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“Focus has to be always on the prize” Interview with Raghav Sachar : Retro Kolkata Exclusive

© Raghav Sachar
Raghav Sachar is one of the most versatile musicians in India. He started his journey to Bollywood music industry from Yash Raj Film’s Kabul Express. He carries the trend through his compositions. His songs occupies not only a huge place of our playlist but also a immense position in our hearts. He has composed songs for films such as "One Two three", and "Bittoo Boss" amongst many others. He also played numerous instruments in various Bollywood blockbuster films, such as, Salam Namaste, Parineeta, Dhoom, Kaal, Hum Tum, Yehaan, Black Friday, Kal Ho Na Ho, Don to name a few. He has played in over 150 films till date.

RK : First of all thanks a lot for accepting our invitation for an interview. it’s a great pleasure to have you as our Guest. Let’s start with the first question …When did you first gravitate to music? Who has been your greatest guide, support, and source of inspiration in music? Who’s been standing beside you through your ups and downs?

Raghav Sachar : Well I started at the age of 4 when I saw my father playing the harmonica, he was playing the song "Hai Apna Dil to Awara”. I went up to him and I asked him to give me the harmonica, when he gave it to me I played the same song back to him...., so that was the inception of me getting into music. Every birthday since then I got a musical instrument, I asked him to give which ever instrument that I wanted and I would not ask for anything else for a year. Of course, I would still ask from my mother and family members but with my dad, we had a deal! Till the age of 18, he kept gifting me instruments every year and after that I did my bachelors of music at “Monash University” in Australia where I picked up many more instruments. I would hear any song and play it back. The whole idea that I was able to play these instruments effortlessly one after the other gave me a lot of confidence and soon I was the child who gets called at every party to perform and entertain the guests. There have been multiple inspirations since I play multiple instruments, for example, for saxophones I had Charlie Parker and Kenny G for flute I had Jethro Tull a lot of RD Burman in compositions. Lots of Michael Jackson, Extreme, G&R, Dream Theatre, Billy Holiday etc. Different inspirations for different instruments and different styles of music, so I have grown with a lot of music around me.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : You have studied music in Monash Conservatory of Music, Melbourne and your music seems to be a very unique combination of Western and Indian. Do you follow or incorporate any particular singer’s style in your rendition? Who is your favourite international artiste and what quality attracts you to him/her?

Raghav Sachar : While I was at Monash, I met a lot of people and jammed with a lot of different musicians who played different instruments and styles of music. It has been a very interesting amalgamation of Indian and Western sounds as rightly put by you. I grew up in India, and was hearing a lot of Indian Bollywood music but my choice of instruments were all western. Different styles and different people that I have followed had their mark on my playing and composition style. This gives me a birds-eye perspective on choosing the right instruments and the right styles because the exposure at Monash was immense. I feel that I'm very capable in composing various styles of music and effectively putting the Indian touch for mass appeal. There is a lot of intelligence that you will find in the core of the compositions, chord progressions and rhythmic patterns, these are the areas that I concentrate while creating something new. When I'm composing, my plethora of instruments come in very handy and everything pretty much flows out of my system as far as western and Indian influences are concerned.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : What aspect of music interests you the most (singing / song-writing /music composing) and conversely, what interests you the least?

Raghav Sachar : I'm really blessed, the fact that I'm able to do so many different things keeps me on my toes. Usually my song creating process starts off as a Lyricist, then get into the composers shoes and create a melody around the lyrics. Then I get into arrangements and production of the track. Once the bed is laid down, I decide on live instrumentation, singing and then finally mixing and mastering the track. The song has its own journey as it's being made but I'm more or less able to hear the final product pretty much in my ears as soon as I start something new, this is great because I don't have to think where I need to take the song I already know how it will sound once I am done with it. Out of all the things if I have to select the most cumbersome and the longest process, it would be getting into production. Finding the right sounds that will be appreciated and liked by everyone and simultaneously complimenting the composition is a tedious process. The sound banks are so large that it takes a toll, but arrangement and music production its largely done by making the right choices of the sound. Having said that, overall this entire process is very satisfying because by the end when you hear the song and every independent instrument, it is clearly visible that all the effort has contributed so much to making the song sound the way it does in the end.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : You had released your first album "Raghav- For The First Time" in 2003. Listening back to the songs, do you wish you had done something differently? Or have you changed as a person and would change styles/lyrics now?

Raghav Sachar : "For the First Time" was a very special album for me and it holds great value for me. At that time when I had come into the industry, I was not doing anything as per anyone. I

wanted to do and perform as per what I wanted to showcase. I was never a singer at that time, if you see there is only one or maybe two songs sung by me, the rest of the songs are sung by other singers. It was largely an instrumental album. I really appreciate what I had done at that time and I would not change a thing. As time passes by and we do get swayed away by the industry and various other people trying to get different things out of you. Your performance style changes to incorporate all these demands. Music is suppose to be a pure expression and not a mix of various thoughts. Keeping it simple is the most difficult thing to do.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : Let’s talk a bit about your songwriting process. How does a song usually develop – do you first start with the lyrics, melody, chord progression, or something else?

Raghav Sachar : Very interesting questions and the answer to this completely depends on where the song idea is coming from. Around 90% of the times I like to compose on lyrics because they give me an area and feel to capture. For example if its a love song or thriller, it automatically puts you in the genre, otherwise you're in a vast sea of thoughts. A rare example was my song "Kabul Fiza" which was made as melody first. Largely, I compose on the piano and the guitar when I have lyrics in hand, but if there is a genre that I want to approach then it can be any instrument. For jazz or lounge compositions, I would use Saxophone.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : You play more than 33 musical instruments. Which one is your most favourite and which ones do you compose songs with?

Raghav Sachar : I now play 36 instruments, out of them I express myself best on the "Saxophone" and then the "Flute". I choose these two instruments primarily because they are the two instruments that I had done my majors in when I was doing composition and performance at Monash. "Saxophone" was my main instrument and "Flute" was my minor instrument hence my expertise and skill sets in these two instruments are the highest. However, for compositions, I prefer "Piano" or "Guitar".

© Raghav Sachar

RK : If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island, what musical item would you take with you and why?

Raghav Sachar : If I'm stuck on a deserted island I would defiantly want a guitar purely because it’s the easiest instrument to have to accompany your singing. I would definitely want one more instrument along with me, it could be either a flute or a sax.

RK : Looking at your career, you have made a spectacular debut as a Music Director for the film “Kabul Express”, by “Yash Raj Productions” in 2005. How it all happened? How was your experience and did anything surprise you about the overall process?

Raghav Sachar : My experience with "Yash Raj Films" was fabulous, the head of music at that time Mr.Vijay Kumar had called me because Yash Ji wanted to create an instrumental version of the songs of their film ”Sillsila”. I refused the offer as i didn’t want to recreate music at that time. As I was walking out of the door Mr.Vijay Kumar said, "Do you compose?" I said, "Yes, I compose for my albums". He said "Do you want to pitch for a film? we are doing an experimental film called "Kabul Express”. I met Kabir Khan who was also debuting and he showed me the trailer. I went back home and sat with my best friend Aditya Dhar who's now the director for the blockbuster "URI" and one of my oldest friends who wrote all the lyrics for my films and albums at that time. We sat down and we cracked "Kabul Fiza" within 2 hours, I recorded it and sent them the scratch the same day. One thing led to another and everything pretty much fell into place and instead of 1 song I composed 4 songs for Kabul Express.

© Raghav Sachar

RK :You have collaborated with leading Music Directors such as A.R. Rahman, Vishal Shekhar, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Salim Sulaiman and many more. Whom do you find the most impressive? What was it like to work with the living legend A.R. Rahman?

Raghav Sachar : Rahman sir and myself know each other for a long time. When I started my career, Shivamani who I use to perform with a lot introduced me to Rahman sir while he was visiting Mumbai. In 2005, I went to Chennai for a concert and I messaged Rahman sir that I'm in town, he took me on a tour of his studio, heard me play and loved it. In 2014 I performed with him in Chennai. The audience loved it. Then we did a few more tours. Performing with him has been amazing, he is one of the most unbelievable musicians and one of the most humble people that you'd work with. There is so much to learn from the genius. Besides him, working with everybody else like, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Salim-Sulaiman, Vishal Shekhar has been super fun. They are all friends, we've been literally contemporaries of each other and I've been performing for them and with them for years now and will continue to do so. They are all fabulous musicians and its a great opportunity for me to get out of my composer shoes and be an instrumentalist every now and then.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : You have worked with leading artists such as Sonu Nigam, Shreya Ghoshal, Sunidhi Chauhan, Kailash Kher, Sankar Mahadevan, Adnan Sami, Shubha Mudgal and many more. Who are some of your favourite artists and with whom did you enjoy most working with and why?

Raghav Sachar : I am a big fan of pretty much everybody that you have mentioned and that's the reason for me to work with them on multiple occasions. I enjoy everyones company. Sonu and Shreya are unbelievable, just seeing how effortlessly they can churn out the most complicated chops is always so inspiring. Sunidhi is a pal literally, so we guys are mostly joking around in the studio while we are recording, but she is a rock star. Shubha Ji is a senior artist, I respect her a lot. All of these singers are very dear friends, so we are never working, we are just bouncing ideas off each other to make the song a fabulous number from all standpoints.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : From ‘Kabul Express’ to ‘Rustom’, do you think your style has evolved and changed?

Raghav Sachar : I feel that I'm blessed because of the exposure I've got from playing multiple instruments, it has given me exposure to various forms of music. If you have heard my work from the beginning you'll see that there is a lot of variety that I've offered in the past and I'll continue to do so. The styles of music have always changed and will continue to change as the times are evolving but certain genres are evergreen for e.g. Ghazal, Qwali. If you work from your heart and you make a composition that'll 99% do well but if you work the opposite way that the song has to do well and now I have to compose it, it will always be shortchanged because you're putting it at a pedestal that it might not reach, so the orientation needs to be very simple.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : You have succeeded for decades in one of the most competitive creative industries. We don’t want your secrets but can you offer some hints at how you manage longevity?

Raghav Sachar : This industry is extremely competitive and it keeps changing on a very rapid basis, sustainability is the most difficult thing to do. If there is one thing I can advise to others would be that "Focus has to be always on the prize", in this case, its sustainability that is the most difficult thing to do, you can have a one-hit-wonder and you can be in and out of the industry very quickly but to be able to continuously keep trying to get music out is difficult. Discipline and following a routine is very important. Hard work never fails but luck comes and goes. Our industry is largely based on luck because almost everyone is working very hard to survive here.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : You were part of a band called Canzona. How do you look at the state of non-film music in India? Independent musicians and bands don’t get airtime on FM radio.

Raghav Sachar : "Canzona" was really good fun and a fabulous learning experience. However, I was clear that I always wanted to be a solo music director. Independent music has always struggled to survive alongside Bollywood. It did have a very short-lived glorious phase when Alisha Chinoy and Daler Mehndi were rocking the scene in the 90’s. This was also because

Bollywood music would sound very different from independent musical that time. Myself, SalimSulaiman, Adnan, Shankar Ehsaan Loy have been independent artists converted into Bollywood music directors and we have carried our sounds with us. That's the reason now when you hear Bollywood music and when you hear independent music it sounds the same. If independent music today would bloom it would change the entire music scene in India because there's so much talent in the indie scene which Bollywood is not seeing. Independent music is always about the artist and what the artist’s state of mind is. Bollywood music is largely about what the audience wants to hear, there is a huge difference in the orientation.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : Do you ever experience writer's block? I imagine this would be particularly annoying if you were in a collaboration situation. If you do, what do you do to get over?

Raghav Sachar : I'm not a very good lyricist and writer's block is something more common while writing lyrics but I would take this question into creating compositions. I sometimes do get stuck in compositions, the way I handle it is by getting away from it and approaching it again in some time because again its at the end of the day an organic process. Sometimes, I go for a swim to clear my mind and revisit the project upon my return. This rarely happens in collaborations because you are bouncing ideas off each other. When you get stuck the other person will say something which will turn on a light bulb in your head and you'll be able to ideate and move forward.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : Who are your favorite current songwriters or musicians? Can you turn our readers on to someone they may not have heard of yet?

Raghav Sachar : Currently, in Bollywood, I am a huge fan of Rahman sir's work. He does some phenomenal stuff in the south, so if you are hearing only Bollywood music from Rahman's sir catalogue then that's only 20% of the genius that you're hearing. I'm also a huge fan of the international music scene. I love this band called "Incognito" I'm a huge fan of funk and jazz- rock music. I like a lot of Maroon 5, Michael Buble some easy listening songs. Within the Indian scene, there are a lot of people who are doing some great work and there is a lot of fabulous music being made here.

© Raghav Sachar

RK : We (Retro Kolkata) are trying to build one single stage for all the artists because we believe that artists are the most beautiful creation of God and geographical boundaries can never break their unity and harmony. Please say something about our initiative and any special message for your followers.

Raghav Sachar : I'm overwhelmed by hearing this initiative and I agree that artists are chosen by God. Every day I come to the studio, I never find this to be work, I find this as entertainment. It has his own challenges and its extremely competitive but it gives immense pleasure and satisfaction and I would choose this over and over again for multiple lifetimes. Retro Kolkata should be applauded for their initiative and you guys should probably do a concert and get all artists together and spread the word. Best wishes…


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