Hariharan and Lesle Lewis of Colonial Cousins speak to Chitra Swaminathan about the high notes of their 14-year-long association

Rewind to 1989: Hari meets Lesle. They do jingles. Hariharan sings and Lesle Lewis composes and arranges music. Their musical brand equity is established. A delayed script marks a tuneful twist. Once, while waiting for a script to arrive, Hari starts humming a tune. Lesle joins in and those in the studio cheer excitedly at the impromptu jugalbandi. It sets the two thinking — why not make music together?

1992: Hari and Lesle record a tape and take it to a friend in Magnasound. He is thrilled with the funky and refreshing fusion. Meanwhile, Hari on a trip to London, visits Khusro, a good old dost, who tells him how his (Khusro's) Indian friends there call themselves colonial cousins. Hari immediately rings up Lesle in India and suggests christening their musical relationship thus. An excited Lesle agrees readily.

1994: They produce their first album ‘Colonial Cousins'.

1996: Launch of ‘Colonial Cousins'. The album scales up charts and increases their bandwidth. It wins the MTV Asia Viewers' Choice Award and the U.S. Billboard's Viewers' Award.

Now, fast forward.

Live shows, recordings and film music direction — they are on a musical overdrive. “Chikku Bukku”, the second Tamil film (the first was “Modhi Vilayadu”) for which they've composed music is ready for release, while yet another Colonial Cousins album is awaiting completion.

United they win, and they do so independently too. As a playback singer, Hari's always on a lilting song (“Roja” was the turning point, and A.R. Rahman raised the bar for him with every composition). Besides, his ishq with sher-shayari continues.

Lesle, in his new studio in Mumbai, is busy creating content, promoting promising freshers, roping in talented seniors seeking opportunities and doing pop shows (he rocked the Indi-pop world with his super hit compositions for singers such as Suneeta Rao and KK. His remixes, especially those featuring the inimitable Asha Bhosle, were tributes to the original R.D. Burman tracks.)

“‘What next? What next?' one keeps asking oneself. So does everyone around. Artistes cannot work with an agenda. Of course, like other musicians we want to be always heard… more in people's minds and souls. That's where a tune should rest to be alive,” says Hariharan. Lesle is quick to add: “Colonial Cousins are free-spirited artistes, who want the audience to let their guard down when listening to music that is replete with interesting layers and emotions.”

Why is it that they have not been able to recreate the same magic in their music for films? “In films, we have to do songs that move with the screenplay. They should also suit the actors on whom they would be picturised. This genre of music has its own parameters. We need to follow them,” explains Lesle.

“It's nice to hear people still hum ‘Krishna nee begano baro' (the chart-scorching track from their debut album). We obviously cannot make every song sound that way. Even our next album will sound different. We try to bring the same musical influences to every project we do; the approach is the same,” says the vivacious Hariharan.

The 55-year-old singer is ever-geared up for fresh challenges, backed by a deep, resonant and youthful voice. He is now enjoying his tryst with television. His music reality show “Hariyudan Naan” (Jaya TV) is grabbing many eyeballs.

“Reaching out through various media is as exciting as dabbling in a range of musical pitches. I am rediscovering myself while interacting with the youngsters participating in the show,” he smiles.

As for Lesle, he is upbeat about being on the jury of the Global Indian Music Awards (GIMA) that were given away recently. “This is the first time we have an annual award exclusively for Indian music and to create global recognition for Indian musicians. It's nice to see music bodies, maestros and enthusiasts coming together for it,” he says.

Fourteen years after they entered the music scene together, the Cousins continue to hit the high notes. And, even in today's sonic boom, have fans whose hearts beat for their interludes. Something that's easy to achieve if musicians are tuned to their roots. And, that's something the Cousins do with panache.

(Colonial Cousins will perform at the The Hindu Friday Review November Fest on November 19)


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