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Harmonious synthesis

The Colonial Cousins - Leslie Lewis and Hariharan are two of a kind who produce unique fusion. They throw light on their musical efforts.

MUSICAL NOTES: Leslie Lewis is heavily into composing.

ONE IS a composer who has tuned many jingles, a guitarist and lyricist, while the other is a singer trained in the classical and ghazal genres now rendering film songs and ghazals. Together they created Colonial Cousins. Their music is a unique fusion which is avidly followed by all age groups. Therein lies their USP. Leslie (Lezz) Lewis and Hariharan share a rare talent and chemistry in creating not just melodious sound, but also meaningful lyrics as well. It is not just a jamming session but a harmonious blend. They have just a few albums to their credit but their awards outnumber their albums.

While Lezz used to compose for jingles, Hariharan rendered them. "When I used to pick up the guitar, Hari used to sing something and improvise. Then the duo thought about this and decided to do something concrete as it sounded good. We did not have much time but Hari persistently followed it up," says Lezz about the duo's coming together.

Their professional commitments keep them preoccupied from producing many albums. "We are one of the few who do so many other things besides Colonial Cousins. One job is to do advertising music. I am also into doing my own music. Hari is busy with his ghazals, films and concerts. It is rare to get quality time together," outlining the reasons for the gap in the release of the albums.

It is interesting to know how their compositions are conceptualised. There is no formula, it is spontaneous. "We come up with a musical idea and things just flow out. If it is not happening in 15 minutes it is not worth it. When we get together, there is a chemistry which is different when he is by himself and I am by myself. There is some magic as we interact and hit things off. When we get together there is definitely a magic," says Lezz. A variety of things may trigger the idea for writing a composition. "You can't take a south or north Indian piece and convert it into Colonial Cousins. It doesn't work that way.

SHADES OF SUCCESS: The singer is now acting in a Tamil film.

Their compositions Krishna nee begane (based on the song by Purandara Dasa) and Sri Rama (based on a Thyagaraja kriti) interspersed with English lyrics have been reworked to suit their genre. In that sense, they are unique. And well acclaimed. "The challenge to rework is the fun part," says Lezz. Have these compositions been questioned by purists on integrating or reworking this kind of music? "Fortunately for us most of the purists are our fans. Their non-questioning attitude also stems from the fact that we are basically strong in our fields. We are taking what we have learnt into another area - maybe an unchartered area. If we take it there they cannot question because they don't know that area themselves."

Not all their compositions are based on traditional ones. Sanidhapa or Kaizhala has nothing to with anything traditional.

Answering the question on the unique aspect of fusion Lezz says "We are the only ones writing pop songs which are completely fusion. I think our strength is the composition and sound." Hari adds "we feel it is a Western sound with an Indian soul, aakhir dil hai Hindustani."

One asks them whether the Indi-pop bubble has burst. "I think the scene is pretty much messed up, there is too much of non-musical stuff. Film music, which had its own identity, has made pop music its property, and therefore sounds like pop. It is all mixed up. You will find Colonial Cousin sound has got nothing to do with film," says Lezz. "The Indi-pop bubble has burst. The film bubble too is bursting. It is important to maintain quality," chips in Hariharan. "Also I would blame the recording companies because they feel they can make artistes out of anyone," says Lezz. Although the duo have been asked to compose scores for films they have not done them so far as they feel they cannot stick to the Colonial Cousins sound if they do films.

Is fusion here to stay? Both agree in unison: "Fusion is part of life. Our culture is fusion - from the beginning there is a lot of amalgamation and integration of different cultures. So it will stay."

MAKING MELODY: Leslie Lewis and Hairharan tick well as a duo. — Photos: K. Ramesh Babu

On remixes which are popular today they say, "if done well it is good, if it is not done well it is bad. It is a matter of taste."

The duo trained the Band of Boys. In doing so they were helping a friend Vinod Nair who put the band together. "It was a lot of hard work and effort as they were raw," they say.

While the duo entertain as Colonial Cousins, each of them is into other activities as well. Lezz is busy composing for jingles, has done a track Hai re hai tera goongtha and has sung a song along with Anooradha Sriram for Dum. Hariharan is immersed with his film songs and ghazals. He is working on a ghazal album in a new genre - `Urdu Blues'. He is yet to complete the shooting schedule of his Tamil film being directed by Jayadevi which is delayed on account of the non-availability of the director and singer. The stubble on his chin is for the shoot schedule. Hariharan is open to doing films provided something interests him. "Life should be full of surprises and doing different things," Hariharan feels.

Perhaps their success lies in bringing their strengths to the table. One wishes them a happy musical career ahead.


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