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The Mountain Song

Silk Route singer-songwriter Mohit Chauhan is set to come out with a solo album

Neha Sharma May 20, 2009
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For singer-songwriter Mohit Chauhan, his erstwhile band Silk Route’s unchained melody ”˜Dooba Dooba’ would be like a birthmark that nails recognition. But even as he gains credibility in the film industry, his contribution ”˜behind the scenes’ has had many assume that Chauhan’s gone missing in action. Chauhan has lent his voice to a string of exceptional Bollywood compositions from Rang De Basanti’s ”˜Khoon Chala’ to Jab We Met’s ”˜Tum Se Hi,’ with his most recent endeavour in Rakeysh Mehra’s new film pushing the envelope – Chauhan’s vocals flirt with frolicsome nuances on AR Rahman’s composition ”˜Masakalli’ for Delhi 6.

It might well be just another song in his kitty of successes as a playback singer but any questions about the folk rock singer’s versatility, his ability to manoeuvre his delivery and apply it to different styles are well and truly rested. “Playback singing is satisfying, you might give me a tune which might not be in sync with my sensibilities but if you want me to sing it in my own style, I will bring it into my space somehow,” says Chauhan, who officially parted ways with Silk Route in 2006. The band was touring until then and during this time he started getting offers for films. “Why would I sit for six years and not do songs for films? It was not about me being ambitious at all, I could have easily pursued side projects, the band always gave us that liberty. You know it’s more like you make more and more music and after a while you want to go for a walk you know, maybe I’ll come back after two months, two years.”

So has Chauhan resigned himself to just renting out his gullet for a reasonable fee? Not really. In early 2008 Chauhan released Kala:m, his translation of former President APJ Abdul Kalam’s poetry on song, which went by unnoticed. As much as it was a critics’ favourite, poor marketing kept it from garnering mass attention. On Kalam’s poem ”˜Vision’ – “I climbed, I climbed/where is the peak my Lord?” – Chauhan’s voice captured a very Vedder-ish vocal texture. Now, after a good six years, Chauhan is finally recording his debut album as a soloist, and for all those who wished for a Silk Route reunion for lack of any originals coming from the hilly-billy musician, it’s just a wait of a few months. The album is due for release on the Universal label (Chauhan has a two-album contract with the label). “I started working on the album in 2006. I had a stock of songs with me already which I had been writing all through. On this one the songs are groovier,” he says speaking of the yet untitled album. Having functioned within the Bollywood mould during this time, was it hard to ignore influences? “Nothing can rub off on me, I’m much too old for that now. For example, on the first albums a lot of the songs were eclectic, but you know you can’t be making eclectic or sad songs all the time. Out of the 40 songs I wrote I will be putting in only 10 songs on the album. I have been careful in picking very different songs, feels and genres. It will still have an acoustic base.” The album will take a different course from that of Boondein (1998) and Pehchaan (2000). “All the songs take a different direction. There is a sense of calm and space, but this time I have songs that will make you groove a bit. It’s acoustic peppered with electric guitars. Though I’m a fan of minimalist music, one major influence on my music being folk.” While recording and mastering at Livewire Studios, Andheri in Mumbai, the musician has been experimenting with the electric sound and at places has even tried reversing guitar phrases and lines to see what comes of it. The results, he says, have been “very interesting”.

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While speaking the singer occasionally addresses one as ”˜babaji’, an affectionate term he usually uses for friends. He goes on to cite a track which he penned referencing this term. “In my circles we refer to people you have a really nice chemistry with as babaji. And then babaji somewhere along the way became symbolic of someone who is progressive, wise, a little wild”¦ babaji could be a guy who is travelling and preaching about peace and love. For us Bob Marley is also a babaji. Babaji has been travelling, and I am asking him what have you got for me? It’s conversational.” It all reminds one of Bob Dylan-like wanderings on lyricism.

Having shifted base to Mumbai ten months ago, Chauhan has been exposed to the industry on a deeper level and as much as he revels in its benefits he is aware of its ugly side, sentiments on which he expresses on another song which speaks of “deceit and illusion, especially pertaining to the world of glamour”. It’s officially his debut as a soloist so, naturally, there are a few apprehensions. “It’s non-filmi, non-band, solo work going out there, so yes there is a slight apprehension. When people listen to the songs they should feel easy and peaceful. It’s profound in a simple sort of way.” Chauhan’s tunes are known to transport one to the atmospherics of the mountains owing to the sound he embraces and his frequent escapes to Himachal Pradesh identify his music. “Subconsciously mountain folk settles in, with all the acoustic and wind instruments involved. I am a nature lover, I love the mountains,” he says.

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Chauhan’s Inspirations:

J J Cale: “He is a real guru at putting sounds together. I recently watched a documentary in which Eric Clapton was saying that ”“ ”˜even after recording songs through 40 years of my life, I still can’t understand how J J Cale can whisper a song and still you get every word clearly,’ – it’s close to how I feel about the man. He has a little funk, a little groove, a little bit of Congas”¦ When I heard him I knew that’s one direction I would love to take.”

Dave Matthews: “Another guy I really identify with is Dave Matthews. I belong to the same clan when he says that ”˜I don’t belong to any genre, I am just a musician, if you want to say it’s rock or blues, go ahead and have your opinions, but for me it’s just music’. Also the fact that he is minimalist on sound.”

Queen: “When I heard Queen for the first time I was blown away, Freddie made for one of the best singers ever.”

Beatles: “I heard the Beatles for the first time in school on a spool, they put me onto stuff like Nat King Cole, Jim Reeves.”

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