of was your cover of Main Yahaan Hoon from Veer Zara and how your voice goes from the left headphone to the right at certain parts of the song, so it appears that you are on either side of the listener as SRK was in the film with Priety. What determines the specific sounds, which side they’re added to and why?
Navin - Wow … you really do listen to those songs properly – yes playing with these elements helps make the music more of a journey and listening experience. I have listened to some fantastically produced and mixed music where, if you close your eyes, you can actually picture each instrument in the room and exactly where it is placed. For example, take a listen to Stevie Wonder’s My Cherie Amore with headphones or crisp speakers and you will be able to hear where the guitar is positioned, along with the drums and vocals etc. … I don’t know the science that sits behind programming all of this because I am not a mix engineer, but I know when the feeling and the experience is right. I have used this technique extensively in Aaja, if you listen carefully, you will find that every voice in that recording including the Qawaali chorus and opening alaaps is mine, but positioned in different places to give the impression of a group.
ICB – I do try to listen to songs properly, especially when you come to appreciate all the talent, hard work and sweat that go into it. That is so cool how you can picture where all the instruments are in the room. I will try and do that now, thanks. I did recognize that all the voices in Aaja were yours but you’re right it does seem like a group of you are there.
What are your thoughts on how music can transcend language barriers, as you have a large number of loyal fans who thoroughly enjoy your music even without the translations?
Navin - Again, this comes down to feeling. The people who are unable to understand the lyrics will connect with something if they can feel it, and I love that I have fans around the world who feel my music.
ICB – What a thrilling feeling that must be for you as well to know that. On the subject of language, please tell us about another sizzling track Dance which you did with Prita Chhabra – your lyrics in Hindi fused with hers in English.
Navin - That was a lot of fun! I met Prita whilst performing in Canada and we hung out for a while, then our management discussed a possible collaboration between the two of us and that’s how Dance was born. It was a song that she had already written and released, but she was working on a remix and adding in those few lines of Hindi helped give the remix another level. We shot the video during our premier of that track when we performed it together in Toronto a year later – that’s a memory captured for life and I’m glad it’s done well.
ICB – You both look like you were really having a blast making that video. Love watching it. The concept of it is so different and fresh. Well done!
What is your personal definition of music?
Navin - Music is the truest form of magic.
ICB – And the most beautiful too I think.
If you could pick three artists living or dead to critique your work who would you choose and why?
Navin - To critique? Well that’s interesting because I don’t really think music is something to be “critiqued”, it’s something to be felt. Personally, I either feel it or I don’t, and I know that many other artists feel music in the same way. I don’t really listen to a piece and say ‘he could have done this part better here’ or ‘she should have put more emphasis on this part’. Once it is created, it is there for life and it is someone’s artistic expression. Anyway, back to your question, if I could pick three artists to listen to my work, they would be Michael Jackson, Mohammed Rafi and A.R. Rahman. There is still hope for the latter! (Smiles)
ICB – Great choices and yes there is still hope for A.R. Rahman. I do agree with you though, critiquing shouldn’t be done in relationship to music, you’re right. Rather it should only be felt or experienced. Good answer and explanation.
Last year at desiFEST you mentioned that four years ago this is where you wanted to be, doing all that you’re doing now. Knowing that you like to keep moving forward and trying out different things, can you give us any exclusive details on what you have planned for the future and do they include showing us your talents with the keyboard and harmonium?
Navin - You will eventually get to see all of that, and I am constantly working on new material and ‘tricks’ to keep you all entertained. I don’t want to tempt fate and tell you all that I have planned … just stick with me, and I will do whatever I can to ensure that you’ll be glad that you did! (Laughs)
ICB – You have certainly kept us entertained so far, so no worries that we won’t keep following you on this journey that has certainly kept us pleasantly surprised and proud of you from the very beginning. We’ve also heard Bollywood has your number? Can you clue us in on any of that gup shup?
Navin - Yes Bollywood has been in touch, several times now, however, I cannot say anything about this just yet. Let’s just say that they like to talk … and talk … and talk … I’m a singer dammit!
ICB – Haha! Point well taken; we’ll see if we can’t get those negotiations moving along at a faster pace for you. (Laughs) You’ve mentioned that it was a highlight in your journey but what was it like to share the stage with Ustad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan?
Navin - It was phenomenal. Of late, he is the single most consistent singer who is recording some quality hit songs and I admire his voice. After all, he does hail from the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan family and he is an asset to the industry. When I was performing, he got up to dance along to my songs and then entertained us all with a rendition of Tere Mast Mast Do Nain. Since that day, I added that song to my extended set list purely because of the inspiration that moment gave me.
ICB – Oh wow that really must have been phenomenal!! It’s amazing the way inspirational moments come to us isn’t it? I can see why you’ve added that song to your set list! He does have a distinct voice and is a definite asset to the industry. I love Tere Mast Do Nain, O Re Piya, and so many of his other songs.
And with that I see that the time has escaped us once again unfortunately. Thank you so much Navin for another great interview! Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?
Navin - Thank you and guys be sure to get a copy of my new single Shudaayi – if you could share the video amongst all your friends and family too, that would be fab! All my Love, Navin
Shudaayi will be released worldwide on all digital platforms, including iTunes, on the 20th August 2012, aptly timed to coincide with Eid.
For further information, enquiries or interview requests, please contact Navin’s manager, Nyrone Persaud at email@example.com or Navin’s PR Agent, Raj Ghai at firstname.lastname@example.org.