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Clinton Cerejo: ‘We’re on the Cusp of Creating a Parallel Narrative to the Bollywood Scene’

The renowned composer/producer on mentoring budding talent on Nexa Music and pushing creative boundaries

Rolling Stone India Feb 16, 2019

Clinton Cerejo discusses the English music scene, its biggest challenges and why indie music needs an urgent shot in the arm.

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Clinton Cerejo has a tough job at hand. Together with A.R. Rahman, the music composer/producer is on the lookout for budding indie artists that have something unique to offer. As part of Nexa Music, the two musicians will mentor the selected talent, help them produce songs and even hit the road with them. In this exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, Cerejo discusses the English music scene, its biggest challenges and why indie music needs an urgent shot in the arm.

As a successful producer yourself and a mentor on Nexa Music, how important is for established names in the industry to be part of projects that inspire budding musicians to create original music?

I think its extremely important especially in an emerging market like India. The indie scene is kinda exploding now and it’s really more relevant now than ever. There’s a heap of great talent out there and they’re all looking for the right platform. Being a mentor to some of the budding talent out there is something I’m excited about and I think we’re on the cusp of creating a parallel narrative to the mainstream Hindi and Bollywood scene. I’ve always had my feet in two boats, Bollywood and Indie so it’s great that a property like Nexa Music is finally happening.

The independent music scene in India has a small but loyal audience. What can consumers and appreciators of original music in India look forward to from this new series?

I frankly think the audience is small, because not enough has been done by the powers that be to expand that audience and cater to a slightly more evolved audience. The traditional label model is dying and I see that as a good thing especially in India because for too long the power has been concentrated in the hands of a few. With Nexa Music, ARR and I are trying to genuinely help deserving artists who have something unique and enabling them to tell their stories to a wider audience than just their local fanbase. I think English audiences are going to be pleasantly surprised.

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What do you think the indie music scene is lacking today? Is there a “scene” at all?

Oh there’s definitely a scene. Now more than ever. And if the scene is lacking something, it’s lacking more platforms that genuinely want to encourage music that is not mainstream. Someone asked me on Twitter, when I put up my first post announcing Nexa Music “why only English, why is Hindi not eligible for submission” and my answer to him was simple”¦ There are more than enough initiatives encouraging Hindi music today. From reality shows to film music and live shows, it’s the Hindi audiences that have for years been catered to. Whereas if we’re going to be adopting a global outlook then I definitely think a lot more English opportunities should be made available to musicians and audiences especially because the talent exists and the talent needs to be heard.

As a musician whose been part of a wide-ranging Indian and international projects, how have you seen the original music scene evolve in the past two decades in India?

I think two decades ago we honestly had a thriving Hindi pop industry. From Lucky Ali to Alisha Chinai to Mehnaz and everyone in between, we had a pop music scene that didn’t lean on Bollywood. Then the big boys got in and Bollywood suddenly eclipsed the pop industry and became the be all and end all of music in India. It’s only in the last eight years or so that we’ve seen a shift in that equation. And thankfully now the focus is back on indie, because of the endless amount of remakes and the lack of good melodies that transcend time, in Bollywood today. The indie scene is suddenly where all the action is happening. And I think it needs to grow a lot more, especially in terms of production values but it’s getting there slowly but surely.

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Collaboration is a key element of Nexa Music. What makes a collaboration special between two artists?

I think if there’s one thing that collaborators need to have, is the ability to learn from the other. Even as a mentor one can still learn every day from the people you are mentoring. I’ve been collaborating with Bianca Gomes who has been co-composing for some time now on my Shor Police project and on Nexa Music we’ve collaborated again on a compositional and production level and come up with, what I think are some really cool songs for our three lounge artists, Uday, Anushka and Nikhil. We’ve also got them to write lyrics and bring their own special flavor as artists. They’re all so fantastic in their own right and they each bring something unique to the table.

What creative qualities are you looking for in the selected artists/winners?

I think the focus is definitely going to be on the uniqueness of the artists, interesting melodies, or interesting production values will be a plus. I’m obviously also expecting them to be lacking in some areas but that’s why I’m mentoring them. Because I honestly believe that polishing a diamond is doable but it’s gotta be a diamond in the first place. So if the raw material is there, then I know that I’ve got the potential building blocks of a great song. Everything after that is just execution. And that’s the easy part!


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