Benry Moses- “There’s something magical about creating a song out of nothing” - Hindustan Times

Interview: Benry Moses- “There’s something magical about creating a song out of nothing”

ByMihir Chitre
Oct 20, 2023 10:07 PM IST

The singer whose songs struck a chord with listeners at the Ziro Festival of Music talks about his influences, the musical scene in Nagaland, and his plans

What was your childhood like and why did you decide to become a musician?

Honestly, I went through a lot of changes as a kid. There was a time when I was the good and obedient child. And there were stages, where I was the mischievous and adventure-loving kid. I think you will see that in my music as well (laughs).

Singer and songwriter Benry Moses (Courtesy the subject) PREMIUM
Singer and songwriter Benry Moses (Courtesy the subject)

I did start off very early with music singing in small and big churches. I vaguely remember singing for a crowd of 1,000 at the age of seven. I also bagged a lot of prizes in singing competitions in High School. I guess the passion for singing was already there. My dad was also a singer and sang in a band when he was younger. He’d tell us of how he used to travel across the towns and villages in Nagaland with his band and wowed the crowd with his music. I can confidently say I got most of my singing abilities through him and I’m grateful to him for the gift of music.

READ MORE: Adventures at Ground ZiroBy the time I was 10, I had learnt some piano but I was a restless kid so I didn’t have much patience with classical piano. Then one day, my dad bought a classical guitar and handed it to me saying, “Here, you take this and learn this instead”. The moment I held it, I knew this instrument was meant for me. Since then, I haven’t left the guitar. My guitar journey started off with basic chords and then I picked up classical. I played classical for a while and then discovered fingerstyle from guitar players like Andy Mckee, Sungha Jung and the electrifying Tommy Emmanuel. I instantly fell in love with the technique and spent years trying to learn it properly. That’s why you’ll hear a lot of fingerstyle in some of my songs. In my teen years, I also started learning some electric guitar inspired by players like John Mayer, Guthrie Govan and Mateus Asato. I also competed at the All Indian Fingerstyle competition in 2018 and I’m grateful to have made it to the Top 10 in Bengaluru.

A view of Kohima, Nagaland. (HT Picks)
A view of Kohima, Nagaland. (HT Picks)

My songwriting journey starts off with an interesting story. I was working in Bengaluru as a guitar teacher at a music institute called Urban Raga. It was a cold Sunday morning and I woke up at 3 am from a dream. And in this dream, I was playing a guitar riff and the tune was stuck with me. I told myself that i had to try this on the guitar and when I did, I couldn’t stop playing. Then, I started humming some melodies along with it and some lyrics here and there. That was how I started to write my very first song Awake. I then Invited some friends to help me with the guitar fills and lyrics. Trady Singkam and Adrian Pohrmen, both from Mehalaya, helped with the fills and lyrics respectively. Awake will forever be a tribute to my good friend Trady who lost his battle to cancer.

That’s how my songwriting started and since then, I have written a couple of songs on my own, all without the help of a dream, if I may add! But I’m thankful to a lot of musicians, friends and family who have helped me and pushed me to pursue songwriting. It’s been a rocky journey so far with a lot of up and downs but my love for the art of songwriting remains. There’s always something magical about creating a song out of nothing.

The Orange Festival in Dambuk, Arunachal Pradesh, where Benry Moses performed last year. (AP Club Shutterstock)
The Orange Festival in Dambuk, Arunachal Pradesh, where Benry Moses performed last year. (AP Club Shutterstock)

What was unique about performing at Ziro?

For me, Ziro offered a completely new and refreshing experience. Last year, I had the remarkable opportunity to perform at the Orange Festival in Dambuk. It was already my second time performing in the enchanting state of Arunachal, but little did I know that Ziro was about to captivate my heart from the moment I checked into my hotel in Hapoli.

As I stepped out of the hotel and was embraced by the pleasant weather, my eyes were immediately drawn to the breathtaking scenery. It reminded me of our capital in Nagaland, Kohima, but there was an undeniable sense of freedom and freshness in Ziro. It felt as though the air whispered with endless possibilities, and I couldn’t help but imagine that I could be anyone I wanted to be in this beautiful place.

The people of Ziro are just as warm and welcoming as those in Dambuk, if not more so. Their hospitality was genuine and heartfelt, making me feel instantly at ease and embraced by their kindness. The setting of the festival itself was a true testament to Ziro’s organic and traditional roots. It allowed us musicians to immerse ourselves in the music, surrounded by the raw beauty of nature. It was an experience like no other, where the melodies harmonized with the rustling of leaves and the distant silhouette of mountains on the horizon. In the daytime, the breeze filled me with a tangible sense of freedom, while the mountains reminded me that anything was possible in this place. And as the night fell, a cozy and inviting ambiance enveloped everything. Joy radiated from everyone around me, as if they were liberated by the power of music. What set Ziro Music Festival apart was its vibrant and enthusiastic crowd. Everyone in attendance had a deep appreciation and enthusiasm for music in all its forms.

The Ziro Festival of Music, 2023, where Benry Moses was one of the highlights. (Mihir Chitre)
The Ziro Festival of Music, 2023, where Benry Moses was one of the highlights. (Mihir Chitre)

In terms of scale, audience and vibe, where do you rate Ziro among all the festivals that you have played at?

To be completely honest, I had expectations of a larger crowd, but it’s important to acknowledge that turnout can depend on various factors. However, I must say that the overall vibe was among the best I’ve performed for. The energy and enthusiasm from the audience from the beginning to the end of our performance was truly remarkable. There was a strong connection between what we were playing on stage and their responsiveness. The atmosphere was filled with positivity, and for that reason, I would rate the experience a solid 9/10.

What is the musical culture of Nagaland like?

Music in Nagaland is incredibly versatile, spanning a wide range of genres from classical and gospel to jazz, rock, and even metal. My musical journey began in a religious family, where I started with church music. As I grew, I ventured into different musical styles. During my high school days, I experimented with punk rock and hard rock, listening to bands like Sum 41, Iron Maiden, and Avenged Sevenfold. However, I moved away from that scene when it became more about screaming than the music itself. I’ve always been a melomaniac, drawn to the melodic and musical aspects of music. This led me to explore melodic rock bands like Mr Big, Bon Jovi, and Queen. From there, I delved into various genres because I’ve always believed that musicality isn’t limited to a single genre, and all forms of good music should be appreciated.

Folk Fusion band Abiogenesis from Nagaland performing at Fusion 2016 in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. (Praveen Bajpai/Hindustan Times)
Folk Fusion band Abiogenesis from Nagaland performing at Fusion 2016 in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. (Praveen Bajpai/Hindustan Times)

Some people call your genre pop-rock? Does your music fit into a genre?

I would agree with them to a certain extent. I did grow up listening to a lot of pop and rock. I listened to a lot of Guns n’ Roses, Skid Row and also Adele, Michael Buble, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift. But I’m gravitating more towards the indie pop/rock genre, and I feel like I truly come into my own in this style. I’m most myself when I’m singing and writing songs like Breathe.

Composing indie music allows me to unleash my creativity and showcase my unique style, which is why I am drawn to exploring this genre further. However, my music is also influenced by the artists who have shaped my musical journey, so you may catch a glimpse of their influence in my sound as well.

Do you think music is for entertainment or do you see it as an expression of an inner self?

I completely agree that music should encompass both aspects. I find joy in expressing my personal experiences and emotions through my songs, making them a reflection of my life. Simultaneously, I aim to infuse them with entertainment and a sense of fun. I believe that music should bring happiness to people, even when it delves into sadder themes. Ultimately, music serves as a powerful tool for connecting with one another, and it’s particularly fulfilling when people have a great time while enjoying your music.

You write your own lyrics. What inspires your lyrics?

I draw inspiration from various experiences encompassing everything from love and breakups to soul-searching and even meeting a cute and fun girl at a music festival.

When I write song lyrics, I envision crafting captivating stories that I can share with others. My sincere aspiration is for these stories to resonate with listeners, creating a bond of relatability and ultimately leaving a profound impact. Above all, I strive to uplift spirits and inspire through the power of music.

If there is one theme that has resonated in my lyrics, it has to be “Hope” because I feel life is fundamentally all about hope. Hoping for a better life, nurturing fulfilling relationships, personal growth, and the promise of new and brighter days. I’m convinced that all good things come to an end when hope is lost, so I strive to infuse hope into my songs to reach people in the most fun and entertaining way possible.

Why do you write songs in English and not in a vernacular Nagamese language?

I think it’s primarily because I feel most comfortable expressing myself in English. Growing up, my dad had a strong affinity for English, having recently completed his studies in the United States. As a result, he encouraged us to primarily communicate in English, believing it would benefit our academic and professional pursuits. During our time in Singapore, English became our primary language as well, further solidifying our comfort with it. When we returned to Nagaland, it was initially challenging for us to learn Nagamese. Despite speaking our local tribal dialect, Lotha, at home, the dominance of English in our lives made it difficult to fully embrace Lotha. However, I do want to write a song in Lotha someday.

Which musicians and bands have influenced you?

I’ve been inspired by artists like John Mayer, Bruno Mars, Bruno Major, and Boy Pablo. Their artistic approach and originality are remarkable, and I strive to emulate their creativity in my own work.

At John Mayer’s LA Concert, I was spellbound by his exceptional talent and artistry in both his songwriting and guitar playing. As a fellow guitarist and lover of the instrument, I was in awe of his ability to display such remarkable creativity while delivering flawless vocals. Each song he performed felt genuinely unique and artistically crafted. That concert served as a powerful catalyst, motivating me to strive towards creating impactful and extraordinary music in my own journey.

I am captivated by the energy that Bruno Mars brings to his songs, the heartfelt poetry evident in Bruno Major’s lyrics, and the fun, carefree and affectionate nature that characterizes Boy Pablo’s music. While I draw inspiration from a wide range of musical genres, including 1980s Rock and Modern Pop, these artists hold a special place in my heart for their remarkable contributions to my musical influences.

Benry Moses (Courtesy the subject)
Benry Moses (Courtesy the subject)

There are mainstream superstars of music and then there are brilliant indie bands. Where do you think you are?

I genuinely appreciate both mainstream and indie music as long as it’s not generic and retains its originality. In my perspective, many mainstream artists started their careers as indie artists before gaining widespread popularity. For instance, I was a dedicated listener of Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift’s early music during a particular time in my life. It was during those moments that I perceived their music to be at its most innovative and authentic.

I enjoy listening to a variety of indie artists as well, both from India and abroad. Some of my favourites include The 1975, Rex Orange County, Prateek Kuhad, Taba Chake, and The Local Train. Their music is exceptional and I’m inspired by their creativity and originality.

As for where I am, I’m exploring my indie side, and that’s the direction I see myself heading in the future.

Where do you want to take your music? Any Bollywood Dreams?

Like every other musician, I can only hope for my music to reach as many souls and as many places as possible. It is my dream to perform in all the major cities in India. And if its written in my stars, big cities all over the world. Coming to Bollywood, it’s a matter of “I would if I could” (laughs) but sadly, my Hindi is way below Bollywood standards. I enjoy singing Hindi songs occasionally, including those by artists like Prateek Kuhad, Arjit Singh, and the legendary Kishore Kumar. However, my ability to write lyrics in Hindi is limited. Nevertheless, I hope to learn Hindi properly one day and try my hand at writing Hindi songs. I also listen to Hindi songs by indie artists like Taba Chake, whose performance at Ziro this year was an absolute blast. Additionally, I appreciate Hindi songs by Prateek Kuhad.

Where do you think you’d be as a musician 25 years from now? How would you like to be remembered?

By that time, I might be settled down, married, and busy raising kids (laughs). But when it comes to my music, I have a deep desire to be remembered as a musician who, through the power of my songs, connected with people from all corners of the globe and touched their hearts in a positive and uplifting way. It’s my hope that my music bring joy and comfort to those who may need it. Simultaneously, I aspire to be recognized as a creative artist who remained true to my artistic nature.

Mihir Chitre is the author of two books of poetry, ‘School of Age’ and ‘Hyphenated’. He is the brain behind the advertising campaigns ‘#LaughAtDeath’ and ‘#HarBhashaEqual’ and has made the short film ‘Hello Brick Road’

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