Uday Benegal: ‘To Be a Good Songwriter You Have To Embrace Life and All That It Gives You’
The ‘Top Of The Rock’ hit maker talks Nexa Music, working with Clinton Cerejo, skepticism artists have about talent shows and more
Mumbai-based veteran vocalist-guitarist and frontman of the iconic rock band Indus Creed (previously known as Rock Machine) Uday Benegal has been involved with the country’s music scene since the Eighties and has seen it all and done it all. Most recently he’s starred in Aadyam’s English musical Sing India Sing and now is also part of India’s latest English music talent hunt Nexa Music, as a mentor and headliner. We spoke to Benegal about the competition, why artists should take part in it, what it takes to be a good songwriter and more. Excerpts:
When Rock Machine’s Rock’n’Roll Renegade came out in 1988, the band received plenty of screen time on television at the time and enjoyed a fair amount of success. How do you think you would have done on a talent hunt show back then?
(Laughs), I have no idea. If we’re going to go by my own personal record in taking part in singing competitions then we would have done very badly because I lost all except for one. Although as Rock Machine we were never really into the whole competitive thing in any case.
At this point in time what do you make of the English music scene and how can we better it?
We can always better it. But I would say not only the English music scene but also the entire independent music scene whether its English or Tamil, needs all the help it can get right now. Nexa Music is one more thing that can help it and I hope that it can give it enough momentum to grow into something even bigger.
If we look at Hindi which is the most widely spoken language, it’s not the only Indian language, but the most widely spoken. You are opening up a possibility to a much bigger audience to a larger degree than if it were the English language. That said it’s only because the English language segment is disorganized and not because the numbers aren’t there. The numbers have always been there. It may be a small percentage of the Indian population. Considering the size of the Indian population, a small percentage can add up to a really large number, it’s just that reaching that number in an organized way has always been the problem.
What are the ingredients needed for someone to be a good musician and songwriter?
What I would always want to encourage people to do is steer them towards being as honest – so to be as much yourself as possible, which entails many, many things. It means songs you write should speak to the life you have lived, what you have learnt from that life, that’s the only way your songs will make any sense. It has to be your thought and your thought can only have value if it comes from a certain amount of experience. Which means to be a good songwriter you have to embrace life and all that it gives you not just the fame and the convenience and the comfort [but] very much so the difficulty, struggle, the inconveniences, the breakups, rejection, all of that has to be a part of it and only from transcending that you will be able to learn to put that into perspective and share that through your music in a way that’s going to be of any value to anybody else.
As far as the physicality of it is concerned, it is very important to be good at your craft so practice what you do, learn to do it well whether you’re an instrumentalist or a singer or whether you’re both. Do it as well as you possibly can and always try and get better at it and put your ego aside as far as you can. I can’t say anyone can demolish their ego completely, none of us really can. Being performing musicians we also have a certain amount of vanity that comes with it, which is ok, you can make that vanity work for you by being really kickass at what you do, which means honing your craft and honing your skills and combining them with other really good musicians as well if you’re a band.
Artists are sometimes skeptical about talent shows, why do you think they should apply for Nexa Music?
I understand their skepticism, I totally get it – I would share a lot of that skepticism most of the time. Most of these things are more about the events rather than actually about furthering the music. But what separates this one is very much the spearheading of it by [composers] A.R. Rahman and Clinton Cerejo who are both very solid musicians. I don’t think they would get into anything with any intent to deceive anyone or fool anyone. So the fact that they are running the show and that they are spearheading it and taking it forward is the reason to give it a lot of importance and credibility.
How has it been for you working with Nexa Music?
I’ve been working basically with Clinton who I’ve known for a longtime and very much respect as a musician and as a person, he’s a great guy. It’s been great and very smooth. The Nexa people themselves, the people behind the project seem pretty committed to it which I’m really happy about. They seem to have good intentions. Also the [digital agency] Qyuki people who are pretty much the operation driving the whole thing, everybody seems to have their hearts in the right place and for me that’s very, very important. What Clinton and A.R. Rahman bring are also great ability and expertise, they bring in a lot of credibility in terms of their own musicianship. I’ve worked with Clinton on a song together. He composed it, programmed it, I wrote the words, I’ve sung it and he’s producing it so we’ll be going in for the video shoot in a week or so. The song is sounding great.
Entries for Nexa Music are being accepted until February 28th, time is running out – apply immediately.