It’s amazing how a simple introductory tune or a recurring interlude can lend a song its strongest identity. Imagine stripping hit numbers such as Roja jaaneman (Roja, 1992), Zara zara mehekta (Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein, 2001) or the Bombay theme (Bombay, 1995) of their striking flute solos. We aren’t sure if they’d even sound the same without them.
Flautist Naveen Kumar knows this best. The artiste has lent his skill to create melodies that have influenced a generation of listeners and music directors. Much like the composer he’s worked the most with, AR Rahman, Kumar, too, surprises you with his humility and mild, unassuming demeanour. As he releases his third album, titled FluteTronics, the prolific musician shares his story.
Tell us more about this album and your collaboration with Karsh Kale.
The first time I met Karsh was at Salim-Sulaiman’s studio, a few years ago. In 2010, we met again at a concert with Rahman at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles (LA). So when I asked him whether he’d like to be part of the project, he said I’m in, let’s connect. He’s produced three tracks for this album. It was wonderful working with him. Although his style of music is different from mine, we used our diversity to come up with a unique project.
You’re known for your memorable flute melodies in film songs. Was it challenging for you to experiment with electronica?
I like to try new things. With this album, I wanted to make a futuristic project, something that will appeal to all age groups. In this album, I’ve collaborated with some amazing people. There is (jazz/funk guitarist) Sanjay Divecha, rapper Blaaze, violinist Kalyan Sundaram and Armenian guitarist Levon Ichkhanian. My 15-year-old son, Jean, has also made his singing debut with a song called Longing.
You have a large collection of flutes and you’ve even invented a few. Tell us about them.
I have always been fascinated by this instrument. Thanks to my travels around the world for performances, I have been able to collect flutes from Switzerland, Germany and South Africa, among others and now own over 300 pieces. Through a lot of research and experiments, I have also been able to create new flutes. There’s one, which I call the Naveen Flute. It has strings attached to the far end of the pipe. When it is blown into, it produces a unique tone. I’ve also tried my hand at making a glass flute, called the U Flute, (because it’s U-shaped) and an overtone flute (without holes). The idea behind these experiments is to find way to enhance the basic tone of a flute. I also plan to start an online store where people can get their flutes customised.
You’ve been a part of the industry for over 25 years. As an instrumentalist, what are the changes you’ve noticed?
The biggest change has been in the way music is produced these days. Back in the day, all musicians would sit together to record a song. But now, if I am in Mumbai and have to deliver some work to Chennai or LA, all I have to do is digitally record my flute on my home system and mail the track to a studio there. That’s what I did recently, for a song I recorded for (Hollywood producer) Tony Maserati. Advancing technology has saved me a lot of travel time between cities and countries.
What are you working on currently?
I have performances lined up with my band, NAM. The name stands for Naveen And Mitra. The band features some of my greatest friends, who are talented musicians. I was also part of a gospel album, titled True Vine, which launched recently. Besides recording projects, I’m usually touring with Rahman.