It was lockdown-induced boredom that led Shreya Ghoshal to write, compose and sing an original song. Angana Morey is a blend of electronica and Indian classical, which the prolific playback singer says “is her zone”. Angana Morey has been produced by her brother Soumyadeep Ghoshal, who also played the guitars on the track.
In an interview with Scroll.in, Shreya Ghoshal discussed the song, her career, and the who’s who of Indian film composers with whom she worked for over 20 years.
How did ‘Angana Morey’ happen?
With fewer film projects and not much inspiring happening, this idea came from nowhere, and I sat down in my balcony and wrote it. Raag-based stuff is what I like, but I did not want to be overbearing. I wanted to fuse the different genres I listen to. I wanted the song to build up like a mystery and end in a trance.
Sometimes the word fusion can be scary. Soumyadeep took care of the arrangement and did not make it harsh.
The song was made entirely online. Nitin Mitta on tabla joined us from New York. The Budapest Symphony Orchestra joined us. My brother worked on it and shot for the video from California.
How does creating a song remotely versus in a studio affect the final product?
In the studio, the feedback bouncing is instant. Things happen within hours, but now take up days. Now, in Covid times, we are figuring out new ways to work. It helps if the musicians you are working with are intelligent.
Did you always want to be an independent singer-songwriter?
I never have ambitions. I go with the flow. If I like something, I do it.
A song like Angana Morey comes naturally to me. If I were to make a dance track, it would need quirky wording and a commercial way to think, which would require a professional lyricist with a literary background.
All singers are part-composers. So many changes happen at the mic. In Barso Re from Guru, the vocal inflections were improvised by me, which Rahman sir kept. But I have no ambition to be a full-time composer-lyricist.
How would you explain the very tangible change in your vocal texture over the years?
I was 16 when I sang for Devdas. I had a girl’s voice then, and I couldn’t sing for Madhuri Dixit. But I can now. I have the voice of a woman, not a teenybopper. It’s a mix of age and experience, learning from seniors, contemporaries, and composers.
For example, how Lata Mangeshkar would sound different in a Laxmikant-Pyarelal song, an RD Burman song, a Salil Chowdhury song, a Madan Mohan song. She would imbibe the composer’s soul and add 100% extra to it. Where to sing louder, where softer, where the voice should be warm, and where airy, playing with tempo, expression, pronunciation, which most people ignore now, how to end lines – these are techniques that matter.
You have what is traditionally called a sweet voice, as well as a sweet face. Has that helped your career?
It would be unfair to say looks don’t matter. You listen to someone’s voice, you imagine how they look, you put together the face and the voice, and you feel love for their personality, you want to know how they talk, what are their views.
My mantra is don’t calculate, go with the flow. If you calculate your moves in life, people will catch it and immediately disconnect.
My belief system never changed. I am the same person who grew up in a government colony and learned music with discipline. I don’t have materialistic goals. I never put much thought into my presentability. I understand pop stars, who put themselves out there all the time, because all of it is very image-based. But India likes real people who are like them. And I am like everyone, not special.
Wikipedia says you are a bookworm.
I was, but now it’s a lie. I used to read every book by Amitav Ghosh and Jhumpa Lahiri at one point. Now I read more tweets than books.
What was a low point in your career?
2013, when a fight popped up within the industry over royalty and rights between singers, composers, and producers. I felt unnerved from the conflict. People I genuinely thought I knew were thinking differently. Hidden emotions were coming out. A lot of mediocrity started creeping in and the industry changed for more bad than good.
I tried to shut off that part of me, as I can’t handle stress. I am a very protected child. I shut myself off, mom would make khichdi. These things disturb me, but for a day, not long-term.
What makes the following composers with whom you have worked unique, starting with AR Rahman?
He is always open to ideas, but he also knows exactly what he wants. You may think of the song in one way, but he can see the final product from the beginning. His mukhra, antara are disconnected, four bars move a certain way, next two are different, there are Indian parts, and suddenly Western rhythm elements come in. He is a magician.
One of the most commercial composers, knows his audience, knows what will work, but is also melodious.
Very distinct sound. They understand the audience’s pulse but also take risks.
All soul, rustic, his music has mitti ki khusboo. He respects all things retro. His production is just as warm and acoustic.
Very unpredictable. How the first line will take turns and cross into the hookline, you never know. It all comes from Shankarji’s intelligent mind.
His tunes are folkish but his approach is rock. His arrangements are sparse and never crowded.
Like mature old wine or whisky. He never trivialises any moment or thought in his song.
Comes from the Laxmikant-Pyarelal school of music. Great commercial sense, which explains Tere Naam, but also Balma [Khiladi 786], which I sang.
One of my most favourite composers. It’s sad Hindi film fans don’t know much of him. His songs are deep and melodious. He says he is inspired by this or that composer, but I can never see the connection. One of the nicest, most humble and emotional persons.
My songs in Jism aside, his Awarapan Banjarapan can make me cry any day. Listening to his music is like listening to a Madan Mohan ghazal.
These boys are always experimental, keeping it young and funky, trying to explore different side of my vocals.
I am lucky he has so much affection for me and calls me for most of his projects. He is a god. Introducing Western symphonies and jazz to Indian film music and make it our own isn’t easy.
Your most underrated songs?
Naam Ada Likhna from Yahaan, Jaane Do Na from Cheeni Kum, and Rozana from Naam Shabana.