Design Fabric got together with Ankur Tewari and Tanya Eden to create art for his single Mohobbat Zindabad. With the song Ankur expresses the hope of resolving conflict through love and music. For this interview, two coffees; one cold and one hot were consumed at The Bagel Shop in Bandra.
Ankur Tewari has some wonderful ideas, one of which I stole during the course of the interview and have been using with a small amount of success in life. Since his latest album, Side A/Side B is a nostalgic journey I asked him a few questions about life, memories and the music he has been making lately.
What was the last song you were listening to?
What was your first memory of Bombay?
It involves a lot of train stations and couches. It was hard living here, I had come down in ’98 for a recording deal, it was naive of me to come with a few demo tapes but I spent six-seven months, jumping from one couch to the next, getting drunk every night to not remember the hard days.
Ankur bumps into one of his friends at Bagel Shop during our interview. Later he tells me, that incidentally, this guy was one of those friends who lent him a space in his home without question during Ankur’s tougher days in Bombay, it’s touching to see how they’ve remained friends since.
Side A/Side B is clearly an album about nostalgia, if I were to simply read into the name…
Yes, like those tapes you owned and wound with a Reynolds pen when you wanted to move to another song.
What was the first cassette you bought for yourself?
Born in the USA, I bought it with my own money.
I try to recollect my own first cassette and realize my taste in music was quite embarrassing. By now, our coffees are here and I feel the questions must move on to more pertinent subjects since;
a: This is the actual purpose of the interview
b: I really wanted to use the word ‘pertinent’ as it adds gravitas to any interview
c: I also wanted to use the word ‘gravitas.’
Tell me more about Side A/Side B and what makes it a nostalgic journey.
I recorded my first solo album around 7 years back in Lahore with my producer Xulfi. After a while though, I had a band and although we started off playing in living rooms, we eventually began playing live and got completely involved in it. Our music was evolving, from an intimate living room sound and upbeat lyrics suited to pubs and drinking joints, we were now talking to a much larger audience. And the entire experience of travelling on those gigs, meeting people, collaborating with various musicians, artists of different disciplines, all of it has contributed to the sound in Side A/Side B. It is almost an amalgamation of those experiences and now that we’ve finally recorded it, it is about us, the guys who owned tapes throughout their young lives, the last analog generation.
Sometimes honest writing comes from personal experience, it is easy to write and rings true because it happened to you, what personal experience drove you to write Mohobbat Zindabad?
It’s about Kashmir, the core emotion for me in that is anger, it is disappointing to see that politicians on both sides haven’t been able to solve it diplomatically. They have messed up a whole part of the world. There are sons and daughters that are dying and of course I feel strongly about it.
I have always felt that you can only get rid of darkness through light, anger cannot kill anger.
You know the movie, Mughal-e-Azaam has a song called Mohobbat zindabad, Anarkali dances in front of Akbar saying, ‘love will win’. I like the fact that there is rebellion in her love.
Is it a possibly idealistic notion that music and art will fix the greater crimes of our world?
I actually feel it can only be fixed through art and music because everyone understands it.
Since this is a nostalgic album, tell us about your first gig ever.
It was at a student festival in Rourkee (now IIT) university. I won an informal competition where you could display any talent you had to win the prize which was a bun and samosa.
The pertinent section of this interview is now over.
If you could pick a musician to have breakfast with, which one would it be?
I really enjoy eating my breakfast so ideally no one, but AR Rahman if I really had to because he doesn’t talk much. Also he is an amazing musician.
What was your last Google image search?
My album cover.
If you had to turn poetry into song, which poem would you choose?
I actually like writing my own songs because I don’t interpret the words of others too well, but Leonard Cohen writes brilliantly.
Who do you follow on Instagram that you find very inspiring?
I love P Singh, she inspires me to take photos. Nan Goldin. But I also love Dayanita Singh. There is a sense of fearlessness, she is not held back by her fame. She’s not too careful. And I love that she seems to be curious and childlike in her uploads, I find that very inspiring now because it is so rare these days.
Back to pertinent question: What is your take on Tanya’s art for your single Mohobbat Zindabad?
I feel like, we get engaged in hypocritical conversations about peace. The truth is you can’t serve Coke and Pepsi together but you’re talking about peace. We need to talk peace at a personal level. Her illustrations capture that requirement quite perfectly.
I personally love the song, Sabse peeche hum khade, and of course I bring it up. Ankur tells me a beautiful story about a friend’s driver who really related to the song when he moved to Bombay. As an immigrant in Bombay, he felt the lyrics were about his life.
“It is interesting how, in an enclosed space like a car, the driver can interpret the song and feel it so differently from the person sitting at the back, for whom it may mean something else altogether,” Ankur tells me.
By now our coffees are over and I have run out of questions. We leave with Ankur gallantly paying the bill. Old school and charming, I think.
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