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American songwriter sings for Road, Movie

As a songwriter in USA, Sylvia Black has written chart topping hits and performed for artists including Moby, The Black Eyed Peas, Chris Brown, and Telepopmusik, and has toured with Lady Gaga now she has recreated Sar jo tera chakraye in Road, Movie.

music Updated: Mar 06, 2010 01:18 IST
Nikhil Taneja
Nikhil Taneja
Hindustan Times

As a songwriter in USA, Sylvia Black has written chart topping hits and performed for artists including Moby, The Black Eyed Peas, Chris Brown, and Telepopmusik, and has toured with Lady Gaga. She is best known for the sentimental cosmic-longing topline to Fergie's voice on The Black Eyed Peas song, Meet me halfway.

How did Road, Movie happen?
I was recommended to the director, Dev Benegal, by the lead actor of the movie, the dimple-cheeked Abhay Deol. I was surprised that he had thought of me for the song, and came to know only later that he had heard me in a song with Moby and loved my vocals there.

Had you heard any Bollywood songs before the movie?
Not really. I had definitely heard of Mohammed Rafi and his songs though. But before singing Sar jo tera chakraye, I heard the original song and also saw the old black and white clipping, featuring the late Johnny Walker.

What did you think about the song when you first heard it?
I loved the song! Even though I didn’t understand the lyrics, I knew that the song suggested a ‘don’t worry, be happy’ attitude. I loved the character of Johnny Walker in the clipping and I could relate to his silliness in the song.

Did you get nervous about singing in a new language?
I wasn’t nervous but yes, singing in an all-new language looked like a task. But everyone involved with the project, who are native speakers of the language, helped a lot. Watching the video again and again also helped me get the accent right.

Had you readily agreed to the idea of singing in Hindi?
Yeah, I was all for the idea of singing in Hindi. And after listening to the original track, I was even more kicked about singing it.

How did you go about recreating the song?
The essence of the song remains the same; it’s like old wine in a new bottle. My own style of singing isn’t very different from what you hear in the song — I have tried to put a dash of my own style to it.

How was your Bollywood experience different from writing and performing with artistes like Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga?
I believe that performances should always be perfect. So I wouldn’t say there was much of a difference in the way I performed with those artistes and what I sung for Road, Movie, but yes, experience-wise, Bollywood was new and fresh. I have learnt a lot after singing for an Indian movie and would love to get another chance to sing for Bollywood.

Which other Indian musicians do you know of? Is there any Indian artiste you’d like to work with?
I know A R Rahman, Anoushka Shankar and many others. But out of all of them, I would really love to work with Anoushka Shankar. I heard her in New York and I think she has a very good stage presence.

Ever plan on coming down to India for a tour?
You never know!

Tanishtha sings too

Even though the music of Dev Benegal’s Road, Movie hasn’t been released on an album, it features a bunch of eclectic musicians on it. Apart from a song by Sylvia Black, the movie also has a background score by Grammy-nominated Canadian composer Michael Brook, best known for his work with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. In fact, even the movie’s lead actress, Tanishtha Chatterjee, who is a trained Hindustani classical vocalist, has rendered a song for the film.

“Dev knew I sing so he told me that I had to sing and dance for the movie since I was the ‘item’ in it,” laughs Chatterjee. “When we were figuring out which song to sing, I just sang a composition that I had heard as a child in Delhi, from some Rajasthani construction workers who would walk around our house. It’s a haunting, beautiful and expressive piece. My version of it is an improvised one — it is made up of whatever I remember of the original, and most words are gibberish!”

Chatterjee has sung a ‘live’ version of the song in the movie, since the sound recordist wanted to get the “natural quality” of her voice, rather than record it in the studio with music instruments. “I play a mysterious, nomadic character in the movie, so the song needed to reflect that,” Chatterjee explains.

“Folk singers have the quality that their voice reaches anywhere — it doesn’t need instruments. We wanted that raw quality to come across. Through the movie, and through the music, we’ve tried to redefine glamour.”

First Published: Mar 05, 2010 12:28 IST