A man of few words but many hits disturbing the Indian pop charts, Kolkata-based musician, multi-instrumentalist, composer and singer Tajdar Junaid has recently launched his debut album ‘What Colour Is Your Raindrop’. At various phases over the years, Taj has been associated with rock bands, film soundtracks, music for theatre productions and ‘Ruhaniyat’, a folk music band from West Bengal. A self-funded effort recorded at the HMV Studio in Kolkata, this album has collaborated with many international artistes using various instruments such as charango, mandolin, ukulele, oud, duduk, sarangi, sarod, glockenspiel, esraj, oboe, harmonium, piano, guitar, bass and drums. The combination of these instruments has created melodies which lend a unique, calming feeling such as walking on fresh dew on a winter morning. Two songs from his album have been selected for a Hollywood film “The Sold”, produced by Emma Thomson and directed by Oscar and Emmy winner Jeffrey Brown. He talks to Emaho about all that he has accomplished till date and all that he aims for in the future.
Emaho : A young boy with big dreams of becoming John Bonham, now a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composer and music producer. How did you give shape to these dreams? Inspire us!
I think perseverance is the key…sticking to what you love without caring about the result is important. There’s got to be a deep hunger to give shape to the sounds and images in your head and heart. Only because it is a peaceful feeling at the end of the day. I used to teach music in schools and rehearse with bands during the day and practice my guitar at low volumes in the kitchen at night as my family would be sleeping in the other room. The trick is never to lose sight of the big picture because you owe it to yourself.
Emaho : The August release ‘What Color Is Your Raindrop’, your debut album, involves 18 different collaborators from across the globe. Yet there is one constant mesmerizing element in all the tracks which lulls the listener to feel the beauty and innocence around. What did you want to maintain, while working with 18 different artists who brought their own music sense?
I think most of the beauty lies on how hard or soft you press those notes and emote them. All I wanted as a producer was the musicians to play for the song and play exactly what the song demands. In the studio I’d end up saying “It would be nice to have some warmth on that sarangi.” “Perhaps a bit more fluidity would help.” “What if you saw more of red in your textures”.
Of course when you collaborate with someone, you do need to take that leap of faith and accept what comes out of the flow. The result might not be what you initially thought of but, hey, this could be another perspective.
Emaho : You worked with New Zealand musician Greg Johnson who lent his voice to’ Mocking Bird’, Fred White of Acoustic Alchemy, Vachagan Tadevosyan on oboe and duduk, Stuart Munro on bass – how did you come to collaborate with these international artists?
Thanks to the Internet, these songs travelled all across the globe to be recorded. I heard Greg Johnson, who is a fantastic singer songwriter from NZ,USA, on a CD when I was in high school. I wrote him an email appreciating his music and he wrote back surprised to know he had listeners in India. We lost touch till about 2 years back when we exchanged some music again. He liked what he heard and he asked me to play guitars on one of his songs. And when I started recording my album I knew a song of mine “Mockingbird” suited his voice perfectly. I met Fred White (from the thrice Grammy Nominated UK band Acoustic Alchemy) over Soundcloud.com. We heard each other’s music and got excited about the idea of collaborating and mixing my album. Vishal Nayak , who is an old friend from Calcutta, and studied music at the Berklee College of Music, Boston, played drums on a song of mine from his home studio in New York. Anusheh Anadil who is a fabulous singer from Bangladesh sang on a song too. Vachagan who is from Armenia played the traditional Armenian flute Duduk. Nitzan Sagie is a brilliant composer from Israel and I met him over Soundcloud.com. He contributed on a song of mine called ‘The First Year’.
Emaho : You have worked with Paul ‘Salty’ Brincat, who has been the sound engineer for ‘Star Wars’, ‘Superman Return’s, ‘MI 2’, ‘The Thin Red Line’, among others and Michael Yezersky for the Australian feature film ”The Waiting City”. What was that like?
Extremely professional and they enjoy so much of what they do. It was a learning experience for me. We recorded the music in a hotel room !
© Ronny Sen
Emaho : The instrumentation wizardry in these tracks is capable of transporting the listener to a serene world of sunshine and rainbows. What instruments have you used to concoct each potion-like track to create this unworldly atmosphere in which there is no stress or sorrow?
Oh there are so many instruments on this album. 18 brilliant musicians and so many varied and amazing instruments: the oud, sarangi, charango, mandolin, saord, harmonium, duduk, oboe, violin, guitars, Glockenspiel, piano and drums.
Emaho : The playlist seems to flow seamlessly from one song to another with magnificent ease. But they involve all the above mentioned instruments – how did you hone the skill to create the most fitting melody by combining one with another? Which instruments do you play and how did you learn so many of them?
Well I end up listening to a lot of music in my head and I need to reciprocate these ideas. And I love putting different cultures and backgrounds together. Hence you’ll hear all sorts of orchestration on tracks like ‘Aamna’, ‘Prelude to Poland’ and ‘Dastaan’ where the melody is the main focus while the bed is created by layering different kinds of instruments together. I play the guitar, ukulele, mandolin and charango. I took lessons on the guitar from the amazing Amyt Datta while I am self-taught on all the other instruments. It’s a matter of being curious and simply spending some time with the instrument.
Is your music influenced by certain artists or music of a particular era? The album has a very 60s-hippie culture feel to it – like The Beatles, as well as a classical Hindustani music touch.
I love Indian Classical and I like to use these instruments in a more textural kind of way. I love honesty in any art form and I try and absorb all the things that move me. Whether it’s Iranian Cinema, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan,Erik Satie or Haruki Murakami.
Emaho : Right from the tracks to the very album name and cover photo, you seem to bring this soulful world scattered with child-like happiness. Why this name and the photo?
It’s true if one abandons all the clichés, don’t really care about the result and instead focus on having fun while creating, one actually ends up creating something much more novel. Simply because you have shut the analytical side of the brain; all you want to do is have fun putting different instruments together and see what comes out. Just like a kid doesn’t care when he draws an elephant and colours it red because he wants to tell you the elephant is angry.
‘What Colour Is Your Raindrop’ is my way of having an insight to your story.
The cover is a photograph my father took of me when I was about 3 or 4 years old . Calcutta used to have a lot of strikes then and the roads would go completely empty. I used to be amazed by the traffic police and delighted to see huge cars and trucks stop with simply one wave of their cane. So I was filled with pride holding that cane and posing on the empty road. Perhaps I was grinning and thinking I brought the entire road on a standstill.
Emaho : Your songs, eg the track titled ‘What Colour Is Your Raindrop’, are reminiscent of fresh autumn mornings which appeal to both young and old alike. What do you think makes this album so universally appealing?
I like writing instrumental pieces all the more since words can be so direct and sometimes can act as a crutch. I am really happy to see this huge response for the album from across the globe, especially since this is a completely self-funded independent effort. I truly feel that if one is honest with his work the universe takes care of the remaining bit in its own sweet time.
Emaho : How was ‘Minor Whistle’ recorded?
That was a one-take recording in my bedroom. Two people in front of one microphone. Me playing the ukulele and my friend Noah Kopito whistling. I added some vinyl crackle sounds to make it sound as if it’s an old gramophone playing.
Emaho : At various times over the years, you have been associated with bands – Blackstratblues and Cognac, Bengali film soundtracks, music for theatre productions and Ruhaniyat, a folk music band from West Bengal. Has making music for each been a different experience? And how have they added up in your debut album?
Yes, different musical situations ask you of a different you. But I always ask myself when I am in such a situation : How can I take this song a notch up or how can I better this musical situation. The answer sails me through.
© Ronny Sen
Emaho : There is a Bengali song ‘Ekta Golpo’ (meaning ‘A Story’), featuring Satyaki Banerjee, Diptanshu Roy and Bangladeshi singer Anusheh Anadil, which has a folk element to it. What about that genre interests you?
Folk is so simple. No glam. And so much fun also.
‘Though I Know I’ll Never Forget You’… What is the story behind this song, it sounds like one of love long lost.
It was a goodbye song written for my first girlfriend many years back. She was from a small town in the hills and hence the words “Wind is blowing but it won’t carry my prayers to you/ Time is crying, memories are flying to you”.
Emaho : Dastaan (Persian word for ‘story’) on the other hand is a beautiful instrumental, paradoxically with no story to tell. Moreover each time you listen to it, in whichever mood, different imageries come to mind. What was the thought behind this track?
I was trying to create a story using silence hence these long gaps in the song which makes one reflect on one’s own story. And funnily often, as you start playing the melody, it overtakes everything and starts to unfold itself. As if it was meant to be there.
Emaho : How do you see the music scene in Calcutta? What do you like about making and promoting music from Calcutta as an emerging artist?
I wish there were some corporates involved in putting money into the gig circuit. Just the way they put tons of money in promoting cricket matches and dance and reality shows.
© Jelena Cvjetkovic
Emaho : I would want to congratulate you on the selection of 2 songs from your album for a Hollywood film “The Sold” – produced by Emma Thomson and directed by Oscar and Emmy winner Jeffrey Brown. Please share the details with us. And how did “The Sold” team approach you?
Jeffrey happened to be at a concert earlier this year where I was playing a solo charango set. His crew was shooting a section of the film “Sold” in Calcutta. He liked what he heard and got in touch with me and asked me for more of my music. I gave him an unmixed copy of my album. They flew back to USA and months later Jeffrey sent me an email that spoke of 2 songs of mine, ‘Dastaan’ and ‘Prelude to Poland’. He said they’d fit the scenes really well and that they’d like to buy the sync licence for it.
It feels good to see The Universe in play. All we artists have to do is focus on our craft.
Art & Culture Interviewed by Raksha Bihani