Music, in his words

notes from Kolkata

Music, in his words

Every city has one of those compelling figures that tries hard to create a strong cultural identity reflective of the times. For Kolkata, that man could well be Neel Adhikari, a songwriter and producer who has played with various bands across different eras, single-handedly cultivated an open mic culture and given stage to some of the city’s best musicians, worked in the film music industry, and yet remains a family man who is soon going to be a father.

Talking about his growth as a songwriter, the 40-year-old recalls how he entered his first band — he was asked to audition for the school band and didn’t know the lyrics to any of the covers but decided to make up his own words on the spot, influenced by The Doors. “I was over my Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton and Def Leppard phase and was getting into heavy metal while simultaneously nurturing a secret love for Tracy Chapman, Suzanne Vega and Tanita Tikaram. But that was the time that I had discovered The Doors, and the way Morrison sang really changed something in my moral structure.”

Two decades later, he admits that he never wanted to write like anybody. “I have a distaste for prescribed references. Although I’ve sung over 300 covers in my life, with different bands, I’ve never been part of a complete cover band,” he explains. In all that time, he’s been through more bands than most people can claim to have been a part of — Wise, Offbeat, Watershed, Livewire, Krosswindz, The Saturday Night Blues Band, Span, Class Apart, Five Little Indians, Gandu Circus and presently, Neel & The Lightbulbs (NATL), which recently came out with their debut album called ‘Rewind’.

Having been in the independent music circuit for such a long time, he has a good feeling about the new breed of songwriters. “The songwriting cycle has just begun and the younger guys are just great! We’re just exploding now compared to the days I’ve seen,” he says.

With all these different projects he’s been in, does he feel more natural solo or with accompaniments? “I feel at home with a guitar or a ukulele. But I’m equally at ease with the band where I can lose the guitar and pick up a frame drum or a megaphone or a xylophone. It’s fun to play in a band, especially with NATL, as we have a quick chemistry and things fall into place musically and personally.”

He’s also one of the most open musicians when it comes to collaborations — having performed with Rajasthani folk artistes like Kutla Khan and Feroz Khan to more contemporary musicians like Sidd Coutto, Suman Sridhar and Monica Dogra. “Collaborations make you feel like there are others who share the same dream. If we’re lucky, we get a downgraded version of our dream as a reality,” he shares.

What’s been keeping Neel busy? “Currently, I’m finishing Ludo, Q and Nikon’s new Bengali horror film, as a music director. I’ve just finished a Bengali mainstream psycho-thriller called Bheetu and am about to start work on some other films. Music-direction is more academic — there’s research involved, building of a grand reference bank from different genres, understanding the narrative flow, working with more people and analysing the relation between motion pictures and sound. It’s different from songwriting but has helped it by giving my melodic or experimental aspirations an outlet,” he explains, adding that a project involving an all-women classical fusion band is on the cards and that he’s been writing new songs with NATL. As an afterthought, he concludes, “Dylan, jazz and classical is my retirement plan.”

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