Of different hats and indie music

Six years after his debut album, Ankur Tewari returns to the studio for an impressive effort

Updated - December 02, 2016 11:36 am IST

Published - October 25, 2016 12:00 am IST

For the ever-enterprising Ankur Tewari, a new record has been a long time coming — six years to be precise. Based on repeated listens over the last couple of weeks, it would be safe to say that the album steers clear of the dreaded sophomore slump that plagues much of the music industry.

In the time between his debut, Jannat, and the new double album, Side A / Side B , Tewari has donned many hats. He’s been consulting with brands such as Pepsi MTV Indies and Arré, directing shorts for Y Films (Yashraj Films’ youth division), and working with Roshan Abbas (of Encompass Events) and Gaurav Kapur (former VJ, actor and cricket presenter) to form Kommune, a group of storytellers. Tewari has been finding several avenues to express himself.

After the release of Jannat , Tewari played his songs with a full band for the first time since recording. “[We] were having such a blast that we completely ‘forgot’ to hit the studio. Now that I look back, six years does seem like a long time,” he says. While the problem of delayed studio releases definitely seems to be a problem with independent musicians in India, Ankur & the Ghalat Family kept throwing in newer material in their frequent outings across clubs and festivals. Tewari also kept the interest going by engaging other outlets, such as bootlegs or home videos of in-the-works material, collaborations with musicians such as Gaurav Raina of Midival Pundtiz and Karsh Kale, and even penning a song for folk rocker Raghu Dixit.

On Side A... , the quality of Tewari’s recorded voice sees a marked improvement, definitely making it one of the highlights of the album. The lyrics display Tewari’s pop songwriting prowess and ability to extract the best from his collaborators. For instance, Warren Mendonsa of Blackstratblues contributes with the guitar to album opener ‘ Aajao ’,which warrants repeated listens. Next, ‘ Wagairah Wagairah ’ also undergoes a transformation from its live avatar, with an accordion coming in, again showing the utility of studio time.

Harkat ’, a song Tewari was uncertain about including on the record, had the songwriter drive an Ola cab to determine the reactions of his passengers. The live sound of Ghalat Family cuts across accurately, coupled with a catchy chorus — memorising the words to it will definitely need some practice and eloquence — but makes the song an instantaneous gear shift on the record. Crowd favourite and gig staple ‘ Mohabbat Zindabad ’ sees a massive transfer, with percussionist, composer and songwriter Karsh Kale helming production duties. The song, perhaps amongst Tewari’s most popular, is an anthem for the times we live in, where he pleads and pins faith on love to overcome all evil. Kale gives the song a new, thumping beat, which at first seems gimmicky but quickly settles in, and the addition of electric piano.

For the last two songs, ‘ Hmm ’ and ‘ Jhoom ’, Tewari has settled into the album with ease and brings on minimally fleshed, soulful crooners. For example, with the former, Tewari takes us through an endearing scenario with a tinge of a lurker’s atmosphere, one that is probably not intended, but faintly visible. “It’s such an internal process, it churns you from the inside,” says Tewari. “My music is who I am. My words speak of what I feel. So yes, writing constantly changes me continuously and it shows in the music and the words that lay on it.”

On the album closer — and personal favourite — ‘ Jhoom ’, Mumbai electronica producer Sandunes (aka Sanaya Ardeshir, who just released Downstream ) spins a classic duet on its head, while letting the song still retain its innocence, and allowing Zoe Viccaji’s vocals take centrestage.

“She reminds me of Nazia Hassan, so I made sure I hit the studio with her the first chance I got,” Tewari says about his collaboration with the Karachi-based singer. “When my friends at Universal Music told me that she was visiting, I knew that I had to meet her and record with her. I stole her from her recording, put a guitar part, and wrote some words. Next, we recorded the vocals. After she left, I met Sandunes and asked her to play with the parts I had tracked; a random but fun experiment. Isn’t that what indie is all about, experiments?”

Keeping the spirit of collaboration aflame, Mumbai-based illustrator and visual artist Sameer Kulavoor was roped in to add his distinct style on the cover of Side A / Side B .

As of now, Tewari has plenty going on in terms of creative output all round the year. But perhaps what’s most exciting is his long-overdue Bollywood directorial debut.

“I am standing at the right place, waiting for the right time to come,” he says. Here’s hoping it will include some if not plenty of music from his current double release.

The author is a freelance writer

Side A / Side Bis priced at Rs. 90 on iTunes.

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