Published: 25th November 2017
Crooning for climate change: Mohan Kannan's next is a song based on an issue concerning all of us
Mohan Kannan, the vocalist of the band Agnee, was an alumnus of XIMB and is the singer of India's first song on climate change. In a chat, he talks about the song, Bollywood music and more
From singing Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s melodious qawwali Yeh Jo Halka Halka while in XIMB, Odisha, to singing the iconic theme song of MTV Splitsvilla’s Aahatein, the lead singer of Agnee, Mohan Kannan, has come a long way. So much so that now, he has lent his voice to Main Banjar, India’s first climate change-based song, for what is probably India’s first feature film on the same, Kadvi Hawa. This also happens to be one of the first songs put out by Drishyam, a motion picture studio, through Drishyam Play, which aims to curate and promote fresh music from different parts of the country. The lyrics of this song, Kannan tells us, have touched him deeply. "While I'm responding to your question, I'm still affected by it; it's so beautifully written," he says. So, we spoke to him about his memories at XIMB, Main Banjar and Bollywood. Excerpts:
Can you tell us about your experience of studying at XIMB?
For me, XIMB was about music, badminton, making wonderful friends and learning stuff that I could apply not only in my seven years of being a banker, but also in my career as a musician. XIMB was the place I first met Parikrama as a student-fan, who called them to perform at our festival in 1998, without having a clue that we’d be collaborating 12 years later on the first song Koco and I composed together, I Believe.
I don't think there can be any other stance on climate change than the acceptance of the fact that it is real. We better do something to leave behind a better planet
How did it feel to sing Main Banjar? How did it happen?
Mukta Bhatt (the lyricist of Main Banjar and also the Head of Drishyam Play) is a close friend and had spoken to me about this song. I realised that the lyrics were powerful and intense. I remember reacting to the line Dhoondhoon Kahaan Raahaton Ka Pauna Sa Samandar. Then I heard the song and met Santosh Jagdale, the composer, and loved the entire creative work even more.
Shoot me: The shoot for Main Banjar helped Kannan realise the amount of work actors put in and he has newfound respect for them because of it
Indian music continues to be associated with mainstream Bollywood music. Who can change this and how?
I’ve always maintained that Bollywood is NOT a genre of music. It is the largest platform in the country and there’s no reason for anyone to change it. In fact, with directors and producers being more keen to work with new talent, there is an opportunity for the different genres of music too. This keenness to work with new talent is, however, a double-edged sword. When producers and directors employ various new composers to compose one song each in a film of six songs, it increases the pressure on the new guys to try to create that 'hit'. And thus, composers start playing it safe by composing songs that are either love songs or dance songs. More often than not, when a single music composer works on the entire film’s soundtrack, you will find variety in the songs, and the filmmaker will have the option of actually taking the film’s narrative forward through the music, as opposed to just inserting songs to promote the film.
Bollywood has also created this amusing theory among music industry businessmen (labels primarily) that actors sell music better than musicians. Sunny Leone, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and others are the faces for songs that are heard, and with most music being consumed now in the video format, labels seem to prefer to sign on actors. The most amusing/irritating thing is that this actually works.
First glimpse: The poster of Kadvi Hawa
How do we turn this around?
The way to address this is to invest in the industry and as musicians, to invest in ourselves and try to create a brand value of musicians equivalent to film stars. Musicians need to join with the business guys of Indian music — the labels, the societies, event organisers, sponsors and so on — to invest in the creation of quality music, concept-led videos and great stage performances with high-quality production.
Playlist: Kannan's current favourites are Hallelujah (both the Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley versions), Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo and Phir Le Aaya Dil
Back in 2011, you had said that you discourage new bands from releasing videos online as it's too vast a medium. Do you still feel the same?
I still do, unless they have the financial muscle to promote it heavily. New artists/bands don’t usually have the luxury of financial muscle or of a set base of listeners they have built over time. Agnee has several million views on YouTube and about half a million likes on Facebook and we still don’t release songs just online. We like to release a song through a platform that can do justice to the marketing of that song. I think musicians should never assume their job is done just by creating a great song; they owe it to the song and themselves to get as many people as possible to hear it.
I’m a musician doing something I love and getting paid for it. I’m where I want to be
Could you tell us about your upcoming projects?
It’s been a while since we’ve released our music and there are several numbers that are set to come out in a flurry, starting this year. I'm currently working on an album of my mother, Vasantha Kannan's, Carnatic compositions, to be sung by my sister, Calcutta K Srividya. I'm playing the mridangam on the album and I just can't wait to get started. I continue to sing songs for films and those are releasing quite frequently, and I've just launched my Bollywood live act, Mohan Kannan Live, where I'm working with a bunch of super talented musicians to create a live set of film songs that I love to sing. This will include my own songs from Bollywood, as well as covers of the greats.