Sound Out: Ananthaal
Veteran Mumbai-based musician Clinton Cerejo’s new band Ananthaal blends Western harmonics with Indian folk and classical styles
Clinton Cerejo seems to be getting it right. With the sort of music he is whipping up, he will rarely be on the wrong side of Indian classical music purists who scoff at the mention of the word ‘fusion’ or ‘Western’ musicians that thrive on experimentation. Musical genius or merely plugging a market gap, Cerejo’s blend works. This was, in fact, quite evident when the Mumbai musician presented his compositions on Coke Studio Season 2 in 2012, among which was the immensely popular “Madari,” sung by Vishal Dadlani, Vijay Prakash Sonu Kakar. Cerejo returned the next season and delivered a few more hits — “Pinjra” [Jonita Gandhi, Sanam Puri,] and “Marghat” [Siddharth Basrur,] among others. In the two editions of Coke Studio, Cerejo worked closely with many talented musicians. It was only natural that the consistent success of their collaborations got him thinking about putting together a band. Last year, the Cerejo put his thoughts into action, bringing aboard his long standing companions Bianca Gomes and Vijay Prakash to form the trio Ananthaal.
The first thing that strikes you about Ananthaal is how assorted it is, at least in terms of voices. While Prakash comes from a strong Indian classical and Carnatic background and boasts a most unique baritone, Gomes’s forte is R&B and soul. Says Cerejo, “Their voices are so distinct, yet they each have something very strong to say.” Musically, the band plays a mix of pop, rock, funk and jazz. A more apt genre category would be world music, which the band prefers to use to identify their sound.
Ananthaal released their self-titled debut album last month at a packed show in Blue Frog, where they performed songs from the album. Much like the diverse music tastes of its members, the band has covered a lot of terrain linguistically as well. While most songs are in Hindi, on “Inayat,” you can hear them singing in native Punjabi of the sufi variety, and on “Manasellam Megham,” the trio shows off their command over Tamil. Interestingly, none of these languages is the mother tongue of any of the three members. Talking about her language barrier with Hindi, Gomes says, “Initially I did think how I would fit in. I have done a little Bollywood but not enough to be comfortable with the language [Hindi]. It took me a while to figure out my space and how I would sound, but it all fell into place.” At the first recording session for “Inayat,” Vijay, too, couldn’t help expressing his discomfort at the prospect of singing in Punjabi. The singer recounts, “I remember telling Clinton, ‘Hindi and the Southern languages are okay, but Punjabi is something I am not sure of.” Cerejo, on the other hand, always felt that the language barrier was more in their heads than anywhere else. He says, “We grew up with Western influences so we never tried [to know more about regional languages/culture.] The funny thing is that after each of us sang our parts in Punjabi at that session, [lyricist] Shellee said we did it perfectly!”
The other lyricists who have penned tracks on the album are Manoj Yadav, a long-standing companion of Cerejo’s who wrote Coke Studio compositions like “Banjara,” “Madari,” and “Kalapi,” Siddhant Kaushal and Amitabh Bhattacharya.
Cerejo, who prefers to put melody to words rather than the other way around which is the standard norm with most composers, also narrates how he would use whatever lyrics he could get from Yadav to create tunes. “I told Manoj to send me a Word document with the lyrics of all the songs that have been rejected so far!” Prakash is quick to add, “Usually, this document contains some of the best songs.” With a long text of Hindi lyrics – most of which Cerejo couldn’t fathom – the musician would string together melodies picking one line from one verse and another from an entirely different one. The result would be, Cerejo says, “a song with utter gibberish.”
While Cerejo ensures he works with lyricist-poets, he also likes to use words as sounds to add depth to his music. You only have to listen to “Haal-E-Dil” to get a sense of that. The words are enunciated in a punchy staccato style in the chorus without once taking life out of the words themselves – something that we witness all too often with rock bands that perform Hindi songs. But having said that, Cerejo is also mindful of how far he can go with that approach of turning words into interesting sounds. “While we want to use words as tools, there will be some listeners paying keen attention to the way words are being articulated. Hence, even while recording in Hindi, we always have a language supervisor to guide us so that we don’t take things for granted,” says Cerejo, who also seems to be doing a fine job of straddling the fence between commercial Bollywood and indie projects. Till Coke Studio happened, he was considered one of the most underrated music composers in the Hindi film music circuit, someone who’d rather stay away from the limelight and let his work speak for itself. “Many times, my studio boys tell me, ‘Have you heard this latest Bollywood hit song? You can write a song like that in five minutes, then why do you complicate life and sit on compositions for months?’ But I can’t do that because I am my own worst critic. I think too many people in this industry have learnt to sleep peacefully at night even after doing average work; I don’t want to be like them.”
Ananthaal have also released a video for ‘Inayat,” which was shot in scenic, expansive locales in Ladakh and directed by Shujaat Saudagar. “We wanted to use vastness, larger-than-life settings. That separates us from a regular indie band with a video shot in a warehouse with members wearing jeans and jackets.”
Watch “Hall-E-Dil” below.