Singer-songwriter Ankur Tewari explains the inspiration behind his new single Dhuaan Dhuaan
Ankur Tewari, indie singer-songwriter and the music supervisor of Gully Boy, discusses his new single, and the trend of remixes in Bollywood.
As Earth takes another trip around the sun and we step into a new decade, there is a dire need to address how our planet is dying a slow, painful death. There are reports of the Amazon rainforest burning, the ice caps melting and certain animal species on the brink of extinction. No one has been spared the consequences of human recklessness, including Delhi, where clean air is now a distant dream.
Singer-songwriter Ankur Tewari, inspired by the bleak point that the city has reached, recently wrote, composed, and sang ‘Dhuaan Dhuaan’ (released via JioSaavn’s label Artist Originals). Tewari paired his gentle, folksy sound with hard-hitting lyrics (Socha na tha aisi hogi, dhuaan dhuaan si zindagi) for this single.
While no artist is obligated to use their art for the world's benefit, Tewari has chosen otherwise. After all, every little effort counts.
The musician is also known for his work as music supervisor of Gully Boy, where he and director Zoya Akhtar brought Indian hip hop to the forefront. His upcoming projects include Sooni Taraporevala’s dance film Yeh Ballet and Ruchi Narain-directed Guilty.
Edited excerpts below.
Can you tell me more about your new single 'Dhuaan Dhuaan'? What led you to create it?
It started as a thought many months back in Delhi, when I was driving through the city. I was in a cab and the smog was so thick I couldn't see India Gate. It was really crazy for me. It almost felt it wasn't there. As if it's vanished. That (India Gate) almost defines Delhi. I felt that if such a permanent thing is going away, and we are temporary anyway... It all gave a feeling that we are all going to vanish because of the smog. That was the germ of a thought in my head. I figured that I have to write something at some point about this.
Asar Foundation called me and told me that they are doing a photo exhibition in Delhi. They wanted to make it exciting for people to come, and not let the event be just a photo exhibit. "So would you be interested in writing a song?" I said okay because the thought had been in my head.
That's when I started putting words on paper. This is a protest song from my side. Usually, I don't make it sound like a protest song. I try and create hummable melodies so that you end up accidentally singing them. When you're singing them, you concentrate on the words, and then you realise what the words are. That's what I usually end up doing for most of my protest songs. So I thought I'll take that approach.The idea that was in my head was to romanticise it in a strange way. It's almost "love in the times of climate crisis." So if this is five or six years from now, this is how lovers will be meeting.
I also read this Amitav Ghosh piece, where he spoke about how in today's day and age and songs, the references are changing. Earlier, people wrote about the wind and the stars. Now, slowly, those references are moving away because we are also moving away from nature. The references of nature are slowly vanishing from our literature, our poetry, and our songs. Usually, "dhuan dhuan" (the term) is seen in a very romanticised way. I thought, "Let me flip it", and unfortunately use it in a negative way.
Have you made any changes in your personal life to reduce your carbon footprint?
Yes, I sold my car. The main reason was that I couldn't find parking in Mumbai. Then I also thought, "What am I doing with this car?" That came as an afterthought, which became stronger over a period of time.
What impact do you expect your music to leave on listeners?
Musically, I know what I want to do. I want to tell stories and make milestones of my life. When I listen to a song, it immediately brings me back to a memory, time, and the person I was. You're constantly changing as a person. I wasn't who I was five years back but when I listen to a song I wrote 15 years ago, it takes me back to who I was. It takes me back to the stories that knits that song together. I want people to find their stories in my songs. I want them (songs) to outlive me. What you're trying to do when you write a song is that you try to encapsulate a feeling, and give it a physical form — whether it's a wave, a CD or a record. When people connect with that feeling, they discover their story in that, and they feel less lonely. If it (my music) can cure loneliness, it'd be amazing.
How do you think your sound has changed since you first started?
I'm mainly a songwriter, and then I put music to the songs. Now, over the years, I have met more people, more musicians, experimented more so I know a few more tricks than I did earlier. (I like) Collaborating and meeting new artists, especially younger artists.
You recently toured with your band The Ghalat Family. How was the experience?
It was quite exciting because for the first time I played so many shows across the country and that too, they were all ticketed. It felt really good that people were paying for an indie gig, so they were more interested in listening to the music as well. We ended up going to some really far out places, where I have not played ever.
What is your opinion on Bollywood music and return of the remix culture?
I love the idea of cover versions of songs. My favourite is Patti Smith's cover of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'. The first time I heard it, I was in tears. She really revived the soul of Kurt Cobain.
I like the idea of revisiting old songs but what I am against is the idea of the remix. Remixes are just about adding a beat, and not doing anything with the song. You're not really creatively exploring anything. If you talk about the idea? I love it. If you talk about how it's being done? I hate it because I feel there is so much scope. If you have to cover a song, you would bring your own (self) in it, and really make it in a way that it becomes interesting. That is not what I see happening. The reason why they are doing it is something I don't agree with. It's because if it (a song) was popular then, so if they copy-paste it here, it'll be a hit again. It's not really a tribute. I think we need to redefine (remix culture), and it increases the life of a song.
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