Pankaj Awasthi has been making music for the past 15 years, but he calls himself an "illiterate musician". He has numerous ad jingles and two folk-electronica albums to his credit but, by his own admission, barely knows much beyond the basics and can't read or write music. "I don't know all the fancy theoretical stuff," says the 38-year-old, with a laugh. "However, if you play a groove for me, I can come up with at least three or four melodies that go with it on the spot."
His latest album, Somrass (which roughly translates as 'a divine elixir of youth'), released about a month ago, but the official launch gig is on Sunday, in which Awasthi and his band will play tracks from the new album along with a few from his 2005 album, Nine. "The lyrics are very socio-political in nature," he says. "I tend to draw inspiration from Indian folk music and poetry."
Some diligent Bollywood listeners may identify Awasthi as the rustic voice behind songs such as Tera Hi Karam from Karam (2005) and Aaye mere saaye from New York (2009). However, Awasthi maintains a fairly low profile and admits that he "is terrible" at promoting himself. "I'd rather focus my energies on making music," he says. Somrass, an album which took three years to make, was made for the sake of music, not for commercial purposes. "It's a niche album, meant for those exposed to world music and poetry," he says. "You won't find the typical paagal-munda-soni-kudi kind of songs here."
Awasthi's career is a bit of a happy accident. At 20, he was a medical student studying at Manipal who had just picked up the guitar three years ago when he decided to drop out with a vague idea of pursuing music as a career. "My parents were, naturally, disappointed," he says. "They thought I had no direction." Within a few months, however, Awasthi started working with Susmit Sen, guitarist of folk-fusion band Indian Ocean, as a programmer at his studio. "I will always be grateful to him [Sen] for giving me a chance," says Awasthi.
While jingles and film scores earn him his living, Awasthi is content with making music for the sake of it as far as albums are concerned. "I don't need a lot of money to be happy," he says.
- Suprateek Chatterjee