Great songs are created by a combination of great melody and good poetry. But in our time, it’s hard to hear meaningful poetry in popular music and film music. This gap was identified by Chinmayi Tripathi, an entrepreneur, singer, songwriter and poet who started a unique initiative – Music and Poetry Project (2018) now known as MAPStudio India. It was in association with his partner, producer and composer, Joell Mukherjii, who left everything behind to focus on reclaiming classical compositions through contemporary music. The group includes Chinmayi, the singer-songwriter and plays the dotara (a Bengali stringed instrument), Joell, Omkar Salunkhe on the percussion ensemble (Cajon – kanjira), Shriram Sampath on the flute and Rahul Putai on the bass. The Free Press Journal caught up with Chinmayi and Joell to learn about their songmaking process.
Excerpts from the interview:
How did your musical journey begin?
Chinmayi: I was trained in Hindustani classical music in my childhood. Poetry came naturally to me, coming from a family of writers and scholars. Growing up, I started writing my own songs and poems. However, I had no idea what I wanted to do and if the music fit into the whole thing.
What prompted you to create MAPStudio?
Chinmayi: The fact that everyone is talking about the current state of lyrics or writing in our modern songs got me thinking. We have a rich literary heritage, why can’t we move from poetry to contemporary music? Therefore, I decided to create an album based on classical Chhayawadi (Hindi) poetry which I found beautiful. I did a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the album. It gave me the confidence to think bigger and form a band – Music and Poetry Collective now known as MAPStudio. We see our music as a global fusion.
Tell us about the traditional dotara instrument you use in your sets.
Chinmayi: Dotara is a Baul folk instrument from Bengal that I fell in love with and started playing. It has four strings and only two notes and it’s still an incredibly versatile instrument. We use a lot of percs and Indian flutes in our set wherever guitar and bass balance the act.
Joell, you worked for Bollywood. Can you share your story?
I landed in Bombay to pursue music after living in Kolkata all my life. Music is in my family. My father, Madhu Mukherjee, is a seasoned composer-producer. My mother, Himika Mukherjee, is a well-known bhajan and ghazal singer-songwriter. When I arrived in Bombay, I didn’t know where to start. I have worked with Pritam, Mithoon, Amit Trivedi and many other veterans. However, I wanted to do my own thing. I ventured into the production of advertising music and at the same time I continued to create my own songs.
How do you select Hindi poets?
Chinmayi: It’s an intuitive decision; his poetry that inspires me. I select the composition and the music flows automatically. Often when reading a piece of poetry, the melody starts playing in my head and I desperately want to sing it. So I sing. The songs deal with themes that connect us all, our collective journey called life, beauty, joy, love, victory and defeats, rise and fall, eternal truths.
Joel: We get our content from conversations with poets, scholars, veterans, reading books, scrolling through online libraries.
Do you plan to use other Indian languages besides Hindi?
Chinmayi: Yes. Urdu poetry is a big part of our music. We would also like to bring colors from other languages into our songs. For example, a new song I’m working on is in Urdu, but there will be a few lines in paisley. There is another song based on Sanskrit poetry by the 12th century Sanskrit poet, Abhinavgupta. We want to raise awareness and cultivate interest in rich and meaningful literature and music among audiences of different ages. We would also like to collaborate with various artists in India and abroad, to build bridges of music and poetry across borders.
How do you select the music for your clips?
Chinmayi: For performances, I keep the theme of the event and the nature of the audience in mind and adapt my decor accordingly. I think all artists do that. For music videos, again, songs have a story to tell and connect best through a video that needs to be embedded into a video. That said, a video is also an important marketing tool for songs. Therefore, we try to make a video for all the new songs we make.
You have a nice logo, can you explain what it means?
Chinmayi: The Ektara symbolizes music, while the feather denotes the power of poets. The alphabets are in different languages of India and signify diverse and multilingual literature.
What was the public reaction to the dissemination of the poetry?
Chinmayi: People of all ages loved our music. Our main aim is to spread Indian poetry be it Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Kashmiri and other Indian languages in the form of music through live concerts, audio videos and live music performances. We are happy when the public is inspired or delighted by listening to our songs. It is this emotion that makes our journey beautiful.
How has this musical project affected your lives?
Chinmayi: It definitely had a profound effect on my state of mind, my way of thinking, of perceiving, everything took a little more depth. It also gave me a purpose in life, which I lacked before.
What did you work on?
Chinmayi: We recently released two new poetry-based songs, Yugan yugan hum yogi (Kabir) and Chal Nadi so chalti chal (Vijay Bahadur Singh). I also released a book, which is a compilation of my poems. I am also working on a new-age version of the Bhagwad Gita, spiritual poetry in the form of contemporary music.
Joel: Chinmayi will release a few original songs, including a satirical piece for female empowerment called Abla Nari and Ye un dinon kii baat hai. There is also Usey le gaye by veteran poet Naresh Saxena.
(The band performs on September 18 at St Andrews Auditorium, Mumbai at 7:30 p.m.)
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