Meet Arjun, the Newest Crossover Artist on the Block
Based in the U.K., with roots in India and Sri Lanka, the singer-songwriter has a Bollywood hit and a new pop album
When the Bollywood comedy-drama Hindi Medium released last year, the movie was heavily promoted with the pop banger “Suit Suit” which went on to become a viral sensation. The Punjabi dance number, composed by Punjabi singer-songwriter Guru Randhawa, features the U.K.-based musician Arjun Coomaraswamy who penned the English verses for the multi-lingual track. “Guru and I have been friends for six-seven years and he messaged me and said let’s do a song,” says Arjun, who goes by his first name, adding, “When I heard ‘Suit Suit,’ I was like, ‘Wow this will be a big song.’ We shot the video and the rest is history.”
Since the turn of the decade, Arjun has been involved in a number of fusion collabs including 2012’s “Same Girl” with Randhawa, 2016’s “Sanam Ho Ja” and “Falak” among others. The singer-songwriter has also toured extensively in the U.K., U.S. and Australia and is now ready to tap the Western market with his recently released debut full length ten-track album Closer To Home. He says, “This album is also my attempt to reconnect with my U.K. audience.”
The singer-songwriter spoke to Rolling Stone India and shared what it means to be a crossover artist. Excerpts:
You seem to be influenced by a host of musical styles. What are some of your earliest childhood memories revolving around music?
It was actually my mum who made me play a bunch of instruments when I was younger. I learned the piano, guitar, the drums and the flute when I was in school. I was in a bunch of different bands like rock bands, jazz bands and R&B groups thanks to my mum. She was the first person to inspire me to do music, and then it was my friends who got me to get involved to do shows at school and university. I was very shy and didn’t want to be on stage, I wanted to be a producer.
Your debut album Closer To Home has a contemporary sound and tropical vibe, which makes it very club friendly – is that the sort of direction you were going with on the record?
I’m very influenced by world music in general –stuff like [EDM giants] Major Lazer, there’s a lot of tropical sounds in the world right now and I’m influenced by it having traveled a lot. I still think it’s more R&B in terms of the roots of the songs, there’s definitely some club songs in there, some party songs, couple of more sentimental songs, some heartbreak songs but, in general, its more uplifting.
Talk me through some of the songs on the record such as “Vaadi,” S.O.S” and the title track.
So, “Vaadi” is sampling a Tamil song called “Vaadi Vaadi”– it’s got a very trap, hip-hop, R&B kind of feel. My aim was to bring a sound clash of different styles; I’ve been known to be doing mashups and fusion anyway so that was an extension of that. “S.O.S” stands for sound of the summer, it’s a very summer song – it’s very U.K.-influenced and it’s got a tropical drop as well–it’s basically about a girl who reminds me of the summer. The title song “Closer To Home” is one of my favorite songs and is in four different languages–English, Hindi, Arabic and Ghanaian. So, the whole vibe of this album is basically [about] connecting the world.
What is it like being a crossover artist from the Indian subcontinent, based in the U.K.?
It’s amazing because it’s the best of the both worlds. I’m very connected to my roots in Sri Lanka and India but I’m also very British. I love Western culture as well so I’ve been influenced by both worlds. If you check my iTunes, I listen to Bollywood and R&B and I love living in London but I also love being in Asia too.
What are your plans to promote the record?
I’m always in India doing shows, we’re doing a world tour from the end of April, so it’s great to play some new music and new body of work.
Click here to listen to Closer To Home.