Sanjay Divecha — the acclaimed guitarist/composer whose musical career spans over three decades — is back with a new album. Launched in Mumbai on 4 August, Sanjay Divecha and the Secret mixes a global sound with Indian classical and folk music.
Divecha graduated from the Guitar Institute of Technology, Los Angeles, in 1989. He then spent over 15 years in LA, playing with iconic artists like Angelique Kidjo and Carlos Santana.
While his years in LA deepened his knowledge of genres like jazz, Brazilian, African, R&B and gospel music, from 2003 onwards, when he returned to India, he also continued to explore Carnatic and Hindustani music.
Divecha took some time off after the release of his album to chat with Firstpost about his music.
Why the title Sanjay Divecha and the Secret for this album?
Secret is the name of the band — comprising Chandana Bala and Raman Mahadevan on vocals, Sonu Sangameswaran on bass and Sanket Naik on percussion. Although I am the primary composer and arranger of the music, it's really a collective effort. Hence, Sanjay Divecha and the Secret.
Your previous album came out in 2007. Why such a long gap between albums?
Soon after my previous album — Full Circle — I got busy with various other musical projects. About four years ago, I started to hear an acoustic, organic sound in my head. I then went about forming the band and started the process of writing and arranging the music. It was definitely one of the most challenging projects I had undertaken both as an arranger and as a guitar player. The process of recording and mixing alone took close to three years.
What has been your greatest challenge in creating the various tracks in this album?
There are so many different influences. Firstly, the great Indian classical (both Hindustani and Carnatic) and folk. Along with this all my other global influences from blues to jazz to Africa to Brazil are part of this album. Making all of these sound cohesive was the biggest challenge. When I am mixing so many influences, the biggest challenge I face is to make it sound cohesive. I think I have been able to achieve it very well on ‘Ota’ which is heavily influenced by the music of West Africa, with flavours of Indian classical music.
Fusion has become a part of almost every artist's music these days. What sort of fusion is part of this album?
It’s not jazz, as one would expect from me because I am identified more with the genre.
Rather, it’s the Kannada song ‘Ota’, sung in its pure form by Chandana but accompanied by a global guitar and percussion sound.
Seven tracks follow. Barring the instrumental ‘Secret’, all have vocals, in languages as diverse as Sanskrit, Hindi, Malayalam, Oriya and Assamese.
I trained in sitar for five years. Later, I switched to rock and folk music. When I went to learn guitar in Los Angeles, I was exposed to jazz, Latin music and the blues. I have always loved jazz, mainly for its scope for improvisation, but I always came back to Indian music, both Hindustani and Carnatic, which is presented in this album.
For you as a musician, is composing more satisfying than writing?
I don't write lyrics, so composing melodies, chords and song structures is what I do. I then usually collaborate with a lyricist to complete the song.
Tell us about your experience with the Hindi film industry and the music scene in Bollywood.
I live in Mumbai and am part of the music community here — both the indie scene and the Bollywood industry. Although I have done some composition and arranging for the industry, I usually end up working as a session guitar player for other music composers. For my musical vision, though I find it limiting. Hence, I feel fortunate that I can dedicate time to composing my own expression.
What needs to be done to tap exceptional talent in our country as far as music is concerned?
Contemporary Western music is a relatively new concept in our culture, especially when it comes to music education. That's changing slowly with some new music schools. It's necessary for musicians to be well trained and develop good skills. Secondly, we need platforms that can give musicians a chance to showcase their talent. We need to develop a culture that would support live music. That would bring young talent to the fore.