Ankur Tewari on music festivals in India, spoken word poetry, Gully Boy and more in this exclusive interview
In its 5th edition this year, The Vedanta Udaipur World Music Festival (UWMF) has fast become the biggest world music festival in the country. Ahead of their performance tomorrow at UWMF 2020, we got a chance to speak with Ankur Tewari and The Ghalat Family. Excerpts from an exclusive interview.
The city of lakes and a popular tourist and wedding destination, Udaipur, Rajasthan is alive with culture and the sound of music of various genres. Lake Pichola, City Palace, Fateh Sagar Lake, Jagmandir Palace are some of the must-visit locations while you’re in this city.
The Vedanta Udaipur World Music Festival (UWMF) has begun today and will be on until Sunday, February 9 2020. A city-wide, multi-venue music festival featuring 150 global artists and collaborations, the fest also sees participation from countries namely Spain, Italy, France, Brazil, Switzerland, and many more.
In its 5th edition this year, this festival has fast become the biggest world music festival in the country. This year’s edition is built around the concept We are the World: Unity in Diversity. Spread over three picturesque venues, UWMF offers immense diversity in music that celebrates different moods of the day, right from a morning meditative raga to personifying romantic music at its best played beside the lakes in the afternoons. Evenings will bring spirited youthful music that connects people of all age groups. The festival also features local Rajasthani talent.
Ahead of their performance tomorrow at UWMF 2020, we got a chance to speak with Ankur Tewari and The Ghalat Family. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
Q. Tell us about the inspiration behind called The Ghalat Family and why?
A. The inspiration behind the band being called The Ghalat Family is actually nothing serious, we didn’t have a name for a band. We were shooting for a music video and a friend of ours saw us and he said that we are a bunch of misfits and somehow the word The Ghalat Family came out between fits of giggles and laughter and we just stuck by the name.
Q. Your opened for singer Norah Jones back in 2013. What’s been your fondest memory of that day?
A. It was quite a special opening for Norah Jones back in 2013. It was a summer-time festival where we were going to play and I have always been a fan of her music and I have never seen her live so just to share the backstage along with her is a big honour. Karsh who was also opening for alongside us is a friend of hers (Norah’s) and because of him we met her, chatted with her. It was quite a humbling experience to see somebody so famous and big, being so humble, and her band was also too nice and too sweet.
Q. How far have famous authors from history impacted your songwriting? Tell us some of your favourite proverbs/lines written by Manto and Bukowski.
A. An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way and an artist says a hard thing in a simple way this quote by Charles Bukowski has always struck a chord with me. There are so many interesting authors and poets whose words resonate with me, Manto’s Toba Tek Singh is a classic for me where people in an art house are asked to decide whether they want to go to Pakistan or stay in India during partition… can’t describe the partition in a better way.
Q. What’s more fun: performing for a live audience or in a studio?
A. I have always been a performing artiste. I love performing to a live audience. I have not been in the studio as much as I want to be in the studio. I find performing live is a better community experience but in recent times, I started enjoying recording in the studio as well. But definitely, when I perform I like to play more for an intermediate audience than big stages. Big stages make me feel very distant from the audience and with my band members at the same time.
Q. Favourite film song project you have been a part of?
A. Favourite film song project that I have been a part of is my first song Sabse Peechhe Hum Khade for Let’s Enjoy (2004). That was the song I used to sing and then I used it in the movie and then I got Silk Route to sing a cover of it.
Q. What can the audience expect at the Vedanta Udaipur World Music Festival 2020? Tell us something about the songs you have chosen in your set and what’s in it for everyone attending?
A. Vedanta Udaipur World Music Festival is very special for me especially it is organised by SEHER. It is like a family for me and I have curated an interesting set of my popular songs including Mohabbat Zindabad, Sabse Peechhe Hum Khade, Dil Beparvah and some surprises.
Q. Your thoughts on the music festival scene in India and if there’s one thing you could change, what would it be?
A. It is amazing that there are music festivals that showcase artistes from around the country and the globe. When I started making music, there was none, but it’s so amazing to see so many festivals cropping up, so many stages, and I am encouraged to see this kind of an atmosphere in the world with independent music.
If there’s one thing I could change, I would try to include more new artistes in the line-up every time because, for me, music festivals are about the discovery of new music as well. Vedanta Udaipur World Music Festival is one such festival which brings new artistes from across the globe in its editions and I simply admire this concept.
Q. Tell us more about Woh Hum Nahin and the process of writing/composing it.
A. Woh Hum Nahin came to me in about 5 minutes. I was backstage going to perform in 10 minutes and I was looking at my phone and I saw the images of violence in the hostel of JNU and it really hurt me that such kind of violence is happening in universities, in colleges in India and it had a deep impact on me. Thought about of nation that has Mahatma Gandhi as a father of the nation, a pioneer in the world of peace and agent of love in this country. Such an act happening, it broke me within. Even before I could hit the stage in 5 minutes these words came to me and I went and performed my set. I came back and found the chords to these words, and recorded it in an hour’s time.
Q. How did you decide on collaborating on Kommune with Roshan Abbas?
A. If I may be honest it was Roshan Abbas who decided to contact me and Gaurav Kapoor and take our discussions further. We were usually discussing how we don’t find going out exciting where the only place you go out is to tune out of the world. But sometimes you go out to tune in to something and feel enriched when you come out of it and we were missing those events. So Roshan Abbas came up with an idea that we should gather those people who will be interested in storytelling, poetry or music of a softer sort. We pretty much started on instinct and before we knew it, it is known into a big thing.
Q. What can you tell us about the upcoming seasons of The Spoken Fest? After the Delhi debut late last year, will Spoken be going to other cities too?
A. We are constantly in touch with the spoken word artists and poets around the world and we are trying to make it interesting with each coming year.
The Delhi edition was encouraging and on the response of the Delhi edition, we thought to take it to other cities as well. Many cities have written to us and we are strongly crunching the numbers to make sure that we can take it to other cities as well.
Q. For upcoming poets, what is the one-word advice you would want to share?
A. My only advice to upcoming poets is that you should be honest and clear with what you want to express and try not to push vocabulary outside what you use. If you are not satisfied with your vocabulary, read more books and increase your vocabulary, once you start using those words in your life you should include mini pauses as well.
Q. Name three poets you’ve seen Live in performance and find great promise in their voice?
A. Some of the poets I admire are Kausar Munir, Swanand Kirkire and Varun Grover. They’ve also had an amazing impact on me.
Q. You’ve worked with Prateek Kuhad on several songs too - tell us about this collab.
A. I’ve worked with Prateek on the collaboration called Dil Beparvah, for a show called The Dewarists and it happened organically. It was amazing that we both are diverse personalities and the song became the meeting point for both of us and started an interesting friendship where I get to learn a lot from this young artist.
Q. Your favourite from the Gully Boy album and why?
A. My favourite work from Gully Boy is definitely Apna Time Aayega for the way the song happened, the way poetry happened and the collaboration happened with Divine who is such an amazing artist. I’ve never imagined that I would be collaborating with a hip-hop artist. It was a dream collaboration to work with Dub Sharma, Divine with Javed Akhtar Sahab giving his suggestions and inputs.
Q. Jeene Mein Aaye Mazaa is a sweet reminder of life in Bombay (Mumbai) one has lived and misses. What was your inspiration behind the number?
A. Jeene Mein Aaye Mazaa is for me a story about friends, a story about people who stands by you even when the times are tough. When the tough times are over you look back and you realise how important they are because you know tough times don’t last but friends do. They make this world worthwhile and if we can ever look beyond the balance sheets of life then you will realise friends are what makes your world.