A Musical Conversation with Ehsaan: “Mirzya is a very, very special album” – Exclusive

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15oct_ehsaaninterview-07A tale of love, Mirzya, which hits theaters Friday, explores the tragic folktale of Mirza and Sahiban both in the world of folklore and in modern Rajasthan in 2016. The story, presented in a very unique way, weaves in and out of the love of Mirza-Sahiban of the folk tale and the characters of today. This ageless epic is directed by the BAFTA Awards nominee & 3-time National Award recipient Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and is brought to life in the words of famed poet and lyricist Dadasaheb Phalke recipient and Oscar winner – Gulzar. Introducing Harshvardhan Kapoor and Saiyami Kher, along with Anuj Chaudhary and Anjali Patil, this untold love story of estranged soul mates also stars Om Puri, Art Malik, and K. K. Raina.

In our recent interview, director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra revealed, among many other things, that this film is a musical. To create the music for his story of Mirzya, the director worked with the outstanding trio of Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy aka SEL.

If you read my music review for Mirzya (and I hope you did) you know that I absolutely loved it! So I was thrilled when Ehsaan agreed to talk with me about this incredible album. In our fabulous conversation, Ehsaan talked about how the many layered, full of sound, flavors and emotion music came together to become the special album that is Mirzya. Enjoy!

Creating the music of Mirzya

gulzarActually, you know what, he (Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra), did not really give us a strong brief in the traditional sense. He told us the story of the film and how Mirzya is based on old folklore that we have heard before like Romeo and Juliet, or in Hindi you have Laila and Majnu, Veer/Ranjha, which are all very, very famous love stories. This one is a similar love story based on folklore. About the songs he said, ‘Of course Gulzar-saab writes them and we will create songs and situations as we go because I really want to keep the music and the film, like a true musical.’

So it was just a process of jamming. You know, it is kind of crazy because only the director knows exactly what he is seeing. We didn’t really have any idea there is a song here, there is a song here and there is a song in that part. And you know, I was kind of confused: would one song be on the modern one, would one song be on the old one? But he said, ‘You just make the music and you leave that to me.’ The way the songs work out, it is [a musical] when you see it. The way it crosses, it crosses generations, it crosses time; it really is quite fantastic!

Sometimes we would just talk with Gulzar-saab and during that time he would just say some words and it would come out like Poetry – it was not supposed to be a song when he said it but it would become one. Like the song ‘Ek Nadi Thi’, we were just sitting there and we made it into a blues song. It was crazy. He said, ‘My God! You guys are crazy. I can even read out a newspaper and you guys will make it into a song.’ (Laughs)

You kind of have to make it into something…it is Gulzar, right?

Yes, yes! He is really fantastic!

So it was a completely different way of working…

Yes! You know, we have recorded 300 hours of music. There is so much music. We got all these singers from across the borders. We just recorded them and we recorded them on different songs. Just randomly, it was not like it was set that this one is only going sing this song, we just randomly recorded them. We used part of them here, part of them there, part of them on an alap before a song. And out came such a lovely and colorful album.

I think that is one of my most favorite things, is that you do have so many different singers.

Poster for the movie "Mirzya"The voices of Mirzya

The Sufi singer Sain Zahoor, he is brilliant.

You know, what is so incredible about him is that when Gulzar-saab was reading out the words to him, he saw Sain Zahoor writing something. He went and sat by his side and he saw that he was not writing, he can’t write. When you read out words to him, he draws pictures, almost like Hieroglyphics.   That is something that is uncanny. It is something I have never seen before, especially in this day and age. We have heard of hieroglyphics in the times of the Egyptians, but here? It is little pictures he draws in squares, like birds etc. Gulzar -saab couldn’t really understand because when he went behind the microphone he sang the words exactly what Gulzar-saab had written.

And with such passion and feeling.

Yeah, yeah – it is crazy.

I spoke to Mr. Mehra and he told me about the a folk singer from Baluchistan – who sings in Balochi – Akhtar Chinnal

He is somewhere else! The voice that he has got, it is just amazing. You know, Stacey, I always believe that singers from the Northwest frontier, including our own Punjabi singers….I don’t know how to describe it, but you can hear the mountains in their voice. You can hear that they are coming from the border of Afghanistan and Russia, and there is a bit of Indian in their voice, there is Arabic in their voice. It is such an exotic sound.

And he sang a song that you found out was a story much like Mirzya…

It was crazy! In the song ‘Hota Hai’ there is a rap kind of thing and apparently, because we could not understand what he said because he was talking in Balochi, he was talking about a similar love story that exists there. I thought that was so cool!

These people are amazing when you sit with them, you see years of wisdom, years of an ancient culture. The way they talk to you. The way they bless you. It’s fantastic. You feel a power from them.

There was also Mame Khan

mame-khanYes, Mame Khan is amazing singer. People paid attention to him after he did a couple episodes of Coke Studio. He even sang a song for us on a film called Luck By Chance. It was the song ‘Baawre’. If you listen to the soundtrack you will hear his voice on that song. It got attention, but not the attention that it required. Now he is in front and has sung on the album. He is fantastic. He is from Rajasthan.

Getting back to what I was saying before, I have to say that when you hear an African singer, you literally see the savannah. I truly do believe that. It is the way they sing and you can imagine you are in East Africa or Nigeria. You hear these guys singing out in the open and the voice belongs to that place and belongs to that environment. It is the same with all these guys. With Mame Khan, you can see Rajasthan when you hear his voice. It really is fantastic when you see the ethnicity of these singers and how the music is part of that ethnicity. It really is the way that it comes out when they sing. It really is fantastic. No urban singers sing like that, if you ask me.

I agree! It get’s into your soul.


The Nooran Sisters too

The Nooran sisters, they have gotten recognition of late. They are absolutely brilliant, both of them. The way that they sing together, the way that they feed of each other – it is really fantastic to see that kind of singing. We used them in 2-3 songs. We couldn’t make a choice of which one, so we said forget it, we are going to keep them in all the songs. (Laughs) They are just such good singers.

Daler MehndiOf course there is the brilliant Daler Mehndi

It was fantastic bringing him in because we were thinking about who would sing that title song and we couldn’t really come up with a voice. We tried these singers that came across from the border and they sang it, but it was not how we wanted it to sound. We did keep parts of them though. Then we thought let’s just get Daler Mehndi.

He came in and he was rehearsing very softly and muttering to himself. And then the next thing you know he went behind the mic and it was like a volcano exploded in the studio. He sang it so beautifully. And it was in just a couple of takes. After that he was just so emotional. He said this is such a lovely song! He was really, really thrilled with the song. It has kind of given him like a third life.  He is busy with his concerts and stuff like that but he has not had anything on the charts for a long time. I love to see that, to see musicians make it… well in this case not make it, in this case make a comeback. I love that.

We have to mention Kaushiki Chakrabortty…

She is the daughter of a very, very famous classical singer from Calcutta called Ajay Chakrabortty. You can research him and check him out on YouTube.  He is a fantastic classical singer and she has taken the tradition of his school of classical music forward. You know, that song (Kaaga) comes in at such a surprise. You have pure classical Indian with a completely Western classical musical backing. It is a very interesting combination of music.

In fact, a lot of people are saying this is our best album since Dil Chahta Hai, which I don’t believe but you know what I mean. It is a very special album.

More Musical Talk

We have to talk about the ‘Doli Re Doli’ song and the jazz infusion you put into that track

Yes! That was so interesting because when we first we did the song it was a traditional wedding song. Shankar dubbed it and he said you know we can’t keep it in this traditional wedding kind of way. This is the amazing part, the music happens because your director gives you this completely open hand. Rakeysh Mehra just says go for it – do whatever you want to do. So Loy said, let me try to play some Jazz piano and then he did this whole trumpet thing in the back and it worked.

That is Loy playing the piano on the track, only Loy plays the piano and the way he plays is really, really unique. He is the kind of player that he plays once and you can’t make him play the same thing again. He just won’t play. He is just such an improviser that each time it is something different.

Then I went to Chicago and I recorded the live trumpet there. There is this fantastic trumpet player called Victor Garcia, he is one of the top session players in Chicago. The thing is there is a familiarity for most Indians when you hear that song and you hear the trumpet playing because it is like a wind instrument, like a Shehnai, which is always played at weddings. But this is with a twist. Here is this guy and he is not playing anything that is traditional, he is playing Jazz lines, which was really, really, really fabulous. In fact, we have got 2 or 3 recordings of where he has really improvised. Taken it to the edge, but it was a little too out, to put on this song. (Laughs)

I want to hear that!

MIRZYA posterAlso, there is an old friend of mine in Chicago who plays percussion called Kalyan Pathak. He basically supervised the whole thing and he also played live drums on the tune. It was fantastic. That experience was so beautiful.

Then the instrumental, I am being totally honest it really did bring me to tears…

That song got its origin from the middle of the song ‘Teen Gawah’, which is the Siddharth Mahadevan song and the one which we have used that African choir. It is through that, that the theme came out. And basically we said let’s make it the complete theme for the film. When you see the film you will hear that all over the place.

So many great songs! There is ‘Aave Re Hitchki’

So Hitchki meaning hiccup right? In Indian tradition they always say when you hiccup somebody is remembering you. This is talking about that. Only Gulzar-saab can use a word like Hitchki in a love song. Who writes that in a love song? (You can hear the smile) I love that! It is sort of fantastic the way he wrote it and the way Shankar sung it. Even that has a twist to it… we added this guitar player named Neill Mukherjee who played on a song of ours called ‘Senorita’. He is a really fantastic Flamenco player. It was fantastic to hear him playing. It takes the song up to another level. That is really what the creative process is all about. Not being to fixed about what you want, but let somebody give their input and the song rises only higher!

You really took the world and put it in this very Indian movie, which is so cool!

Working with Mr. Mehra

Rakeysh Omprakesh MehraIt has been just a fantastic experience. Such a creative experience because a man who lets you be creative is a true way. He just lets us go for it. There are no borders – we just keep going. Eventually you reel it in after you have put all the ideas out there – after you say let’s try this, let’s try this. Next thing you know you have a song – you have an album. It happened the same way with Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. He just let us go for it. I mean who would want a hard rock song for a period film. It is very interesting working with him. He is a very cool guy, a very calm guy. That is the amazing part! There is not an inch of hyper energy in him. He is just so cool! It was a beautiful experience.

What he loves the most of the music of Mirzya

It is an album that I can truly call an eclectic album. I can literally and seriously use the word eclectic, because you have got a song like’ Ek Nadi Thi’, which is a blues tune. Anybody in America would hear that and know that it is the blues. ‘Doli Re Doli’ is Jazz. There are all kinds of stuff in the songs. It is multi-layered. And it is not done in a way that it is forced. The listening experience is a very smooth experience.

And the thing is in today’s age, where do albums sell? It is only singles right now. Somebody sings and it is a hit for 2-3 months and then it just disappears from the charts. The album Mirzya is number 2 on the iTunes Indian charts so that says something. It is a really fantastic thing to see.

Loy, and I got a message from Shankar the other day that said you don’t know how proud I am of us for this album. I said, ‘Yeah, man it is something to be proud of really.’ Mirzya is a very, very special album.

I would like to thank Ehsaan for the incredibly enjoyable conversation talking Mirzya, music and more. We have more from him, including a cool chat about the jam that is Rock On 2! Stay tuned!

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