We don’t know what we’re thinking of playing… yet,” says Swanand Kirkire and Nelson OJ, in one voice. They’ve only just met, and already, the two musicians, although of different genres, are in sync. Sitting on the floor, Kirkire, lyricist and singer of 2005 chartbuster Baawara Mann, looks to Nelson, an electronica and acoustics music programmer, to begin.
The 33-year-old has travelled from Kalina to Kalanagar to meet one of his favourite singers, carrying a guitar and the Hapi — a steel hand drum that can produce a range of sounds from its cylindrical surface. Nelson begins to strum his guitar. “This is just a riff I came up with,” he explains.
The unstructured format of this meeting seems to suit 42- year-old Kirkire just fine. “Let’s jam,” he says, and begins to hum. His beautiful voice, one that forces you to look at him, fills the room. With strong notes and indistinguishable words, Kirkire easily slips into an appearance of oblivion. Nelson, on the other hand, looks intently at Kirkire, waiting for the slightest signal to change a beat, or pitch.
Some minutes later, Kirkire fades off. “So what all do you like, in Hindi music?” asks Kirkire, lighting a cigarette. “Classical music has been a big influence,” replies Nelson. “And folk, too. I loved that track you sang, Pihu Bole,” says Nelson.
“I wrote that song,” says Kirkire. When two musicians are jamming together, they keep the words to a minimum, you realise. Spotting Nelson’s hand drum, Kirkire’s eyes light up. “May I?” he asks, as he picks up the Hapi from the settee behind him. Tapping it, first tentatively, then with greater vigour, Kirkire lets loose the promise of a tune.
Nelson catches it on his guitar. “Akhiyaan,” Kirkire sings, stretching the note to an impossibly high pitch and keeps it there. “In your eyes,” Nelson begins to sing an improvised chorus. “I don’t have any lyrics planned.
For me, both come together,” Kirkire says, smiling apologetically. Nelson says it’s the same with him. Slightly mystified, we ask Kirkire to clarify, but Nelson speaks up. “He means that the lyrics and the tune emerge together, for him.”
But that isn’t how Bollywood works, is it, we enquire. No, Kirkire says, ruefully. “Very often, I’m given a tune and asked to write lyrics that fit. But my best music comes when I’m jamming. You never know what comes up.”
All the while, Nelson has kept a riff going, which Kirkire suddenly picks up. “Dheere chalna, haulein chalna… ta da da da da,” Kirkire sings. Nelson’s guitar has transformed to sound like the perfect accompaniment to what is turning into a folksy song with a catchy, upbeat lilt.
“Let me record this,” Kirkire says, fishing out his Blackberry. Moments later, he is back to singing the same snatch of tune, picking up from where he left off. “See? This is what I mean,” smiles Kirkire.