Anglo-Asian film song writing team
To walk the unshackled road
In music circles East has met West on many an occasion. From George Harrison and Ravi Shankar to The Pussycat Dolls and A.R. Rahman, it's nothing new! So what have 3 musicians in Bristol got to offer the world.? Well, the biggest surprise for us was how incredibly difficult the said 'meeting' was and how we want to share that story. It was only at the end of the process were we able to appreciate the journey. If you haven't looked it up already 'Zanjeer' translates to 'Chains' and that's how we 'affectionately' realised how our individual cultural musical leanings had seductively enveloped us.
The first couple of sessions were 'polite', we were treading carefully, but something wasn't quite right. Why wasn't it gelling? Well, it turns out western scales are completely different to eastern scales. Not only that, they're called ragas and they change depending on whether you're moving up or down the raga!!! Mr 'west' was doing what he had always done 'cos there's only a standard handful of chords you use in any given key. Mr East wasn't even worrying about chords, 'cos he doesn't heavily rely on them. The startling realisation we eventually came to, is that we had become highly conditioned and very much set in our ways. Shackled. We needed to free our minds. What was great, if we chose to accept the challenge, was we could forget everything we had learned and simply start all over again. Moreover we could actually create a new language.
Lo and behold 'Sus 2 Flatten 13th' chords were born having never graced the neck of Mr West's guitar and Mr East was having to write and sing harmonies in English over chords that neither of them had heard of. Drum kits were now 5 separate sets of percussion and stringed instruments were mystical creatures to be admired from afar, once tamed!
The inaugural translations of our new musical understandings are showcased below along with a quick teaser for 'Lovers Of Life' and previous videos of Jason, Dildar and Jeevan's work.
To hear the fruitful joys
To listen with your eyes
To bring two worlds together
Q1 - What is the ‘Zanjeer’ Project ?
A - DILDAR
“The Zanjeer project is a group of three musicians myself, Jason and Jeevan who come from different areas of the music industry. The Project in essence is a song writing production team. I’ve always wanted to produce songs for (Bollywood). So with all our combined experience we can now produce media for film, TV and advertising industries. It was my dream to get UK based creativity out to India and South East Asia as well as to my local community and here in the UK music markets.”
A - JASON
“Well, yes it has certainly become what Dildar says now after collaborating for about 4 months. On day one I don’t think either of us had an end goal, accept to see what would happen if 2 seemingly different musical cultures got together to write something. So if anything, for me, it was another opportunity to spend an evening with another respected musician and to see if we could bang out a song.”
Q2 - How did the collaboration come about ?
A - DILDAR
“Jeevan happens to be son, so I’ve known him a few years! I met Jason through a music network called BMIN. It so happened that my brother, Judge, was giving a talk at BMIN about a collaboration project called Surtaal Symphony which brings together my band R.S.V.P, an orchestral composer a brass band plus a soprano soloist. At the end of the meeting I then approached Jason to see if he was up for doing something similar."
A - JASON
“As Dildar says, we had met through Bristol Music Industry Network and as far as I can recollect we probably knew of each other for at least 4 years. I know some musicians are terrified of collaboration for various reasons, but I can’t recommend it enough and Dildar must be at least the 50th or 60th musician I’ve written with. Within the BMIN group itself I had already collaborated with 3 or 4 people and Dildar, after 4 years, just came up to me and said, “So are we going to get together and do something?"
Q3 - How did you approach the writing process, did you fall into specific roles?
A - DILDAR
“Well as an Indian singer song writer, the process tends to start with lyrics that get presented with a melody which portrays a mood or theme. So the raag (scale) I would choose is important. If you have an idea for a song you also have a message (topic) and then start from the core, which is kind of hard if your writing team doesn’t have an idea as a starting point. As a singer I feel the emotion first and obviously took up this role. Jeevan has done loads of collaborative mainstream and world music productions with percussion as his main instrument so Jeevan took up this role. We didn’t really know the extent of the resources we had between us, but we’ve certainly got a much better idea of the roles we can take for the future."
A - JASON
“Quite often, as most of us do, I can fall quite quickly into a comfy position and just do what I’ve always done, which is to take more of a producer role, so I’ll ask, ‘what does the other person want to achieve?’, and I’ll work out how I can best help make it happen. Co-writer, arranger, lyrics, psychologist (in most cases!) - In this case there were no song ideas, no lyrics, a complete blank page. Dildar had brought along a Harmonium to my studio and I picked up an acoustic guitar and we just twiddled until something sounded like it was happening. There was no discussion about subject matter or end goals at this point, which is often the case."
Q4 - Could you pinpoint a moment when something interesting started to happen?
A - JASON
“I’ll have to say (and Dildar and Jeevan know this now) but I was getting slightly worried, as even after the second session we hadn’t really made much progress and neither of us could really work out why. We were experienced musicians, we knew our instruments, be it guitars or vocals or harmoniums but something wasn’t gelling. Dildar had come up with a melody and I had found some chords to go with it and we had put that down and then Jeevan was invited to come along a put some percussion down. All the elements were there but it wasn’t happening. It was at this point that Jeevan suggested we strip everything back and just start with the percussion and then sort of sat back and suggested that I should just do what I would normally do if I had to write something to a drum track. So, it was at this point, the 2 of them sat back (arms almost folded!) and under a fair bit of self imposed pressure I picked up a bass and played along with the percussion hoping that I could come up with something! What I hadn’t heard before was how tuned the tablas and dholaks were, I could instantly hear notes and melodies within the percussion. So coming up with a bass line or riff seemed easy as I was instantly guided by the rhythm. I then added some guitar licks on top and something started happening at this point. So, we then built a completely new song and then we hit the next wall…Western keys vs Asian ragas…I’ll let Dildar explain that!"
A - DILDAR
“After doing the first track “Time for a new beginning” with Jason and working alongside another talented artist Leiza Alpass, we were just getting familiar with each other’s work ethic and mannerisms. I then thought I could stretch this and wanted to do a Bollywood song in English but based on a raag. As Jason suggested, this started to highlight the really big cultural differences to things like scales and keys. Basically an Indian raag doesn’t match any Western scale. But trying to overcome that became a great turning point. Young people have such a great new and fresh outlook on things so the structures and arrangements changed when Jeevan came in and laid rhythms and also struck up a good relationship with Jason, this was when more magic started. On reflection, creating songs all in English from scratch was something I was not really familiar with, but the collaboration was pushing me. That’s when we created ‘Lovers of life’ which is broadly based on raag (Bherav) and you hear this in the beginning of the song along with a key message in Punjabi. In Indian Punjabi cultures and society reflects its principles and values in its proverbs as many cultures do globally so I made sure that key phrases from both our cultures were reflected “soh garreh soh parrdeh” one will reap what you sow and “Thurrthi Maah” mother earth, which are also both spoken or sung in English in the chorus as well."
Q5 - Was there anything new you learned through the process?
A - DILDAR
“Jason and me are two very different characters with very different complimentary skills and Jeevan is from a younger generation too with a huge amount to bring to the project. We realised we shouldn’t be to precious about what and we did and how we approached the music making. It was just a case of accepting that we are learning as we go along. And as the project name, Zanjeer, meaning ‘Chained’ became most appropriate, we should just start to unshackle the preconceived notions we had and free our minds in order to deliver what simply sounds good to our ears in that moment and whether the lyrics ring true and the combination stands good within our personal values and philosophies."
A - JASON
“So because of this clash of cultural music upbringing and somewhat conditioning, we could finally recognise what was or wasn’t gelling in the initial sessions. I had my pre-conceived ideas of what chords would suit a certain key once I could recognise a key that Dildar might be singing a melody in, but he wasn’t singing in any key or at least a set of notes that fitted any scale I had heard of. No wonder it wasn’t gelling. We had to come to an agreement to either force each others way of how music works on each other or abandon everything we knew and, not exactly compromise, but go with the way the music was going. If Dildar sang a note that, to my ears, didn’t fit the usual chord I would normally play then I just had to find one that worked. If the music suggested that Dildar slightly change a note in the particular raga he was using, then he just did it. Some changes sounded really odd to begin with but eventually they were the bits that really defined the song. The learning for me was therefore, ‘just let go’, unshackle your relative musical knowledge or even heritage."
Q6 - How did the process then develop over the next few song ideas?
A - DILDAR
“Having got one track done and building a better understanding of the creative process between us, we started to move things a little faster as our confidence grew. The 'Lovers of life' track really came to life when we got Jeevan and Ravi to put traditional instruments on the track and we felt we had the ability and confidence in one another to produce something truly authentic yet creative and innovative. At that point I remember saying it doesn’t matter what we do and whatever comes out of the studio will simply be reflective of us three and the Zanjeer project was born."
A - JASON
“It was certainly a lot easier that’s for sure, but more over for me, it was more interesting and exciting as whatever was going to happen it was going to be something that I had never done before. I knew that I was going to have to find musical solutions that I couldn’t just grab out of my standard bag of tricks. On ‘Lovers of life’ for instance the raga that Dildar was building the melody on had 2 specific notes that just threw me, but forced me to find a chord I’d never played before let alone even knew existed (C#sus2 b13 for those Jazzers out there!) and then go to a D and Bm in the chorus in the Key of C# which just wasn’t in my vocabulary…it is now! We also decided to mix it up by brining in Leiza to sing some lines and harmonies and also sing in Punjabi, another learning curve for everyone involved. Jeevan invited Ravi, a Sarangi player, to also improvise over the tracks, again just to see what would happen."
Q7 - How did you both start out in the music industry?
A - DILDAR
“I started singing very young at the age of about 7 and started in a local Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). The Asian community was very small so I sang at small community gatherings. By the time I was 16 and along with an older community and family members I joined a group called Dilkush, throughout mid 70s to early 80s. Had a break after a few years to focus on family and started a completely new band in 1985 with a local studio engineer Chris Horn and R.S.V.P. Bhangra Band was born. In those days R.S.V.P. was using cutting edge technology like sequencers and samplers just as top acts like FRESHBLOOD did in those days. Word got around and our second ever gig was performing at WOMAD. We went on to build a reputation as a musical entertainment act and went on to continue in a fully live music act with a few changes in the line-up. As a band we undertook music assignments for film, TV, radio,theatre and lots of collaborative partnerships projects. I have travelled extensively with R.S.V.P. UK, Italy, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and have even taken a song to Mumbai (Bollywood India). The R.S.V.P. Bhangra band and its musicians have won award and accolades for best band, best singer, best live performing musician and have been nominated for local regional and national awards."
A - JASON
“Musically I started back in 1992-ish with writing score for a few corporates and every now and then for the likes of BBC, Discovery, TLC and Granada Wild. I got the opportunity to do my first film score in 1996 which also led to soundtrack album working with an orchestra all recorded in Christchurch studios here in Bristol. There was a period in my life where I was in an African Drumming Team building business which somehow led to co-writing a musical which really made me pursue the craft of songwriting and writing with and for as many people as I could. I had a lucky break with winning the rock category of the UK songwriting competition back in 2011 which led to a few things and persuaded me to keep at it. Since then I’ve had the great joy of setting up something called ‘The Song Diner’ which a group of writers writing for Film, TV and Advertising industries. I have also had the privilege of being involved in a musical development agency as well as mentoring a few budding musicians over the years."
Q8 - What makes this project different?
A - DILDAR
"R.S.V.P. in essence is a fusion band, but I feel this project is that one step further and it’s not a ‘band’, it’s a writing team. All three partners wanted to push the boundaries to see if we could come up with something to promote diversity and difference as well as all the things we have in common. Plus the fact that we hope we can appeal to both India and South East Asia as well as local and domestic UK music markets."
A - JASON
“I appreciate that ‘East meets West’ fusion is nothing new. From George Harrison and Ravi Shankar to The Pussycat Dolls and A.R. Rahman, so I don't want to suggest we’re breaking new ground. However, we have had feedback from a well respected producer in this field who said the combination is more fused than he’s heard before. It’s not as deliberate as taking a western pop song and crowbarring a sitar in the chorus. So that was encouraging. And because I’m quite passionate about the benefits of collaboration I’d like to think this project can act as inspiration to get other musicians and writers to think about collaborating as well as opening themselves up to throwing away their own ‘rule book’."
Q9 - What’s the vision for the future of Zanjeer ?
A - DILDAR
“From my perspective I love the creative process and want to continue working in the music industry. I love song writing and will continue to stretch my own boundaries within this partnership. I am looking forward to finding opportunities in film and tv and synch. I will continue to perform with R.S.V.P. Bhangra and also would like to guest perform with other musicians. Another route would be the ability to share the learning from this collaboration with other musicians through workshops and we have been given the chance to tell our story at the next BMIN meeting in September."
A - JASON
"Personally I’d like to experiment more, get into that unknown zone again to see if other surprising things happen. I think we’re going to get what we’ve done so far in front of some independent filmmakers to get their feedback and to see if they can be synched or even if some artists would be interested in collaborating."
Q10 - When can we actually hear, see or find out more about the music?
A - DILDAR
“Our initial taster tracks on www.thesongdiner.co.uk/zanjeer where you can also watch some other videos of RSVP and other Song Diner collaborations."