Tajdar Junaid Releases New Song
The Kolkata musician’s upcoming solo debut album saw him meeting baul musicians, visiting ashrams and finding an all new sound in the charango
Wearing a Beatles tee and characteristic smile, Tajdar Junaid looks at ease sitting cross-legged on the grass. He is at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in Kolkata overlooking the post-production of a new video of his forthcoming debut solo album, What Colour Is Your Raindrop. A season of rain has lent lush greenness to the campus and the lawn looks inviting.
As we speak, Taj, as the 31-year-old musician likes to be referred, abstractedly plays the ukulele he had carried along. It provides a mellow soundtrack through the length of our conversation, and the evening sky too momentarily casts a delicate crimson hue — somehow, it all seems to fit in.
If there is one way of describing What Colour Is Your Raindrop it has to be a rare simplicity that, for the musician, taps on the spiritual. In the album, with four vocal and five instrumental tracks, Taj sticks to the straight and the narrow of sheer musicality — his compositions part meditative, part celebratory and maybe even anachronistic in the age of the overproduced studio albums.
His album’s grounding in an existential cauldron is not an overstatement. At one point, while grappling with a creative lack, Taj — a guitarist with former Kolkata rock act Cognac, pop-rock act Span, jazz and blues leaning Stella, the folk act Ruhaniyat and the Bengali urban singer-songwriter Moushumi Bhowmik — had even taken a “sabbatical” from guitar playing, trying out new instruments, delving into photography, and even attempting to write short stories for children.
It all began crashed — or begun to find shape — after he heard in great attentive detail the music of sarod legend Ali Akbar Khan. “The beauty of his music struck me, a musician who was not playing music for anybody but himself. His music shook something in me and I began to question my role as a musician. I knew I had to quit this commercial scene,” says Taj. “I could no longer see me as playing covers or overdriven guitars in a band. I began to listen to everything I had not heard.”
Though the sarod, played by the versatile musician Satyaki Banerjee lends tracks like “Aamna” a slow lingering mystique, Indian classical music doesn’t find dominance in the album. Rather, it yields as much to Indian classical, with Banerjee and sarangi player Debasish Haldar stamping their presence, as it does to Western classical, Latin, Celtic and Bengali folk forms, the latter getting represented in the joyride, “Ekta Golpo” with Banerjee on vocals and the Bangladeshi singer Anusheh Anadil backing up.
In many ways, the only determined throwback to Taj’s rock and blues past happens through “Yadon Ki Pari,” where an Urdu poem written and recited by his dad is broken into by a sudden Jeff Beck-style wah-effected guitar takeoff by Taj, supported by The Supersonics drummer Avinash Chordia’s probing rhythm.
The music of “What Colour Is Your Raindrop,” also an unhurried showpiece track of classical and slide guitar playing which typifies the overall tempo of the album, is a reflection of where he stands as a musician, stresses Taj. It didn’t come in any particular moment of epiphany: as a rock guitarist short on motivating impulses Taj had hung out with baul musicians in Bengal and Bangladesh, visited ashrams in these places seeking spiritual rehab, and the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger. Eventually, he discovered the answer was in himself and in his music.
Goading him along was the music of composers like Erik Satie, Chopin, Yann Tiersen and Gustavo Santaolalla. The latter especially with his soundtrack of The Motorcycle Diaries opened him not only to a distinct approach towards composing but also the ten-string Andean instrument, charango. “It is a beautiful instrument. I was bowled over,” he says.
The song “Dastaan”, a three and a half minute gem that befits the transitory mood when journeying through twilight to darkness, is where the charango — and the musician’s nod to Santaolalla — gain full form. Used also in tracks like “What Colour is your Raindrop” and “Aamna,” the earthy sound of the charango also accents Taj’s musical explorations — he had to wait for many nervous months for the instrument to arrive after he had paid a luthier in South America for one.
A self-funded effort recorded at the HMV Studio in Kolkata, the charango has joined the mandolin, ukulele, oud, duduk, sarangi, sarod, glockenspiel, esraj, oboe, harmonium, piano, guitar, bass and drums to create an album that is unlikely to disturb the pop charts.
Yet, it has a sound that can leave lasting melodies and imagery in patient listeners. The music also floats above geographical and racial pigeonholes. Indicative are the many yeah yeahs coming in from across the world to the first two singles — the chirpy “Though I Know” and the vintage-sounding “Mockingbird” (with American singer Greg Johnson on vocals) — released on his Soundcloud page. “This is where I am now,” says Taj. “Hopefully, ten years later, I’ll be somewhere else.”
What Colour Is Your Raindrop releases this November.
Listen to Tajdar Junaid’s latest release “Dastaan” here: