Chat: Lesle Lewis the performer is here. He’s also mentoring a brigade of young star musicians.
He says this is the fifth time he’s reinventing himself. He notes, quite amused, that kids who were just two or four years old when he was the baap of Hindi pop, now groove to his music at his concerts. “The next generation had not seen me as a singer-performer; they only knew me as a musician because their parents or older sibling had heard me. At this age, this is the last time I’m going to reinvent myself. This new avatar of me is something else,” promises Lesle Lewis.
If you remember the ‘Doodh doodh doodh’ ad on TV, Suneeta Rao crooning ‘Paree hoon main’, and Asha Bhosle reinventing herself with ‘Jaanam samjha karo’, then you must admit that Lesle’s musical sense dominated our lives in the 90s. The man with the braid and pony tail later took our idiom of fusion music to a new level when he and Hariharan sang together as the Colonial Cousins.
In Bangalore for a private concert, Lesle was brimming over with musical ideas. He’s working on an EDM album with kids of star musicians, bringing together Akshay and Karan Hariharan, Siddharth and Shivam Mahadevan, Shane and Alyssa Mendonsa, Bindu and Ambi Subramaniam (kids of Hariharan, Shankar Mahadevan, Loy Mendonsa, Kavita Krishnamurthy-L. Subramaniam) and his 17-year-old daughter, Divya Lewis, for this album. “Together we’ll take electronic dance music into a new space. They’re all talented kids who grew up in front of me. I don’t want to be a teacher, but I want to show them that ‘we can also do it like this’.”
He shows video clips on his cellphone of his recent concerts in Hyderabad and Pune…all teeny boppers dancing to his beat. “I’m thinking ‘what am I doing right?’” he grins satisfactorily. Every song he does is either sufi, rock, bossa nova, Latin, romantic. “But it all sounds like me. Everything’s got my chaap on it. I’ll do my music, my way, and die happy doing it like this.”
Lesle sees Indian non-film music as the underground music scene of the country. “Bollywood is the pop music of the country; the masses have always gone with popular music. But Bollywood has always embraced everything, specially what emerges from the underground.”
Lesle’s father P.L. Raj was a veteran choreographer in Bollywood. Why didn’t he make his start there? “Because my dad wouldn’t put me in any way for a job. He felt Bollywood was not the place for me. Once, when my dad was at a recording with R.D. Burman and Ashaji, I went with my dad and said I wanted to play in the movies. I was already a professional guitar player by then, but my dad introduced me saying ‘Isko guitar bajane ka shauk hai’ And Ashaji, meaning well in a motherly way, I suppose, said ‘This music is not for every body. You must complete your studies.’ Years later I met Ashaji at Selfridge’s in London. I was working on Colonial Cousins then, and she said ‘Will you do my album?’” That’s how Rahul and I was finalised, while they were still in London, he recalls.
Lesle says ever since he picked up the guitar in his school days, he started out wanting to be the best studio guitar player. “I did that for about ten years, thought I’d arrived, and got bored.” Then it was time for the second avatar as an ad-jingle composer. “I worked on the best of brands and won every award of the time. Then I thought let me make my own kind of music. I think I started the Hindi pop music and remix genre in the country…” In his third avatar as music producer, he gave a new lease of life to Suneeta Rao, Asha Bhosle, Alisha Chinoy, and KK… “I produced some of the biggest acts of the time. Then I decided I’ve been there done that, so let me form a band…Colonial Cousins went international as a band and we did the real MTV Unplugged with other international players.” More recently it was time to bring folksy fusion back to the fore with MTV’s Coke Studio, which he hosted.
In end-2012 the album Colonial Cousins Once More came about. “It’s very Indian, folksy and organic in its core sound, unlike the earlier album. We haven’t formally launched the album or done a promo tour yet, because neither of us has the time!”
Coming up next will be a spiritual album. “There’s a spiritual angle to me. When I wrote ‘Krishna nee’ it brought peace and happiness to many. I feel I’m chosen, or you can’t write like that. It’s 2013 and we’re still bombing and terrorising…I need to bind India together, appeal to the next generation.”