ANUJ RASTOGI TALKS ABOUT BEING CANADIAN AND COMPOSING INDIAN
Posted by Vivek on January 9, 2014 | No Comments
Filmmaking is becoming a global process. Consider this, SURKHAAB, a film about a Punjabi story set in Canada, had cast and crew from Canada and India. In that Canadian crew, was Anuj Rastogi, the music director of the film. The music of SURKHAAB, which went live in October, has been getting very solid and positive reviews. Here we talk to Anuj, who makes his debut, as far as Indian audiences go, in the feature film composition arena:
Your journey to composing Music, how did that come about?
I’ve always had the music ‘bug’ as far back as I can remember. The earliest music production memory I have was at age 3, when I took mom’s portable tape-recorder and went up to the TV to record Michael Jackson’s Thriller, just so I could try and play it back on a keyboard later. In elementary school (around grade 5) I actually created original music on my keyboard, and recorded it to tape for a big school play. I must have made 30-45 minutes of music, and was there in the auditorium pressing “play” and “pause” along with a scene list for each of the parts of the play. I was always interested in listening to music, and even more, recreating and making music as a kid. My parents put me in keyboard lessons when I was around 10 for a couple years, then I went on to play in Jazz band, and Concert bands in Junior High & Senior High school. I lost touch with music between Grade 11 to the end of my undergraduate program at University. Then after saving up some money from my first job, I went with my dad to buy a keyboard, and some recording gear just to see what would happen. All these years later, I’ve been blessed to have learned so much, and worked with so many incredible artists. I basically jumped right back in and never looked back
On the kind of music that is most dear to your heart?
Music is music, and the music which resonates me is very diverse. I was born in an Indian household, and like many other artists in my diasporic generation, spent my days hearing old Hindi film music, bhajans, ghazals and folk music at home, and then rock, heavy metal, hip hop, pop and jazz outside. Eventually, there was no inside vs outside music;it was all just music. The music that touches me may be diverse, but I live at a point of confluence where sounds that feel disparate to others, just have a natural commonality and harmony to me. As I played tenor and soprano saxophone jazz band at school, I wondered about how Indian instruments would sound in that context (way before I was ever exposed to so-called “fusion” which I was unaware had already been explored by maestros for 30 years). I never really thought about it as putting stuff together; it was more about uncovering what music from around the world already had in common. It was only much later in life that I realized that several artists, many of whom have inspired me, had also come to the same epiphany on their own independent terms. I listen to a lot of different styles of music, and like to explore as diverse a range in my work as possible. I love everything from very bass heavy electronica through to very delicate classical thumris. I’ve worked with 15-person Japanese taiko drum teams, Hindustani classical musicians, ghazal singers, rock and soul / R&B vocalists, spoken word artists, rappers, poets, visual artists, and jazz artists. They all have something in common, and I find it a rewarding experience to bring a new voice to life in my work. All that said, however, undeniably I end up coming back to an aesthetic and a narrative style that is uniquely Indian. Even when I work on a piece that has no Indian instrumentation, the elements of taal and aesthetics of Indian melodic ornamentation come out.
Talk about your Music composition projects?
I am a Toronto-based music producer, film composer, spoken word artist and musician. To date, I’ve released two critically acclaimed studio albums, tracks on several international compilations, performed extensively, scored feature-length and short films, and produced experiential events. Many may know me by my producer alias and record label name, “Omnesia”. I’ve also composed for a number of short films, media/interactive projects, television and radio ads, Most recently, I’ve written pieces about the 26/11 Mumbai victims, the terrible Delhi gang-rape situation, and have scored all background and soundtracks pieces for “Surkhaab” and “Under The Same Sun”, and had the chance to feature as one of 5 judges on the Canadian vocal challenge “Ek Raaz, Ek Awaaz” along with Hindi film composer Anu Malik. I’ve got another solo studio album project, and a Ghazal-Electronica EP in the works, and am looking forward to more work in film.
Who in the Music world inspires you?
I’ve been inspired by a number of artists from all walks of music, and am constantly discovering new artists and unique sounds. Growing up, I would say that major artistic and musical inspirations ranged from Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder. Def Leppard, Brian Adams and Metallica to RD Burman, and Anup Jalota. Through junior high school, I got exposed to Jazz and suddenly immersed in Miles Davis, Michael Brecker, Wynton Marsailis, and other Jazz legends. By Highschool, I had just started to be exposed to other forms of global music and by University, became involved in the Indian Classical music scene in my hometown Edmonton. With a good friend mine, I would venture between hanging out during and after concerts with greats like Ustad Zakir Hussain, Ustad Sultan Khan and Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma, to rehearsing and jamming at all hours of the night with incredible musicians, and driving around listening to everything from A R Rahman soundtracks to Boyz II Men, and Asian Underground. The exposure my parents unknowingly provided to music early on, coupled with conscious decisions to get exposed to everything from Jazz, to Spoken Word, Electronica, Classical and Folk all took off from there. Along the way, I’ve come to owe a great deal of gratitude to my parents, my wife, and dear artists and friends like the incredible Cassius Khan, who has shared his virtuosity with me in my journey, on stage, and in the studio.
Talk a little about the performances that you have given till date and the shows that you have performed in, which were the most satisfying?
I’ve had the pleasure of performing in, and producing several concerts. For a few years, we were gigging regularly at t monthly I had started with a friend in Toronto called Dishoom! I’ve played small venues, large halls, and everything in between, for all sorts of audiences and demographics. Among the most special performances I’ve had though, three in particular standout. In 2003, I produced a concert called “Omnesian Travels” in Edmonton, based around the crazy Idea I had one day to merge Japanese Taiko drums with Indian Classical elements. Working with an incredible team, the concert featured all original works ranging from pure classical thumris to spoken word, electronica and dance. The finale featured a full 15-person Taiko drum team playing in 7/8 rhythm cycle, and moving into a 7-beat Rupak arrangement with Tabla, Bharatnatyam, Kathak and Electronica. In 2009, I produced “Omnesia Live” which brought an incredibly diverse group of musicians from all walks of life on stage at once. As a multi-faith initiative, we had artists from Muslim, Hindu and Christian backgrounds all on stage at once at a prominent theatre within the Jewish community. Then in 2010, I was honored to be asked to open for Talvin Singh, an artist and producer from the UK who shaped the musical future of many artists like me by elevating a new sound to the public eye. Every performance has been unique, and special, and I appreciate every opportunity to share my music with a live audience.