#RSHitList Special: Here’s What Guitarist Ehsaan Noorani Is Listening to Right Now
The Mumbai-based musician has compiled a playlist featuring artists he’s come across via his Instagram live sessions during the lockdown
Earlier this month for his birthday, Mumbai guitarist Ehsaan Noorani was treated to a bluesy ballad called “The Light” that was specifically written and dedicated to him. The folks who penned and performed the track included artists that Noorani featured on his Instagram live sessions all throughout the lockdown. He says, “It was just superb.”
In this interview with Rolling Stone India, Noorani talks to us about how his Instagram live series took off, how it’s grown into becoming a family, a possible blues album he wants to make and also curates this week’s Hit List playlist on Spotify.
Firstly, let’s begin with the song all these artists worked on for your birthday called “The Light.” What was your initial reaction to it?
I kind of got freaked out, and I just couldn’t believe it. The thing is that I’ve written so many songs for films and this thing or the other, but no one has written one for me [laughs]. It was like a trip. And when I saw it, I said, ‘Man, what is this? What is this thing?’ So they said please get on to Instagram right now and check it out. So I said, ‘But why?’ They said no just go check it out. And then I saw the song man, and these guys had made it and shot it and coordinated with all these singers from what they call the ‘E Fam’ on Instagram. Which is basically all the singers that I’ve been discovering through the lockdown. And the next thing you know, I mean, they put out the song. I thought, ‘Oh, god, what is this? It is just superb.’
You were one of the very first to get onto doing regular Instagram live sessions when the lockdown initially began in March. What made you want to get on it?
I experimented, I didn’t know exactly what one does on [these] live [sessions]. Because I was just using Instagram for posting and stuff but was never really seriously into Instagram, per se. Then after that, I saw that many of these guys are getting on live and then I got on live and people wanted to come onto my live, when I was there. So I was kind of wondering, ‘What do they want to come and do? Chat or what?’ Then I realized that there’s a lot of singers and musicians and all who wanted to showcase their talent. Because it was me on the live and it was an opportunity for them to communicate their music. So that’s what I started doing. And then the lockdown started, and it was just perfect timing because I was doing it every night for four months.
You always know that there’s a lot of talent in India, but man, it’s so much songwriting talent, which is lovely. It’s English, singing in English, singing in Hindi, composing in Hindi, composing in English, it was so beautiful to see all these people, these songwriters and singers, and from all over. From the northeast, from all over India, even from America, Indians living there, it was superb. I just say that this is so lovely because here am I getting a chance to see all these guys. And also advise them, you know. They are kids, the thing is that they don’t know what the business is like, they don’t know what they should do to improve because, you can put out anything and you can put it onto social media, the audience will like it. But the point is that do you really want to put yourself under the pressure of doing quality stuff and all that, and a lot of that will only come when you reference yourself to somebody with some experience. Who can tell you, ‘I don’t think this is good. I think you should redo this, I think that you’ve got great talent and I think that you should write even more songs.’ So as a result of which I got people who are not into songwriting, into songwriting. Next thing you know, they were writing songs, and it was just superb, Now it’s become like a family. It’s like they’re communicating with each other, they’re collaborating with each other. And it’s really fabulous.
What are some moments that stand out for you through the course of the sessions?
There were a lot of interesting stories. Arunima [Banerjee] who wrote the song ‘The Light’ for me, her son Josh [Dasgupta] is a singer. He’s just finished school and he’s got a lovely voice. He jumped on my live and met this guy called Dipan [Basak], who’s from Calcutta. Dipan is a guitar player and a songwriter. So the two of them got together, and they released a song. It was so beautiful. I mean, these guys did it like literally across the wire. It’s nice that the entire story of two kids just meeting on Instagram live and next thing you know, they’ve formed a band. And that’s been happening with a lot of people. I mean, a lot of collaborations. So it’s just been a wonderful experience for me. It’s like a lot of insight into the talent here and in remote places like Mizoram. I mean, it’s far away [so] when are we going to go and check it out? We’ve always known there’s a lot of good musicians there and even in Nagaland. This was just one lovely opportunity for that.
There’s this girl called Mansa and she’s from Nainital. I’d never ever heard of her, and she was apparently on the verge of not wanting to go on with her music anymore and stuff like that. I pulled her on the live chat, and I spoke to her and she sang, I said, ‘You got such a lovely voice, you really should take advantage of it.’ And now she’s fully back into it with gusto, believing that they can do something, there are a lot of stories that people who didn’t know that they could be good singers, people who didn’t know that they could be songwriters, who suddenly discovered that man, ‘We can write songs.’ The first time I heard a song [by them] it was fabulous. I can give you a whole bunch of names. There’s like this whole lot of them from Bombay, there’s one called Utsavi Jha who is very talented.
Now that there’s a relationship formed between you and the young artists you’ve met, do you feel a sense of responsibility towards them?
Well, actually yes. Eventually, you can only be that responsible, and today’s kids are pretty strong-headed in terms of what they want. But of course, you guide them in the right direction. They send me their mixes of their songs with the mastering and stuff and I tell them you know, ‘I don’t think that they should be doing this’ or ‘I think maybe the music needs to be louder.’ That kind of basic stuff. You have to be the audience and you have to also at one point have someone who’s like a mentor, who would listen to it and say that man, ‘I think that you’re not doing this right. I think you should correct this.’ So that’s been really interesting for me too. It’s been a growth for me.
It took us a long time to create that because we were not just creating music, like a song like you do for a film, here you are creating the music that happens, then you’re creating the song. Or when even they’re conceptualizing like something or they’re practicing a bandish or they’re practicing a raag, so basically, when you’re doing like a web series about music you’re not thinking about the first episode, you’re looking and thinking about episode seven, where this piece that you started creating in the first episode is going to finally appear. So, you have to do a lot of to and fro thinking, which is really tough. The thing is that all the riyaz that they do, all the practice that they do, you have to create music for if they’re trying a saregama you have to compose it. The deliverables were huge. Each episode had God knows how many pieces of music.
What really surprised me was when the music started doing so well. The album was on top of the iTunes charts for three weeks, which is unheard of. Some of the classically based songs were popular with the youth. So for us, it is as important or as exciting as Rock On becoming popular with the youth. It’s been an eye-opener and lovely to see that happen.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently, I’m just working on the background score of Toofan with Farhan Akthar and directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra. We also completed the music for Bunty Aur Babli 2. Then there’s another film called Prithviraj Chauhan, it’s a historical film. So, there’s that. And who knows, maybe there’d be a Bandish Bandits Season 2. Right now I guess it’s okay. Plus we’re doing commercial work and whatnot. It is all kind of slowed down right now.
We know that you’re a massive blues buff, and one thing we’re craving to hear from you is a blues record. Will that ever happen?
I want to do it, man, I want to do it. I’ve got to just get off my ass. I’m not making any excuses anymore. But you know, I just need to get off my ass and do it. And I will do it for sure.
Stream Rolling Stone India’s Hit List curated by Ehsaan Noorani on Spotify below: