“Anybody, anywhere understands honesty”
The sincerity and conviction with which she said those words about their music left an immediate impact on me. This Mumbai-based duo are not only incredible artists, they are incredible human beings as I realized in the rather honest few minutes that I got with them.
Monica Dogra (Shaa’ir) and Randolph Correia (Func), one of the nation’s best artists, were at The High Spirits in Pune as part of their 4-city mini India tour and we weren’t going to let go of an opportunity to talk to them. I reached the venue two hours prior to the gig along with Anurag Banerjee, our photographer. Monica was warm as ever when we introduced ourselves and called us right inside so we could sit down and chat with Randolph and her.
I began by asking Monica about what inspires her writing style since it is one of the most talked-about aspects.
Monica – My feelings. I feel too much. But often a lot of the music we write is inspired by Randolph’s beat and the rhythm. When you try and match words to the rhythm, odd things start to come out. If you hear Randolph play the guitar, a lot of the rhythm structure is really complex. That’s why we also have to play with the nation’s best drummers. So there is two parts to it – my feelings and the rhythm.
Talking of what they feel about Bollywood and the current music scene, you could tell that they were quite positive.
Monica – The Bollywood industry is really powerful. What I love about what’s really happening right now, trying to think positively, is that people are trying to take responsibility for that power unlike in the past. There’s an overall sentiment of just ‘give the audience what they want’ rather than actually making art or music that the artists truly want; which I think is then treating your audience like they are beneath you.
Randolph – Monica and I get that a lot. People look at us and go “Oh shit! They’re Bollywood now, what the fuck!” I’m going to be harsh because I have nothing to do with Bollywood. It’s like a disease, a cancer filled with bad cells which needs to be replaced. It’s getting a little better though – people are making better films and music and are standing for what they believe in.
Monica cuts in to say that the mentality of people in the industry is rather hilarious for having assumed that she’d now only be a playback singer or a Bollywood actress after the few associations with the industry. Referring to the Natya Shastra, she stresses on mastering one art to increase your capacity of doing another.
“It’s not like you can only do one thing! All of your talents are interconnected.”
Randolph – Instead of looking at Bollywood like the top of the mountain, people should look at it as just another kind of music. Any mainstream scene is a collection of the average state of mind. There are obviously people who advance further and that’s beyond the reach of the common man’s understanding. So that’s always termed as either ‘elitist music’, ‘underground music’ or ‘indie music’. The mainstream cannot refresh itself without getting music from the counter-culture. All levels of the industry should just do what they believe in and the judgement shouldn’t be there. People judge a lot out here. Who are we to judge, we are nobody!
All the indie folk out there – don’t be dissatisfied or disillusioned by the mainstream and don’t think that you have to battle that. Because it’s a battle that you can’t win, really.
“If the mainstream and the underground fight less, they can make bigger change, for the better.”
The duo agrees that they think more internationally than just limiting themselves to what is here – “We just want to make good music and show that there is a level of brilliance, a level of poetry and art and creativity. India is not just butter chicken and Bollywood. It’s a lot more than that. So we’re just being good and making good music.”
Switching the topic to technology, I asked their opinion of media like Skype and the increasing number of online jam sessions to which the duo had differing views.
Randolph – I’ve had one of my best parties on Skype. A friend of mine in Leeds, one in Amsterdam and me in India – we just kept our computers on and were drinking beer and smoking for like 3 hours. It’s a party, it’s better than jamming. The level of intimacy or closeness makes no difference. Technology should be looked at as a medium. It’s something better than nothing. Someone sits at home going, “Oh fuck, I wish I could jam with someone in London!” but now it’s there so dude, go JAM!
Monica – Yea well you can’t blame things on technology but there is something undeniably wonderful about sitting in someone’s physical presence. I think the physical aspect is important but it’s more about what inspires you or how you feel. I love performing live and I don’t think I would get the same thrill in the studio or elsewhere.
We then talked about how many international bands refuse to play in India because of the substandard arrangements. When asked if Indian bands are indifferent to these arrangements and it’s time they take a stand, they agreed that bands do take a stand. “We show up at a venue and we don’t play till things aren’t right” – this stood true as they were just as firm even during the sound check after the interview.
Randolph – It’s shady organizers and shady middlemen. People here want to pocket too much money. It’s just a business and more about gain than the music.
Monica – There is no mark that is set by the west and in fact that hangover affects us at a subconscious level in every single way. And the second we take ownership on what it means to be Indian, we’ll be in a really good place. And festivals like NH7, they’re not trying to mimic something done in the west and look at that festival! It was wonderful! The most amazing shows that I’ve staged have been at Indian venues with Indian audiences and my band is fully Indian.
Talking of internationals acts and who they would like to collaborate with, Randolph says, “We would love to do an album with Major Lazer, Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood [Radiohead], Massive Attack and Modeselektor from Germany. There are so many interesting producers now that are changing the face of music.”
Apart from their musical brilliance, Shaa’ir and Func are known for their distinct sense of style. I was curious to know about the stylist behind this.
Randolph – We do our own stuff. I ensure to wear glasses because I love funk music and it’s just in the tradition of funk. It’s a ritualistic thing and also a mark of identity which I don’t have so I change different glasses. It’s more of the music and the visual we want to present. It’s not like we’re dressing up to look cool, it’s just how everything fits in together.
Monica – I collaborate with people when I can. I love collaborating, period. I love combining and synergizing. But I do spearhead all my concepts and whatever it is that I wear and most of it is individualistic to me. I visualize the sets, how I want to look, how I want to feel and then I pick. You look at one human being or even within yourself; there are infinite possibilities within sound and personality. When we design a set, we’re trying to realize another possibility. Aesthetic is a huge part of it.
I would have loved to chat further but they had to get their sound check done. The truth in their words and the sincerity with which they present themselves is something that is so deep and positively refreshing. Monica and Randolph are the kind of people that make you think even after they are done talking and well, there you have some well-spent moments with two amazing individuals.
Photographs by Anurag Banerjee