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'We've to sell music like pizza'

If we're to sell our music to the West, we've got to do some astute marketing: Sandeep Chowta



Sandeep Chowta: `Someone needs to stop, take a chance, and push music that's different.' — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

`MAST' MAN, Bangalore Boy, the Mitti guy, `item' song maker-or-breaker, the Indian who's gonna make it big when he composes for Beijing Olympics 2008... Sandeep Chowta has many tags and mantles, many kinds of music tucked away, and many more in his magic bag.

He's back from an American pilgrimage and is deriving his new high from New World Music.

At the Habba

If he sounds like a man who does too much, you're right. He also played to the crowds at Bangalore Habba, hours after winding up another Bollywood soundtrack in Mumbai.

All the while, he's been trying to avoid being typecast as a one-director musicman or being stereotyped as an item music-maker, switching from films and doing jazz. Bollywood's gung-ho scorer is finding solace in soulful lounge.

American Pilgrimage (however impossible the title words seem) is his latest passion he's gushing over. "It was aimed at being a lounge album. Finally it just found its own sound," he says, insisting he's attained his moksha with this project. He's unable to get over the awe of working with Jay Oliver, the man credited with the Eagles' co-production of Hell Freezes Over and the launch of Sheryl Crowe.

Jazz idols

"All my jazz idols whose music I lived with for over 20 years such as John Scofield, Dave Valentine, Bunny Brunnel, Jay Oliver... I sent my work to them," he says explaining how he initiated this album, with singer Sanjay Chittale, to whom he was introduced by best friend Sonu Nigam.

Starting off passionately with music while still at school, his first ever film was Ninne Pelladtha in Telugu. His range includes music for Ram Gopal Varma hits like Mast, Satya, Pyar Tune Kya Kiya, Company (where he sang the raspy "Ganda hai bhai dhanda... "), the independent album Mitti, and more recently, Ranga SSLC, his only film in Kannada.

"I had a different flavour in every film. But I felt I was getting typecast as Ram Gopal Varma's boy, and that's when Bollywood Hollywood happened." Mitti was what he was dying to do, and also started him off on directing his own video.

Sandeep met Jay Oliver in L.A. when he was there to meet up with his band AO. AO, derived from a Polynesian word meaning unity and light, is all set to compose the score for the Beijing Olympics 2008. After many meetings and some jamming up, Jay suddenly called one day and asked, `Hey man, why don't you join AO?' "I was like wow," says Sandeep. AO will do the opening theme for the Olympics as well as other smaller pieces. "It's predominantly going to be Chinese but since it's about nations coming together, that's the kind of sound they want. We are incorporating music from Ireland. Indian melodies and sounds is something we are also working on." Bangaloreans got a quick preview of a part of this at the Habba.

Short film

"I used to whine when I had problems with the way my music was cut or treated in the film. So I thought it was better to do my own film," recalls Sandeep. He recently wrapped up a short film on drug abuse, Dead End, for an NGO. "Any film on drug abuse must be disturbing and this one is. I picked the most scary aspect of abuse — casual drug users who, one fine night, think it's hip to do grass, just thinking it's cool, and the change in temperament they undergo." Sandeep has scripted, directed and scored the music for the film.

He's not really into remixes, except remixing his own Mast numbers in his album Now That's Sandeep Chowta."I would rather not have someone else remix my own songs. I think right now the music industry is directionless. Someone needs to start somewhere."

The last film he did with a song was Samay with "Laila Laila". "Suddenly they started branding me as this `item song' music director. So I thought before I fall into that trap, let me get out of this," he laughs.

He's also against a single film having triple music directors like A.R. Rahman, and Ismail Durbar and Vishal Shekhar. "I can't understand it. It's unfair to a music director to be part of such films. You're dealing with a film, not an original soundtrack like in Hollywood. But where will the producer understand? I think it's all about the cassette company taking a call on it," he fumes.

Is it what drove him to other things? "Yeah... it's like the music and the film no longer connect. It's just one solitary song they are marketing. Record companies must also be tired of the remixes. Someone needs to stop, take a chance and push music that's different."

No support

Sandeep's upset over the lack of support for talented artistes from Karnataka's successive governments. "I'm from here and love Bangalore, and the city is proud of what we do. But strangely we have to go out of the State, succeed and then come back. Why can't the State promote us or give us the backing we need?

"Forget film music, I don't want to do film music here. But there's so much of folk music that needs to see light." He's convincing when he says that given the resources, magic can be made here too, not just in Mumbai. "Classical music is not popular now, but we can make it. Classical is often typecast. But if you want to sell your music in the West, you have to bring in a li'l bit of their culture. It's like pizzas. When they came into India, they brought in tandoori chicken pizzas. You can't just have it the American way. We've got to bring the two cultures to synergise."

Talent hunts

The man who played judge at one of Indian TV's first talent hunts, Channel V Popstars, and discovered Viva, gets a bit edgy when asked for his take on such talent hunts. 'Coz best buddy Sonu Nigam is on the Indian Idol panel. "When I was doing the show I realised this was all about drama. Those Viva girls were so genuine. But then the band was over in a year. It's the channel's prerogative to do something. They've groomed people and built their hopes. After a year of contracts, you can't just stop there. I like the fact that such shows happen. But sometimes I disagree with what's going on. Because it's all about the show and not about the singers. It's TV. It's about the hyped TRP ratings.."

Bengalooru huduga

Is he still a Bangalore boy? "Completely! I remember going to Holiday Inn and playing with the band Web. I used to wait for Alwyn, the guitarist, to fall sick, so I could be the substitute! Later I think he started enjoying falling sick so he could go and meet his girlfriend. This is where it all started for me and I owe a lot to this city. My roads and dreams started here."

BHUMIKA K.

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