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Remo's 'Symphonic Chants'

Remo talks about his experience while working on 'Symphonic Chants'.

music Updated: Feb 21, 2003 16:53 IST
Biswadeep ghosh
Biswadeep ghosh

Any attempt to describe Remo is a really tough job. For, not only has he has been around in the popular music scene for years, he has also come up with so many different kinds of albums that classifying him as a certain 'kind' of musician is virtually impossible.

But 'Symphonic Chants', his latest, is something way beyond what might have expected. It has just two recordings, both 18 minutes long, one of which recreates 'Gayatri Mantra' and the other 'Jagadish Hare.' They both are Devotional chants, but in Remo's hands they end up acquiring a feel that is mesmerising to say the least.

In this interview, the musician talks about his experience while working on this really unique album.

a) How did the concept of Symphonic Chants come into being?
I was peacefully asleep in my cosy bed one morning when the temple in the coconut grove beside the river by my house started playing music at 4:30 a.m. I wasn't too happy, cause I wanted to sleep some more.

But I soon drifted into that half-and-half state in which your analytical mind is at rest but your subconscious picks up ambient signals... and I found myself floating on this haunting melody, and wanted it never to stop. And, like magic, it seemed to go on and on forever.

Funny thing is, a few weeks later while I was away on tour, my wife had the very same experience with another piece of music at dawn. When we recounted our experiences to each other we decided to go looking for the two chants, which turned out to be the Gayatri Mantra and Jai Jagdish Hare.

We bought several copies of both and played them everywhere - in our cars, in our offices, in our home, in our bedroom. We fell in love with these chants and the mysterious feeling of well being they seemed to induce in us. And I eventually decided to record them, not to reproduce the traditional versions, but to somehow try and depict the magical states of mind, which they put us in on those two unforgettable mornings.

b) Were you worried about the reactions of purists who believe that chants should not be reworked?
Yes, I was. Mainly because almost everything to do with religion tends to take a political and communal turn in our country nowadays. So I played the album to many of my true-blue Hindu friends before releasing it, and asked for their opinion; they assured me that it did not disturb any religious sentiments whatsoever, and that the music perfectly reflected the meaning of the lyrics.

After the release, people have been sending me emails and SMS's, unasked, expressing the effects the album has had on them. I'm copying a few of those quotes below. They make me feel very fulfilled indeed.

c) In the album's sleeve note, you have said that your Goan accent might creep in. What motivated the statement since Sanskrit has been spoken in a variety of accents down the ages, in fact in a most unique way by some German scholars?
You see, we Indians can be better disposed to accept Germans' accents rather than our own. Even in film playback and pop singing, we refuse to accept Hindi accents from different regions of India - all singers and actors feel the need to homogenize their accents as per Mumbai's standards, thus depriving Hindi of its various flavours.

On top of this, the Chants aren't film or pop songs in Hindi ? they are religious songs in Sanskrit, and I therefore felt the need to make that statement, to impress upon listeners [specially the purists you have mentioned above] that it is normal and okay for people from different corners of India to sing them with different accents.

d) You have played some fascinating flute solos in the album. Have you ever thought of doing a popular or spiritual album that is flute-heavy as far as the content is concerned?
Thank you. Yes, a flute-oriented album has been strongly suggested to me for years now, ever since I released Bombay City, and specially recently after the success of The Flute Song. I'm seriously thinking of working on one in the near future.

e) You have been associated with all kinds of popular cuts right from Pack That Smack to Bombay City, from Pyar To Hona Hi Thha to O Meri Munni. But you always seem to enjoy a lot while doing live stuff with musicians like Zakir Hussain and more recently Trilok Gurtu. What is it in fusion that really excites you?
Oh, I truly enjoy it all. Working and creating in the studio, rocking live performances with my band, and fusion performances with Zakir and Trilok and Siva. What excites me about the latter is not just the fusion element, but the fact that we climb on stage with no idea of what we're going to do.

We pick up our instruments and the music takes over us. It is creativity on the spot, in front of thousands, and there's an element of danger which adds to the excitement... the danger of walking the plank, the tight rope, of walking into a dark cave into the unknown.

f) In 'Jagadish hare', there are sargams by male voices which follow the rendition of the bhajan at the outset. The departure in terms of the structure of melody is quite dramatic. What inspired you to believe that the incorporation of the sargams would work?
I don't know... I am totally ignorant of the theories and technicalities of music. I have never studied music or a musical instrument, neither Indian nor Western. Frankly, I did not even know the term 'sargam' until you mentioned it. I make music purely by feel, by intuition, by ear, whatever you wish to call it.

I wanted a total change of mood at that spot in Jai Jagadish; but at the same time, I wanted a smooth link or bridge to lead up to that change. I tried out the male voices, and I liked what I heard. They brought in the touch of mystery I was looking for. They make you sit up and wonder where the music is going next.

g) In 'Gayatri Mantra', the tabla solo seems to epitomize your philosophy as far as fusion goes. It is simple, but merges with the body of the number most remarkably. Do you, therefore, believe that fusion should have simplicity to ensure appeal?
Mainly, I do not believe that there ought to be hard and fast rules for anything in music, i.e. that fusion should be either simple or complicated. Both can be fabulous, if they are inspired and played well. If not, fusion is just confusion.

Specially the fast, complicated one where musicians play two hundred notes per second. That can deteriorate into monotony at best and cacophony at worst, if the artists are solely interested in displaying their speed and their skills instead of their hearts and their souls.

h) Both the numbers are close to 18-minutes-long, but they are so Well knit that time simply flies. Do you plan to make similar experiments in future not only to manifest your musical range but for the good of music in general?
Thanks so much, that's one of the nicest things I've heard about this album. Yes, I definitely aim to make more music like this. By the way, my first was India Beyond, which was released in a very limited way.

I feel very sad that no record company has known to evaluate India Beyond's artistic as well as commercial potential, because, even if I say so myself, it is the most beautiful album and the most beautiful music I have created in my whole life.

First Published: Feb 21, 2003 16:53 IST