In the thirty odd years that he has breathed on the face of the earth, he has lived in music, grown into it, and transformed his identity into one that is inseparably intertwined with music. Naresh Kamath, of the popular Indian band ‘Kailasa’, is a person who, apart from being one of the engenderers of the band, has constantly struggled and been instrumental in escorting it to the insurmountable peak that ‘Kailasa’ now inhabits. His smiling young face doesn’t betray even a bit of the musical genius that he is. Just back from their US tour, the ecstasy is evident on his face. This time, the band played on their own – not in collaboration with any other artist - and in Naresh’s words, the experience was nothing short of “amazing”.
Speaking about his “amazing” experience, the musician narrates, “In America, people are very Bollywood-oriented. People usually come and ask, ‘Female singer kaun hain?’ (Who’s the female singer?). We’d just released a new album; we were dying to play the songs to people. We were really surprised to see that a lot of Pakistanis knew our songs by heart, it was wonderful to learn the fact that they’d actually taken the trouble to search for our songs on the internet and the like.
“People hear the songs – that’s more than enough. And if you make some money out of it, nothing like it!” he laughs.
The success of ‘Rangeele’ and the joy of tasting success peep out through his smiling face. The entire experience, he says, was “great”. “Earlier when we’ve done albums, Kailash (Kher) would come up with the germ of the song and the lyrics, and then we would add music to it and shape it into a song. But with this album, it was different. We were looking at doing something else, something not drastically different, but different from our usual style. Kailash would come up with a bit of the mukhda, and I’d make the antara – and the song was right there! The songs are a mix of his songs, our songs and so on. Actually, if you hear it a bit closely, you’ll find that there are differences in the parts that he’s sung and the parts that I’ve sung. There are a lot of compositional ideas that have been collaborated into this album as compared to the other ones.”
The motley of musical instruments that one usually hears in the songs of ‘Rangeele’, and Kailasa’s other albums as well, is a result of their constant endeavour to do something different, something that would appear distinct and unique. And if one listens to the songs of the band, one would know that Naresh isn’t exaggerating even an iota of what the truth is. The song ‘Tu kya jaane’ from their latest album, for example, is a glowing testimony to the eclectic mix of genres and musical instruments that the band has used. Listening to the song is an experience in itself. The same holds true for ‘Daaro na rang’ as well. A song which initially sounds like a folk song, deep and melancholic as it begins, has a tanpura playing in the background, and then the electric guitars and drumbeats emerge stronger – the medley of the west and the east is portrayed brilliantly in the song. And a considerable part of the credit goes to Naresh. Goes without saying, these two are among the musician’s favourite numbers from ‘Rangeele’, however, he laughs and adds that his favourite numbers from the album are in a continual flux!
“We wanted to keep it more contemporary, but maintain the rustic flavour too. The latter wasn’t much of an issue because of the fact that Kailash’s voice provides the rustic, rural charm. When we came out with our first album, ‘Kailasa’, the voice was new, the quality was different. Coming to our fourth album, we thought that the same kind of music wouldn’t work. We ourselves would become stagnant if we didn’t do something else. Also, we need to keep it interesting for ourselves. So we tried to go a bit more international, and incorporated western orchestration into the songs. And I think it worked out really well,” Kamath says.
The thing that has been on the minds of Kailasa for some time now is that they need to go global. Says Naresh, “Indians know us, the Asian market knows us. The idea behind throwing in a dash of western music was the fact that we want to proliferate into the west now. To be able to make a non-Indian audience get to know our songs, we need to go there and perform for them. Language is a big barrier. But collaboration with other western artistes is also on our mind. That’s our next step – spreading ourselves.”
Naresh laments the lack of space that independent musicians are granted on air these days. The gradual permeation of Bollywood and song from movies into television has resulted in eroding the ground that independent musicians and bands earlier enjoyed. He rues the fact that airtime on television has dwindled to reflect the sheer monetary capabilities of a piece of art.
While an independent music group might find it difficult to pay up a dizzying 35 lakhs for a week’s worth of promotions, for films it is a nominal amount. Hence the consequence – apart from Bollywood, nothing else appears on television these days. The two fields are incommensurate, and competition with big-budgeted films is simply an impossible task. Also, the fact that Bollywood has consumed every genre of music and decked itself up with them, leaves no room for other music to flourish. Instead of a healthy symbiotic relationship, Naresh is afraid that they might just turn extinct some day. But he hopes that he always have listeners for his kind of music.
Talking about how he roped in Selva Ganesh, the famous ganjira player, and made him work in collaboration with them, Naresh says, “He’s been a friend for a long time, and his potential was always in my subconscious. When ‘Rangeele’ was in its incipient stage, I decided that we could not leave the immense potential of Selva Ganesh untapped. He was kind enough to give us his time, and it’s been amazing to have him in our songs – it was a different experience for us altogether.”
Naresh Kamath, along with brother Paresh Kamath and a few other members of Kailasa, is a part of another famous band – Hipnotribe. On asking him how he managed to steer through all of the responsibilities that he has so willingly shouldered, pat comes his reply: “You have so much of music in you – what do you do! We need to channelise the different kinds of music through different outlets. Kailasa is one part of us, there are other things that need to be considered – I compose music for commercials, I’ve been trying to branch out into music direction, too. And yes, Kailasa is a part of my being.”
On asking him whether being a veteran member of the band makes him throw his weight around at times, he laughs out and adds, “Not at all. In fact, many a time I need to bear other people’s weight – I’m pretty accommodating!”
“I don’t know for Paresh – I think he throws his weight around!” the musician says with a wink.
For youngsters who would want to walk on the way that musicians like Naresh have paved, he emphasises on the word ‘practice’ – so much so, that every youngster should be able to imbibe the word like a mantra. In his case, he says, he wasn’t much good at anything else. “I wasn’t great at other things. I had the aptitude to take up music because it came very naturally to me. I could pursue it deep because I could connect to it very easily. There are a lot of other people who look at music as an escape. They might not be as good at it... one has to really go deep into music if they wish to take it up as a career. If you have talent, then practice. Explore music to the fullest, go whole hog into it, be true to yourself.”
Practice, hard work and talent never go unrecognised. Naresh Kamath is a living reminder of that fact. Despite being a consummate musician, he is one who constantly seeks to learn more. The fact that he is so anchored to his roots and to his love for music is what justifies his enviable stature as a musician. Greatness, as they say, lies in being humble. And Naresh Kamath is a juxtaposition of just the right amounts of humility and greatness.