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Fighting stereotypes, reinventing music

Singer Neha Karode talks about ‘creating music that speaks volumes’ for Anubhav Sinha’s directorial ‘Anek’, especially in times when remixes and remakes are ruling the music charts

Fighting stereotypes, reinventing music
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Songs have always been an integral part of Bollywood films, irrespective of the genre, so much so, that a film is considered incomplete without them. Sometimes, it's only to keep the audience entertained, while other times it's used as a narrative.

However, in the last few years, things changed drastically in the world of rhythm. Remixes and remakes of old classics replaced the original songs as filmmakers started to play it safe and invest their money in 'tried and tested' formulas. Groovy numbers and item songs took away the charm for which Bollywood was primarily known, and music ended up becoming a mere tool to promote films ahead of their release. Today, Bollywood songs do not necessarily have to have meaningful lyrics or be a perfect fit for the film, all that's demanded by the filmmakers is for songs to have a mass appeal.

Amid all this, director Anubhav Sinha tried to break the existing stereotypes through his recent project, 'Anek', by weaving together the story and music of the film.

The film's music album includes a Kashmiri song, a Naga song, two English songs by Neha Karode, and a Hindi-rap song sung by Sunidhi Chauhan. The former tracks were created by a group of indie and folk musicians.

The songs by Neha Karode, titled 'O Mama' and 'Rabbit', not only proved to be a breath of fresh air for the listeners but also added to the beauty of the setting in which the story was narrated.

The talented singer spoke exclusively with 'Millennium Post' about the story behind her two songs from 'Anek', her journey as a musician and singer, and more.

Neha, who has been running her 'YouTube' channel since 2019, is known for making creative Raag-oriented fusion music under the series 'Bandish Based Originals'. Her music style is what attracted music director Anurag Saikia. "I'd been following music director Anurag Saikia's work for a while and wanted to collaborate with him. I covered a song of his and reached out. Luckily, he heard, liked it, and asked me if I'd like to try singing something for him. He was very understanding of my singing style and scale and made me dub 'Oh Mama', which was written by director Anubhav Sinha. It went well and they subsequently gave me another song, 'Rabbit', in the movie too," shared Karode.

'Anek' is a film about the conflicts that exist between the Northeast and the rest of India. For the project, music director Anurag Saikia used his North-eastern roots by seamlessly merging plenty of local instruments into the soundscape, making it as musically and culturally wholesome as it can be.

While Sinha's writing was a homage to the rebellious and soulful tracks of Bob Dylan and 'The Beatles', Karode channelled the influence of one of her idols, Joan Baez into the tracks.

She also proved her versatility by performing in the R&B and 'Rock' genres, which are starkly different from her musical endeavours, featuring ragas and age-old bandishes based on Hindustani classical music.

Sharing the story behind recording 'O Mama' and 'Rabbit', Neha said: "Anubhav sir wanted to bring in the ring of revolutionary western music that became a huge part of pop culture over the years. There are many parallels between the kinds of songs 'The Beatles', Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and others used to write about peace and the message of 'Anek'. It was a movie about identity and inclusion. Having songs in Hindi, English, Naga and Kashmiri was also symbolic of that."

"I thought it was a risk only someone confident about their subject matter could take. The songs weren't just included as breaks in the narrative or for separate promotional and marketing purposes. These songs were all used as devices to drive the narrative forward. I thought it was refreshing and a good precedent set for films to come," she added.

Neha Karode's versatility in music is influenced by her childhood days.

"My parents are big time music lovers, so I grew up listening to all kinds of music from ghazals to rock. I probably realised that I enjoyed singing since the age of five and slowly started participating and performing in school musicals. I began my training in Hindustani classical music when I was 12, completed my Prabhakar by college and began making my own songs. Since film music is huge in India, it kind of became a part of my musical dream to also do playback for films. My move to Mumbai after college was almost entirely motivated by my desire to sing for movies," she shared.

Neha added, "I started my 'YouTube' channel around four years back to reach more people and took baby steps into doing singles. Last year, I began an independent project called 'Bandish Based Originals', where I take bandishes of various raags and give them a more personal and contemporary context."

Being a musician, Karode credits her creative process to her 'subconscious' mind.

"Once one starts writing music, the process becomes a constant. Whatever I do, there is always a tune brewing in the back of my head, and it's in unexpected moments that it just clicks, and I quickly record a voice note so that I don't forget it before I get to the computer."

"While I'd like to take creative credit for writing music inspired by different genres, I think the subconscious is where a lot of this happens. Because we are constantly listening to various genres and artistes, the mind begins to keep a track of beats, sound processing and riffs. My mind subconsciously does half the work before I sit down to consciously work on something. Writing a song of my own is my most treasured time because writing is what makes or breaks a song. One has to work on the same with the topics of human emotions, but saying something new every time and reaching that thought is a very beautiful experience."

When it comes to creating music, Neha loves having control over her independent music, even though she finds 'fun' in working on songs for Bollywood films.

"I like that I have absolute creative control over my independent music, so it reflects both my personality and brings forth stories I want to tell. But moving out of my comfort zone and becoming different characters that often emote unlike me is a super fun challenge when doing music for mainstream Bollywood films. I love that just as much!

"Indie songs in India, as compared to mainstream songs, still lag in terms of popularity and growth. But according to the singer, it's 'only a matter of time till it becomes bigger'.

"Bollywood music is constant in most of north India and regional film music is also huge in Bengal, Punjab and the southern states. Independent music is mostly growing in big cities and among younger audiences but isn't as consistently accessible across geographies, tiers and age groups as film music. It is, however, only a matter of time till it becomes bigger. Even amongst playback singers, releasing independent singles and doing collaborations are becoming popular. So, the style of indie music releases and scale is becoming more and more mainstream every day," she opined.

"I just released the fifth song of 'Bandish Based Originals', which is based on the 'Raag Malkauns' bandish with the extraordinary Abhay Jodhpurkar. I do have a few singles and film songs lined up but can't speak about them yet because things are always a little unpredictable, especially in the film space," said Neha before signing off.

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