Veteran BBC music producer and sound engineer of 35 years, Miti Adhikari, who has produced songs for over 200 international bands, including Nirvana, Coldplay, Pearl Jam and Radiohead, has now turned his attention to the Indian independent scene.
Adhikari has recently finished work on Agnee’s new track, Ranjhan yaar di…, which is the theme song of MTV’s reality show, Splitsvilla 3. The song is Adhikari and Agnee’s first Punjabi song that combines the Carnatic rhythms of the mridangam and electronic dance grooves to Punjabi lyrics.
Says Mohan Kannan, vocalist of Agnee, “We got to know of Miti through a friend of ours in Calcutta. I called him as soon as I got his number, and sent him my tracks. He messaged me in the middle of the night later, saying he couldn’t stop humming ‘Ranjhan…’ and agreed to work with us. We’ve just got really lucky.”
But the song is not Adhikari’s first tryst with the Indian indie scene. He first worked on the songs of his cousin, Neel Adhikari’s fusion band, Class Apart. Shobhaa De heard these songs and asked the joint outfit of the cousins, called MANA, to compose an album that would be released with her book, Superstar India.
Working in India
“After that, quite a few Indian bands approached me to produce records,” says Adhikari. “I was traveling to India then, so I worked on The Supersonics’ album, and on the songs of a Bengali rock band, Jack Rabbit.”
Adhikari admits that after hearing the songs of some of the Indian indie bands, he’s got deeply interested in the scene. “I don’t understand the Bollywood scene much, but I love the underground scene. I’ve brought a travelling studio down here and I want to work with the bands to help in the evolution of the scene. At some stage, I want these bands to match their international counterparts.”
Adhikari is now working on albums for The Supersonics, Menwhopause, Cassini’s Division, and is teaming up with Agnee for its other songs as well, and plans to shuttle between India and UK for a while, “until the scene picks up.”
‘Being Indian worked to my advantage’
You’ve been working with BBC for more than 30 years now. How did you become a producer with BBC at a time when the concept of a producer was alien to India? I grew up in Kolkata and played the bass guitar in a rock band there. I wanted to work in the music industry, and someone told me about the BBC job. I was 20 at the time, and went to London to try my luck. I was lucky enough to get selected among 20,000 applicants, as a trainee sound engineer. I was only aware of the producer’s job, but didn’t even know what one did.
What work have you been doing for the BBC since?
BBC calls bands to its studios to do session exclusively for it, which then gets extensive airplay. Bands do about four songs in 12 hours, and my job is to be that fresh pair of ears in the studio environment, who would give them a direction, and then record and mix it.
Since you were the first Indian to get the job, how did bands react initially, when they met you in a session?
Being Indian worked to my advantage because bands record with many producers, with names like ‘Dave’ and ‘Harry’, but they had never met an Indian guy with a name ‘Miti’. So they always remembered working with me! Also, musicians are generally very open people, they never go like, ‘Oh, he’s Indian, he can’t do much’.
How does a typical session progress?
The idea is to do something different with the band — it has to be a unique recording and even if the band has an album version of the song, the two can’t be similar. And since the sessions happen at Maida Vale Studios, which have a legendary status in London, the bands are quite excited and get a huge buzz from it too.
Usually, it takes a band six months to record four songs, but they do it in 12 hours in our studios. We try to get the band’s vibe into a recording, and it’s a very immediate process. I mix it immediately and then, in the same week, it plays on radio and TV. And if they are happy with my work, they ask me to produce the same song or another song for their album too.
Are western musicians aware of Indian music?
Not really. They may have come across Indian music incidentally, but there are no devoted music fans. Their attention span isn’t long enough to understand Indian music. Those who are really interested, come to India to study it. But yes, I was working with Pearl Jam recently, and Eddie Vedder is a big fan of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and has worked with him. We had a long chat about that.
Which Indian musicians do you think are truly well known there?
Everyone knows about Ravi Shankar and George Harrison’s collaborations. Bhangra is well-known in the UK, but it’s played more within the Indian community. There are bands there, which are using sitars and tablas, and I think in the last one year, it’s become really important because of A R Rahman. But even he’s not exactly a house hold name yet. It’ll still take a lot of time for Indian music to truly be well-known globally.
Who are you yet to work with?
(Laughs) I’ve played with everyone from Beyonce to Bruce Springsteen. But yes, if I get to work with Bob Dylan, I’ll retire.