Devotional is hardly ever associated with 'indie', but trust Amit Trivedi to combine the two. The 41-year-old composer has always had the knack for mixing the most traditional of genres with the pleasures of pop music. Take "Shubharambh" from Kai Po Che for instance, a garba number, where the bagpipes arrive unexpectedly, but don't feel out of place, as if it's a natural progression of the shehnai. The result was interesting, fun—intoxicating even. Or the joyous "Chaudhary" from Coke Studio @ MTV Season 2, a 7-minute track where khartal and sarangi accompany drums and guitars.
Trivedi is in similar, albeit less adventurous, territory in "Moti Veerana", a song his mother composed 30 years ago, which he has transformed into a happy, foot tapping track. The beats are playful. On the one hand, you have the earthy sweetness of the Gujarati folk singer Osman Mir's voice, and on the other you have Trivedi's smooth, earwormy singing working as a counterpoint. "I've done it respectfully. Because at the end of the day we are dealing with god, and I don't want to create any unnecessary controversy. At the same time it has its newness," Trivedi told me over the phone.
He was talking about not just "Moti Veerana", but the album of Songs of Faith; it features 5 songs that can be classified under devotional/spiritual/folk. Trivedi released the song through his label AT Azaad, a new banner under which he will release his non-film work–a project that has both kept him occupied during the lockdown and prompted him to be more active on social media. Since the release of "Moti Veerana" on April 1, the composer has been appearing on Instagram and Facebook Lives regularly , hosted by RJs and singers, performing impromptu sets on his piano from his home. "You have to be out there, pushing it. A lot of moneys have gone in to the label, and I have a responsibility," he said.
"Moti Veerana" was composed by your mother at a garba 30 years ago, when she used to organise society functions. Tell me more.
They used to organise events during Navratri. She directed and choreographed shows and wrote this particular thing at that time: Moti Veerana Chawk Maa Aavya Ambe Maa. It kind of stayed with me forever. I thought why not launch AT Azaad through this? It'll be like the perfect launch pad.
The first Amit Trivedi song I ever heard was a devotional song: "Ha Raham" from Aamir (2009). But you haven't done too many of those.
"Ha Raham" and then "Namo Namo Shankara" from Kedarnath (2018). I guess that's about it.
In Songs of Faith I haven't gone too electronic or jazzy or anything, I just kept it rooted. The groove is traditional in "Moti Veerana". Because at the end of the day we are dealing with god, and I don't want to create any unnecessary controversy. I've done it respectfully. At the same time it has its newness. It's a decent balance.
Is Osman Mir someone you have wanted to work with?
Yeah, yeah. He was always on my checklist. The rest of the tracks from Songs of Faith will also with different folk artists. You will come to know. There are 5 songs. We plan to release one track every 2-3 weeks. The next one is coming out 22 April. But out of the 5 tracks, only 3 have been shot. We couldn't shoot the other 2 because of the lockdown. And we can't release the songs until we have the videos.
Tell me about AT Azaad
It's simple: AT goes Azaad, which means Amit Trivedi goes independent. Where will I get to do songs in the spiritual/devotional space? There is some other stuff I want to do. These are expressions that are also there inside me. It's always been like waiting for some film that will have room for it, an opportunity that may come once in 10 years. I can't wait for that. I said, 'No yaar, that's not happening. Let me do it on my own'. What I can't do in films, I will do here.
Songs of Faith has a common thread. Will you release singles as well?
I can go the single way as well. But then I like the thread. I like the wholesome thematic experience. Now the singles format is popular because of the digital technology. But we come from a different generation, we have been brought up on albums. After Songs of Faith there will be something else: Songs of something else. I'll have 4-5 songs in the album. I will keep doing albums rather than doing singles. That's more fun for me.
Venturing into South Indian films, and now this, all seem to point at one thing: the creative space for Hindi film composers is shrinking.
I don't know. All this is naturally happening. I am getting offers from the South. The Queen remakes, Sye Raa (2019), now V. These are happening pretty organically. Same with AT Azaad. It was a 'it was meant to be' kind of a thing. It's not what you just said. I have a lot of Hindi films also that I am working on.
What are the films?
There is good money in film composing also. But concerts are faster, easy money. It's like a one day job and you get good money and come back. It's a good way to secure your future. Because Artists logon ka shelf life kitna hota hai?
You don't sound excited.
No no it's exciting. Actually because of the pandemic the films are all going to get pushed. Malls and theatres could open as late as September, October. Anurag's film was supposed to release in June. I am quite excited about that one, Dharma's Kargil Girl, and Bosco's film.
You are doing a lot of concerts than before. Is it turning out to be the main source of income?
Yeah, that's the main income. Earlier, I used to be in the studio all the time, but since I started doing concerts I realised that's where the actual money is. Whatever little time I have I have to make the most of it. There is good money in film composing also. But this is faster, easy money. It's like a one day job and you get good money and come back. It's a good way to secure your future. Because Artists logon ka shelf life kitna hota hai? The only way they can secure themselves is by doing shows.
So it has got nothing to do with the fact that Hindi film music has been going through a sort of crisis.
No, nothing nothing (laughs). I don't even pay attention to… I know people are fed up of remixes. But they are being made because people are consuming them. I went to 2-3 clubs in Bandra and Powai recently, and it's these songs only that are playing, left right and centre: "Saaki Saaki", or whatever our remixes are. Yehi play karte hai yeh log, toh kya karenge, woh bhi daaru peeke naachta hai. They are making money. Why will they let go of business? The world runs on money. We are emotional fools yaar (laughs). I know it has been disrupted very bad. I know. But we are a minority.
Did you see AR Rahman's post about the Masakali remix?
Yeah. He was very very angry. Obviously he will be. There are a lot of people who are fed up. But majority are consuming. Kya kare.
How will you react if one of your songs is remixed next?
What can I say (laughs). I don't now. I really don't know .
Is there more creative freedom in the South films?
Oh, it's brilliant, man. I love it. I've had a blast doing these 3 films. What amazing work. Uff, too good. I am very happy. Only 2 songs from V have come out, but there has been solid response from Hyderabad and Telangana.
What's different there?
They are more open to new things, new ideas. Anything that's more innovative, anything more evolved, they will take it. Here, they will immediately bounce it. Ki yeh kya hai. They will immediately reject it and ask you to do run of the mill jo bhi chal raha hai.
How are you managing the language?
It's a little difficult, but fun. We have supervisors who take care of all that. And the director, lyric writers are there most of the times. So it becomes easier, because I don't understand the language.
Do you have any more South films coming up?
Nothing as of now.
But you are open to…
Oh my god, I can't wait.
What are you doing these days in the lockdown?
Right now the environment is not very conducive for creation. There's sad news everywhere. You need to be in a good state of mind. I am working on some tunes and its coming out fine, but it would have been better if the times were different. I am busy doing my own thing: record, program, keep creating. These are things I can do on my own.
Are you not helping out with the house work?
(Laughs). I am making tea, and doing some work in the kitchen. I'm playing with my son (who is going to be 8 soon), helping with his classwork.