If you were a ’90s kid, and a musical one at that, then the name Colonial Cousins will more than ring a bell. It will bring back waves of bittersweet emotions and take you back to a time when Indipop ruled the roost. MTV and Channel V were not sitcom churners. And the sight of Nikhil Chinappa on MTV Select made you swoon for hours.
That’s the place where you’d think singer-composer Leslie Lewis was transported from, even now. He may have been wearing a black and gold bandhgala kurta and Punjabi juttis, but the flowing hair and precise beard are still on point.
This is the man behind some of the most famous songs of the late 1990s. Who can forget ‘Jaanam samjha karo’ in Asha Bhosle’s mellifluous voice? Or KK’s ‘Yaaron’. The ‘master of remixes’ was performing at the after-party of the sixth edition of the Kasauli Rhythm & Blues Festival.
“When you redo a song, you should know you’re breaking into a composer’s soul,” says Lewis, adding that so many songs are being “remade, not remixed”.
“Remixes have happened for years. But now they have become dance music, reaching onto EDM,” he says. He gives the example of Shakuntala, a character from Hindu mythology known for her timeless beauty.
“A song is like a pretty girl. You need to retain her true beauty. Take Shakuntala, for reference. If you put her in jeans and T-shirt, and ask her to go to the gym and slim down, she won’t be the same person. So, the song’s soul still has to be retained,” says the 57-yearold, who has remixed classics such as ‘Bheegi bheegi raaton mein’, ‘Piya tu ab toh aa jaa’, and many others.
Leslie says the media is responsible for creating a warped sense of belonging in favour of the singer rather than the composer.
“The song belongs to the composer and not the singer. It’s ridiculous to think otherwise. So, the song’s original flavour shouldn’t be lost. The songs are the magic. People identify more with the tune rather than the lyrics. The same magic will capture the next generation,” says Leslie.
So, what about the generation that grew up on Indipop? The revered songs, composers and singers from that time period still manage to create a buzz even in the age of social media, and countless other creations such as YouTube, Spotify and iTunes.
“That time will never come back. The world has moved on and that period of music in India is revered for the very reason that it does not exist anymore. You cannot expect today’s generation to listen to that music. It was new then and became a rage,” he says.
This is the man who was the mentor and technical director in the team that launched Pakistan’s Coke Studio in India, giving new talent a lease of life and a platform to showcase an alternative music to mainstream Bollywood.
“As an artiste, no one gave me a chance. Even now, there’s no space for original music. Things have changed but Bollywood still rules. There’s more to music besides what you hear,” he says, adding that society needs to change its mindset about music.
Being a composer, Leslie only wants to reach out to the audience through his music. He believes in taking music back to the people. He says he doesn’t make music for himself.
“How do I expect youngsters to identify with that music? Yes, there’s baggage from the past. But it’s also not easy to have a new baby at 57,” he laughs.