Great songs are created by a combination of great melody and good poetry. But in this time and age, it is difficult to hear meaningful poetry in popular music and film music. This gap was identified by Chinmayi Tripathi, an entrepreneur, singer, songwriter, and poet who started a unique initiative — Music and Poetry Project (2018) now known as MAPStudio India. This was in association with her partner, producer, and composer, Joell Mukherjii, who left everything to concentrate on reclaiming classical compositions through contemporary music. The band comprises of Chinmayi, the vocalist-composer and plays dotara (a Bengali string instrument), Joell, Omkar Salunkhe on percussion ensemble (Cajon — kanjira), Shriram Sampath on flute, and Rahul Putai on bass. The Free Press Journal caught up with Chinmayi and Joell to learn their process of creating songs.
Excerpts from the interview:
How did your journey in music begin?
Chinmayi: I trained in Hindustani classical music as a child. Poetry came naturally to me, coming from a family of writers and scholars. As I grew up, I started writing my own songs and poems. However, I had no clue what I wanted to do and if at all music fit into the larger picture.
What made you come up with MAPStudio?
Chinmayi: The fact that, everyone cribs about the existing state of lyrics or writing in our modern songs made me think about it. We have rich heritage of literature, why can’t we loop in poetry into contemporary music? Hence, I decided to create an album based on classical Chhayawadi (Hindi) poetry that I found beautiful. I did a crowd-funding campaign to raise funds for the album. This gave me the confidence to think bigger and form a band — Music and Poetry Collective now known as MAPStudio. We consider our music to be world fusion.
Tell us about the traditional instrument dotara that you use in your sets.
Chinmayi: Dotara is a Baul folk instrument from Bengal that I fell in love with and started playing. It has four strings and just two notes and still it’s an incredibly versatile instrument. We use a lot of Indian percs and flutes in our set wherever guitar and bass balance the act.
Joell, you have done work for Bollywood. Can you share your story?
I landed in Bombay to pursue music after living in Kolkata all my life. Music is in my family. My father, Madhu Mukherjee, is a veteran composer-producer. My mother, Himika Mukherjee, is a well-known bhajan and ghazal singer-composer. When I came to Bombay, I was clueless as to where to begin. I worked with Pritam, Mithoon, Amit Trivedi and many other veterans. However, I wanted to do my own thing. I ventured into the Ad music production and simultaneously, continued to create my own songs.
How do you select Hindi poets?
Chinmayi: It’s an intuitive decision; its poetry that inspires me. I pick composition and music flows automatically. A lot of times, while reading a piece of poem, the tune starts playing in my head and I desperately want to sing it. So, I sing. The songs are about themes that connect all us, our collective journey called life, beauty, joy, love, victory and defeats, rise and falls, eternal truths.
Joell: We get our content from conversations with poets, scholars, veterans, reading books, scrolling online libraries.
Have you planned on using any other Indian languages, besides Hindi?
Chinmayi: Yes, we have. Urdu poetry is a great part of our music. We would also love to bring in colours of other languages in our songs. For example, a new song that I am working on is in Urdu, but there will be some lines in Kashmiri. There is another song based on the Sanskrit poetry by 12th century Sanskrit poet, Abhinavgupta. We want to build awareness and cultivate interest in rich, meaningful literature and music in audiences across different ages. We’d also love to collaborate with various artistes in India and overseas, to build bridges of music and poetry across boundaries.
How do you select your music for your music videos?
Chinmayi: For performances, I keep in mind the theme of the event and nature of audience and tweak my set accordingly. I think all artistes do that. For music videos, again the songs have a story to tell and connect better through a video should be rolled into a video. Having said that, a video is an important marketing tool also for the songs. Therefore, we try to make a video for any new songs that we do.
You have a beautiful logo, can you explain what’s it signifies?
Chinmayi: The Ektara symbolises music, whereas the pen denotes the power of poets. The alphabets are in different languages of India and signify diverse, multilingual literature.
What has been the audience reaction to spreading poetry?
Chinmayi: People across age groups have loved our music. Our main goal is to spread Indian poetry, be it Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bangla, Kashmiri and other Indian languages in the form of music through live concerts, audio video and live music shows. We’re happy when the audience get inspired or thrilled listening to our songs. It is this emotion that makes our journey beautiful.
How has this music project affected your lives?
Chinmayi: It has definitely had a profound effect on my mindset, the way I think, perceive, everything has got a bit more depth. It has also given me a purpose for life, which was missing earlier.
What have you been working on?
Chinmayi: We recently released two new songs based on poetry, Yugan yugan hum yogi (Kabir) and Chal Nadi so chalti chal (Vijay Bahadur Singh). I also released a book, which is a compilation of my poems. I am also working on a new-age version of Bhagwad Gita, spiritual poetry in the form of contemporary music.
Joell: Chinmayi will be releasing a few original songs, one a satirical piece for women empowerment called Abla Nari and Ye un dinon kii baat hai. There’s also Usey le gaye by veteran poet Naresh Saxena.
(The band is performing on September 18 at St Andrews Auditorium, Mumbai at 7.30 pm)