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Stories inspire me to write my lyrics: Ankur

CultureStories inspire me to write my lyrics: Ankur

Singer-songwriter Ankur Tewari has been receiving praise from all quarters for his work as a music supervisor in Zoya Akhtar’s recent blockbuster Gully Boy. The film’s 18-song soundtrack is a collaborative effort by over 50 musicians from across the country. Tewari, who began his music career in 1998, speaks to Guardian 20 about his Gully Boy experience, and about his band, The Ghalat Family. 


Q. Your songs have a singalong feel to them and are mostly guitar-oriented. But the music in Gully Boy is largely based on hip-hop, rap and beatboxing. So was this film a chance for you to experiment with your music and style?

A. In Gully Boy, I was mainly doing music supervision. But the one song which I ended up making and that I ended up singing as well, “Jeene Mein Aye Maza”, has the same feel to it that I try to maintain in my music. But I was definitely exposed to newer musical forms, newer artistes and the kind of grooves and rhythms that I don’t usually make my music with, and it was quite a lot of fun to work with these producers, rappers who made the music. And it was quite an engaging experience as well. Their process was different, their feel was different and we experimented with many different styles that I don’t usually end up doing in my music.  We even experimented with recording and vocal techniques. So it was a lot of fun.

Q. Gully Boy’s music has won a lot of plaudits. How does that feel?

A. I’m happy that the music for Gully Boy is being received really nicely and well. And we are getting a lot of good response. My inbox is flooded with people congratulating me. And also the artistes are getting such good response. Younger independent artistes who have been a part of this whole soundtrack, they are getting such a good response. So it’s quite fascinating to see that. Most of these songs have existed for a long time, it was just that with this film we shifted the spotlight to them. It’s interesting to see that these artistes are enjoying the attention they truly deserve. The approach for our soundtrack was very clear and simple. We wanted to make honest music, authentic music and that’s what we did. Fortunately for us, it worked out well.

Q. As the music supervisor to the film, what was your biggest takeaway from working with 54 artistes, who didn’t belong to the mainstream music scene?

A. As the music supervisor of the film, my biggest takeaway working with all the 54 artistes and I think even more, who really don’t belong to the mainstream scene, is the kind of honesty they brought to their work. How each one of them helped each other out. While one guy was doing the take, the other one would look out. Everyone was looking out for each other, everyone was helping each other. But more than anything else, it was the sheer courage to say what they wanted to say and what they felt… They were very clear about where they were coming from. They were very clear about working. Despite being so young, they were quite courageous in expressing themselves honestly.

Q. You have been a part of the music industry since 2000. However, you haven’t composed or written songs for many Bollywood films. Why so?

A. I have been in the music scene since 1998 actually. I have not done many movie songs mainly because I don’t see myself as a very versatile music composer. I have a style and I don’t think directors want to make music with that style. People have asked me to make music and I have ended up doing it. But I don’t actively go out seeking work as a composer—which I think I should work on maybe. I have not been offered too much work. Maybe that will change, maybe that won’t. I will continue making music. If the same music reaches some films it would be lovely.

Q. What inspires your lyrics? And what is your creative process like?

A. Stories inspire me to write my lyrics. Whether I hear the stories through books, through articles, through a conversation, or I overhear someone talking, or I read an article somewhere. Stories create moments and moments ignite ideas that end up becoming songs. As far as my process is concerned, I’m writing songs all the time. Sometimes I sit down and put pen to paper, but most of the time I’m collecting images, metaphors, and ideas and jotting them down in my little notebook. And when I sit to put the ideas together somehow it all falls into place.

Q. It took you a decade to finally get recognition for your music. How do you look back on your initial days in the industry?

A. This 10-year journey has been quite fascinating. I’ve met so many talented people and recorded with many amazing artistes. When I look back it feels like it’s been a long journey but actually, frankly, it feels like it got done in no time. So it doesn’t feel like a 10-year journey at all… Over these 10 years, technology has changed, aesthetics have evolved, my music has gone in different directions. It’s been quite fascinating.

Q. How would you define the musical sensibilities of your band, The Ghalat Family?

A.  At The Ghalat Family, we try to write easy acoustic music with simple structures and simple words to express what we’re feeling. I like the idea of minimalism in our music and have a straightforward approach to writing lyrics.

Q. How did you like creating music for the 10-song album for kids, Bachcha Party? And what inspired you to take up the project?

A. Bachcha Party was a very interesting project. I was singing songs for my nephew and niece some time back and realised that there are not many songs for kids in Hindi. I really thought that I should write some songs for kids. For me, it started with wanting to write one song and then I proposed it to Sony and they got really excited and they proposed that I should do a 10-song album. We worked out the logistics and ended up recording 10 songs. And it was an amazing process to record the album. Since after the album got recorded, we’ve been playing gigs for kids at children’s festivals and schools. It’s been quite amazing to see the response from kids because kids, unlike adults, express themselves very honestly. 

Q. You never went to a music school for formal training. Do you regret it?

A. Maybe if I had gone to a music school, it would have been great. But I don’t miss it. I feel every day working in studios with different artistes is a kind of school in itself. Learning is a constant process. And probably if I had gone to a music school I would have had a lot more friends who do music. But maybe it’s not a bad thing after all.  

Q. What are the new projects you have been working on?

A. Right now, I’m in the process of writing some stuff. I’m writing a screenplay for a web series and I’m recording some new music. So it’s going to take a little while before I can announce anything. But the process has started. I have also done music supervision for an Amazon Prime show called Made in Heaven.

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