Sanjay Singh Yadav on finishing as a semi-finalist in the UK Songwriting Contest 2013
Earlier this month, Sanjay Singh Yadav secured a semi-finalist position in the ‘Lyrics Only’ category of UK Songwriting Contest 2013, which he calls the “Olympics equivalent of song writing”. His lyrics, titled “Never love a woman”, are a warning about the perils of loving a middle-aged woman. “Never love a woman/ More than 40 years old/ If she’s been single long/ She’d be repressed and cold” is its refrain.
Yadav is primarily a writer on international affairs and politics. Delhi has also been an abiding interest of his, and has resulted in two books — The Environmental Crisis of Delhi and The Invasion of Delhi. So his newfound direction as a songwriter comes as a slight surprise.
“I haven’t worked for long stretches as an academic, so I do have months of idleness which makes me a more reflective person,” he explains. Yadav has been writing poetry since 1995, and has published a book of poems called Portraits of India. The 50 poems in it are an “intense expression of feeling towards various facets of India,” he says.
It was poetry that turned him towards song writing. “I felt that poetry doesn’t get any recognition, doesn’t create an impact…” Surfing the net one day for avenues for poetry, he gathered that lyrics have a better chance than poems. “Lyrics have some popular appeal; they are picked up by musicians and produced into successful numbers. Poetry remains narrowly confined,” he says. “There’s a site which suggests you participate in lots of song writing contests to get noticed… That’s how I participated in this contest, and fortunately I did fairly well.”
The distinction between a poem and a lyric, he opines, is the primacy of the refrain in the latter. “The advice on the Net again is that you’ve got to have a refrain, because you have only three or four minutes for people to grasp what you are saying. It’s for being listened to, and the melody and ideas will stay only if you have got some repetition,” he says.
Differentiating further between a lyric and a poem, he says, “In a lyric the metre need not be as tight as in a poem, because there’s more flexibility. Musicians can stretch a particular word or contract it.”
Although he has translated one of his own books into Hindi, he is looking to write lyrics only in English, despite the slim market for the same in India. “If I were to write in Hindi I would be doing away with all the advantage of studying in English for 40 years, and competing with those who are infinitely more fluent and have mastered it. So I would be putting myself at a serious disadvantage.”
Yadav considers Shakespeare his biggest influence. “The way I see it is, the object of art is to capture the essence of nature, just as science. That’s why Shakespeare appeals to me. He was not for an age but for at all times. You have to distil some essence of nature to be read over so many centuries.”
Emboldened by how far he has reached in his first attempt, he is now working on writing more songs. This involves reworking his poems to make space for a refrain or two, he says.