“I believe competitions are for horses and not for artistes.” -- Jubin Nautiyal
His voice is not only melodious, but also extremely soulful. Josh Chakraborty meets singer JUBIN NAUTYAL, and comes back feeling utter respect for this musician and his love for music.
He had a familiar face, but I wouldn’t know, as I had only heard his voice - a voice filled with originality and personality of the truly humble. The struggles of his career brought him to a path where he is grateful, appreciative, focused and ready for his journey ahead. Sitting at a crowded Starbucks, I wanted to hear nothing but his story. This is what he has to say. Presenting singer par excellence Jubin Nautiyal, unplugged!
How does it feel to make it big and get out of the struggle?
My journey has been very interesting and eventful. Actually, the day I stop to believe, the day I stop to understand what’s happening around me… I think that would be the time I’ll be truly be able to answer this question. …So much is moving, so much is happening in my life… that I am still trying to understand my journey. I came to Mumbai six to seven years back and for the past five years, I have been on the run. I’ve been blessed with a crazy career graph where I am getting to sing the biggest songs and work with the biggest
actors. And coming from a small town that is too much to take. It is too much to observe. So I am not really thinking about how big I’ve become, I am just focusing on my next song because that’s what I know I have to do.
Being a person whose career revolves around Bollywood, do you personally listen to Bollywood music or any other genre in particular?
Although I am working for Bollywood right now, I am a musician before that. Being a musician, I listen to all kinds of music. I listen to Spanish music, African percussion music, opera music from Germany and all the folks stuff. I am from a tribal region - a small place called Jaunsar Bawar - I listen to the folk music from there and the regions around it. Every music has its own essence. It’s like languages, you learn three and the fourth one is easy to catch. So yes, I listen to a lot of music.
How was the experience of meeting your idol A.R. Rahman? Do you think that you would be somewhere else without his advice?
Rahman saab has, without even saying, taught me a lot. I’ve been like Eklavya for him. I’ve observed his work from a distance and I’ve read his interviews, I’ve taken his advice. He is a man of very few words, but those few words that he speaks hold the depth of an ocean. I think he is somebody who has really taken Indian music International and made it really big. It’s not something many people have done in their careers and that is commendable. I met him as a teenager and I was definitely nervous and very scared. The moment I played my music in front of him, the first thing he told me was, ‘Your third string is un-tuned son’ and that kind of broke me, broke everything for me (laughs)... And he figured that out. So he heard my voice very carefully. And he told me, ‘You must be 17 or 18 right now, you have a very different tone, voice and that is God’s gift and I think you should give yourself some more time, your voice and vocal chords are still developing, you need to mature by the time you are 21. Don’t let Mumbai or anybody else’s style affect you. Stay original to your sound because you have it. That was the big moment when I decided to leave Mumbai, I started travelling for music. I would go to Banaras to learn semi-classical stuff, I would go to Swarnabhoomi Academy of music to learn some ensembles of Western and classical music. I would go to London to learn how progressive rock music really happens and infuse it with our language. It’s basically been a crazy journey and i am still learning and exploring every single day. But yes, that one meeting did create an impact on me and after meeting him, I decided that he is a musical scientist and if he is saying something, I MUST DO IT! So I finished my first year in college and left for my musical journey. So definitely if I had stayed back, maybe I would not sound the way I do now and maybe things wouldn’t work the way they do. But then again, that’s what journeys are about!
You had done a reality show called XFactor, but now you are way beyond it given your breakthrough, after your struggles, do you think you have gone above the X-Factor level? I just cleared one round in that reality show and then I figured that reality shows were not
for me, as I am not a struggler. It made me realize that I would have to struggle to be there, to be a part of this show. But I was never a struggler. I am somebody who enjoys music and I respect different styles, I’m not trying to copy somebody or sing like someone else. Definitely X-Factor was my first reality show but that was not my platform. So after the first round, I called it quits. Coming from a small town, I had too much love around me and everybody had too much to give me. Chota bhi tha umar mein, toh hawa mein udne lag gaya tha. So I started thinking of myself as the rockstar of the town. When I went there, I realized that I was like a particle of dust in this world – and there were thousands of singers who sang so much better. So that really gave me a big push and I felt that if I wanted to make it, I would have to take this stuff seriously.
Where do you get your inspiration for the songs you write?
I personally like that expressive music zone, dance music is not that expressive. You have to sing them in the right mood. But when it comes to a romantic or sad song, you have to really express every word and feel every emotion. And I think being a serious musician, that’s the kind of shit I want to do. I would want to do something difficult or challenging. Romantic or sad songs, I would say ‘the journey’ songs are very difficult genres of music because getting the emotion right is the only way to crack the song. I get my inspiration from my family, my mom and dad - they don’t belong from a musical family or belong to this line of work. But my dad introduced me to Kishore Da, Rafi saab, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan saab. Listening to these people refined my taste in music as I was listening to good music. So it was my parents, who introduced me to the right kind of sounds at a very young age. Today, I am 28, I think I’ve been in love and had my heart broken along with it over and over again. So by the time you are this old, you have plenty of things to say when it comes to music. So whenever I am singing a song I am relating to it as much as the composer relates to it. That is why I am probably choosy with my work. If I am not able to relate to the song, I won’t do it and I don’t find too many songs that I relate to.
Can you speak of the songs you are currently working on?
I am working on this crazy song, it’s a tribute. I am a very big Kishore da fan. Bachpan se unke awaj sunkarke aise mukkam pe pocha diya bhagvan ne. So the next song you are going to hear is Keh Doon Tumhe’ in my voice. It’s an old classic, superb number. And I will pay a beautiful tribute to Kishore Da. Besides this, I am also working on some interesting collaborations.
What is the most prestigious event you would like to be a part of?
When I started off with my music, even if I was not as big as I am today, I would still be making music,
sitting in some small club and still playing on the guitar because that’s the way of life for me. When I got into this line of work I did not think ‘this is where I want to reach’ because I think I would restrict myself by putting those barriers in my head. So it’s one day at a time – so I’ve just completed my previous song and that’s how I feel.
Which hero would you want to work with?
I’m a romantic voice definitely. King of romance Shah Rukh Khan would be a very good face for a voice of mine. If I get to work with Shah Rukh bhai, it would be a big privilege for me. Who doesn’t want to work with Shah Rukh Khan?
Which actress would you sing a love ballad for and why?
Aishwarya Rai. Because I’ve worked with her. And she’s the only actress I’ve really interacted with and I really like her energy. Besides her, I would actually like to sing a love ballad for Shraddha Kapoor because she is a singer as well, she’s a brilliant actor and I’ve met her. I like her. She has a good energy and there’s a musician in her.
It is indeed a competitive industry, what would you say your stand out element is?
My stand out element is that I believe competitions are for horses and not for artistes. I think artistes should get along very well and they should collaborate with, learn from and grow with each other as an industry. By competing, you just pull your opponents down. Healthy competition is definitely good. But when it comes to an artiste, I don’t even consider the word competition because different artistes come with different journeys and different journeys speak different music. Somebody’s journey comes out in that form of art and two journeys meet together to collaborate on a piece of art and that’s beautiful when that happens. Two different flavors get on the same plate, suddenly the meal becomes tastier. So I don’t think about competition, I’m just trying to work.
There was some issue with the song you had sung for Mohit Suri’s movie HalfGirlfriend. What was it about?
I had sung the song Baarish for the movie and they replaced my voice. I don’t know how much. Sometimes I hear the song and I can still hear my voice somewhere deep down. It was quite heart-breaking because I had worked a lot on that song and the music director was convinced, the whole team loved the song, they were calling it the driver song of the album. But I think the music company had some issues. I don’t really know what happened. I’m just an individual, I haven’t made it that big to question the record labels. This was one song that taught me that the industry is changing. So you got to change with it.
Which music director would you want to work with?
The list has gone smaller, I’ve almost worked with everybody. I’ve worked with Sachin Jigar, Amit Trivedi, Preetam Da, Rahman Saab. There’s two music directors I would want to work with - yet to work with - that’s Shankar Ehsaan Loy and Rahman saab.
If a director wants you to learn a regional language, how do you think it would go?
I can sing Bengali songs, it was the anthem called Let’s Dance Kolkata. I’m like a spring, the more you push me down, the more I rise above, and that’s part of my nature. This is something good for my career as the more I feel that this is something I can’t do, the more I want to do it. I think I’m up for challenges in every way.
Is there anything really close to your heart that you are working on?
There are only two things that are close to my heart - my guitar and my mom. But I am possessive about the album I am writing - I’ve written five albums. Although it’s not the time of albums, but I am going to wait for the time where I am in a position where I can put it out and release it, and I’m sure people will love the stuff I’ve written and made.
I had sung the song Baarish for the movie and they replaced my voice.”
Chota bhi tha umar mein, toh hawa mein udne lag gaya tha.”