Old wine even if repackaged, still tickles the taste buds. One probably reminded of the same when old Bollywood numbers are moulded into amazing jazzy tunes and repackaged as Bollyjazz. Like its name, the band Bollyjazz fairly depicts the kind of music it plays and Nikhil Mawkin is the brain behind it.
As Nikhil recalls, Bollyjazz, the idea occurred to him way back in 2011. âThose days, we tried a few ideas, recorded them and put it on a platform called âMy Spaceâ. It was a big deal those days. We got a bit of criticism. I took it so seriously that I stopped pursuing it for a year. Till somebody showed up and talked about our music.â Nikhil recalls.
Jazz music in Bollywood is quite fascinating if one was to walk about the path of its chronology. It dates back to 1950s-60s where the unparalleled creative alliance between Goan musicians and Hindustani musicians who used western arrangements and Indian classical compositions.
âJazz scene in Mumbai back in the 50s and 60s was very different. It contributed a lot to Bollywood music. Back then, Indian music was basically monotonic music coming from a classical background. The film industry wanted to introduce some western elements to music and at that time jazz was the popular form of music,â explains Nikhil.
It is believed post colonialism musicians had contributed a lot with trumpets in music, and hence Jazz was an important part of Bollywood. âIt was just that the concept went away after the disco era, particularly in the 90s and the music became very different. But Jazz made its way back because of its acoustic element. It is not a new concept, it has been there throughout.â Nikhil says.
Hence when he createdÂ Bollyjazz as a concept, it was no longer in vogue in India, he recalls, adding, âWe were among the first people to bring it forward. It caught up very quickly. So much so that today there are projects and dance forms that are called Bolly-Jazz."
Nikhil began pursuing it as he saw its potential. âI was originally playing the drums and arranging music. So I was sort of holding the directorâs seat. At that time, there was a girl called Parvati, who used to sing for us. She sang with us for about two years until she had to leave the band. Thatâs when I started singing as well,â he remembers.
Nikhil and Nathalie Ramirez Tovar (who is the co-arranger and also plays the flute) are the constant members of the band. Other artists keep changing, giving its listeners a much-needed variety.
The team now has eight members â Harshit Misra(Bass), Shantanu Sudarshan(Drums), Ananddev Banerjee (Sound engineer), Fabio Carlucci(Trumpet), Chie Nishikori(Trombone), Nathalie(Flute), Nikhil Mawkin(Guitar/Voice) and Prabal Agrawal as their manager.
âIn India, there is a concept called âsession musicianâ. In a band, you can change the session musician but you cannot change the session singer. Because I was the only prominent member in the band, thatâs why I stepped up as a singer too,â Nikhil shares.
When asked how they work on this fusion, Nikhil replies, âBollywood already has mix of genres. We take old Hindi songs and add fusion to it. We take only their melodies and not their arrangement (music and lyrics). Because melody is what the audience will recall. They will immediately take to the song and as soon as you hum the music the audience hum with you.Â We then switched to improvisation (where we add a touch of Jazz to it).â
According to him, the band plays the melody from Hindi films to get the audienceâs attention and soon move to jazz improvisation section. It is the way to get the audience to relate to the music and still be able to give it the way they want.