If I had met the duo of Kanchan Kulkarni and Amit Kelkar under any other circumstances, I would have dismissed them as two regular, run-of-the-mill NRIs. Their professional qualifications certainly suggest so. Kanchan has lived in the US since 1996. He has two Masters degrees in Finance and Computer Science. Amit has made US his home since 1991 and has a PhD in Chemical Engineering.
Fortunately, my first encounter with these immensely talented ‘Global Indians’ was rather unique. It was at the release ceremony of their music CD ‘Kimaya’….in Dallas-Fortworth, USA. I wasn’t familiar at all with their creative work, until the beautiful compositions unfolded one by one during the program. And I couldn’t help but wonder, “How can these seemingly regular guys create such magic? What is their story? And above all, what inspires them to preserve and grow our music thousands of miles away from India?” It seemed like a perfect topic to explore in our Global Indian series.
Amit Kelkar, originally from Pune, India comes from a musically inclined family. A Ghazal aficionado, he is also very interested in Marathi Bhavgeet. Interestingly, he hasn’t really had much formal training in music. That is hard to believe considering all the wonderful scores he has composed, including the songs in Kimaya, his first professional musical venture.
“(I) never formally learned music, except, about 2 years back when I started taking lessons from Shri. Mohankumar Darekar. He was Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki’s student and used to sing on All India Radio in the 70s and 80s. I very much wanted to learn from him but since he is based in Pune and I am in the US, we had to come up with a very innovative arrangement. My lessons are delivered via Skype (online video calling software). I bought him a PC and setup Skype. He now has about 10 students from all over the world”, says Amit.
A passionate poet at heart, Kanchan Kulkarni has been writing Marathi pieces for many years now. While his close friends have been familiar with his work, it was brought to a public forum only around 2004-2005 timeframe. Kanchan says, “One of my earliest poems, ‘Prabhat Geet’ was submitted for a competition called ‘Triveni’. In this competition, various US-based trios consisting of a singer, a poet/lyricist and a music composer participated. We actually won the first prize among 23 entries. Amit composed a very beautiful tune in Raag Vibhas for my poem. That was our first joint composition and thus our collective journey started. Incidentally, that is also the first song in our CD Kimaya”.
The pair’s big breakthrough came in 2010 when a close friend Ashwini Khaladkar encouraged and helped them to launch a music CD. She not only recognized their talent, but also managed the whole process of producing the CD for them. Thus, Kimaya was born!
“We chose 8 of our best song compositions and 2 poems for recital. We had specific singers in mind for specific songs. With that outline, Ashwini did a lot of the pre-production work like contacting the singers, coordinating with the music arranger and recording studio. The actual recording and mixing took only a week. We would be in the studios for 7 to 8 hours a day. The whole experience was quite new and overwhelming. Many people don’t realize that in today’s world, song recording is a very different process. Instruments and songs are recorded separately and the end product is created by mixing these various tracks”.
“When Lata Mangeshkar was at her peak, she would record a couple of songs a day. By the time Kumar Sanu came to the scene, he was recording 20 – 25 songs per day…all possible because of this new technology”.
Armed with this new found knowledge on the process of CD production, I was now curious about the whole creative process behind the compositions. What came first…the lyrics or the tune?
“It’s a mixed process. After our first joint venture at the “Triveni” competition, as and when I wrote new pieces of poetry and thought that they were worth making into a song, I would send them to Amit. He would then develop the melodies. We would go back and forth, adjusting the words and tune, until the perfect balance was achieved. Sometimes, Amit would come up with a nice tune and send it to me so I could set words into it. It’s an ongoing creative process that continues to date”, says Kanchan.
Amit adds, “Kimaya though based on classical music, also appeals to common people. It’s more semi-classical in nature where along with the classical base, the words, emotions and melody stand out. Many people who are Hindi film music fans do not realize that most filmi music has a classical base as well. Even popular and seemingly non-classical songs like ‘Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast’. In this case, its Raga Bheempalas. All the new popular songs by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan are classical based too, just recycled and refurbished with new instrumentation. You know, songs based on classical music have a longer shelf life…people remember them a lot longer”.
And what about poetry? What inspires the beautiful words and emotions?
“I write about whatever touches my heart. Many a times the inspiration comes from small incidents and observations in my daily life. My little daughter has also been a wonderful source of inspiration for quite a few of my compositions. One of the poems in Kimaya is actually inspired by a mentally challenged girl who I observed in a temple one day. The girl was unable to speak well and had to seek assistance from her mother for every small task. But once she sat there and started reciting ‘Om Jai Jagadish Hare’, I was mesmerized. Each word was clear and she recited with such conviction that she forgot about the world around her. And I thought, “God, why this unfairness? This girl who is so devoted to you deserves better things”, Kanchan said emotionally.
“About the technicalities of writing poetry, you can pretty much write free form, or in a more structured manner using certain meter (like 5 words per line or 6 words per line etc.). More formally, you can also write using a traditional poetic template called ‘Vrutta’. Each Vrutta has certain rules which the writer has to follow. For example, in 'Chamara Vrutta’, every line should have only 15 characters (letters of alphabet), and each word should have alternating short and long sounds, and contain only 14 lines like a Sonnet. At the end of the day though, poetry is really about bringing out emotions and feelings in the listener”.
Amit adds, “Vruttas or structured templates are very conducive to composing music. But sometimes it has to be sacrificed to retain the essence and emotions in the poem. Although it is slightly more challenging to compose music to a free form poem, it’s not impossible. Many of famous poet Gulzar’s songs fall in the free form category. You may have noticed that these songs really grow upon you as you listen to them more….because the words touch you more than the music itself. Think “Mera kuch saaman tumhare paas pada hai…”
By this time, I couldn’t help but feel totally overwhelmed and enlightened. “So much to learn in this world”, I thought. Then I turned once again to Kimaya…..I really wanted to know more about it
“Kimaya has a total of 10 tracks. 3 songs are inspired by nature, a few of them are about kids and our day to day lives, 1 song is purely classical and two tracks are simple poetry recitals. We have received a lot of positive feedback and encouragement, not only from friends and family but other people who have heard our CD. We feel fortunate that reknowned personalities from Marathi theater and films like Rahul Solapurkar and Dilip Prabhavalkar have also appreciated our maiden effort”.
“This is a small and humble start for us. As artists we feel that we can do much better and we will always strive for that. When people enjoy our compositions, that is our biggest reward!!”.
Kimaya is a Marathi music album by Amit Kelkar and Kanchan Kulkarni, two Global Indian artists. The music is now available on iTunes at http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/kimaya/id524555757?i=524555767&ign-mpt=uo%3D4