Flautist Extraordinaire: In Conversation with Naveen Kumar


Pic courtesy: Varun Thotathil

“Naveen has given the flute a new identity, creating extraordinary music with his unique genius.”A R Rahman‘s quote for the cover of Naveen’s debut fusion album called Fluid. Rahman couldn’t have summed up in better words the man who has represented a paramount part of his music, from Roja to Raavan, and is even as I write this, with him as part of his World tour somewhere in Europe. Not many know however, that Naveen has been in the industry much before Rahman came in, and over the nearly three decades he has been around, has played for almost every major composer from South to North, and even outside of India. Kal Ho Na Ho‘s instrumental theme, Zara Zara from RHTDM, Talvin Singh‘s Butterfly (Veena) – if you happen to like any of these tracks there isn’t a chance you would miss Naveen’s woodwind magic in each of them. So here is a nice way to engage your lazy Sunday afternoon as we take you through Naveen’s musical journey in an exclusive interview. For best results play some of Naveen’s classics in the background. 🙂 We would advise you not to miss the videos at the end, especially the last two.

You have been in the film industry since 1983. But not much is known about your career

before the point when Roja’s music took everyone by storm. Can you tell us a bit about your

works till then? How did you happen to join hands with A R Rahman for Roja?

Mr.Ilayaraja introduced me in his film Thaavani Kanavugal. With him I played for many hits like Raasathi Unnai and the movie My Dear Kuttichaathan. I made use of Chinese flute for the background music of My Dear Kuttichaathan. Also played for a flute-oriented film called Sirivennela. I composed music for 7 Telugu films and 35 devotional albums. Being a free-lance musician I used to work in those days with the Telugu music director Mr. Ramesh Naidu. It was there that I met A R Rahman. He then invited me to play for him. I am proud to say that I have been working with him from his commercials stage.

Lets talk about your 2 private albums, Fluid and Cafe Fluid. Both of them had a lot of classical

influence to them. For instance Mohanam or Fantasyflute is a pure ad-lib sort of a track. So

how much of the albums were pre-composed and how much of them were sort of like live

jamming sessions?

Actually my working style when composing is slightly different. I draw inspiration from simple things. And try to sound more natural. Giving it a little storyboard and then putting tune. Being a self taught musician I am influenced by different kinds of music, so I am able to express myself easy with the music I compose.

How has the response been so far to Cafe Fluid? What do you think of the direction in

which fusion music, more specifically classical fusion, is headed?

Cafe Fluid is doing wonderfully. It has found a place in the music charts and I am very happy for it. Nowadays people are more open taking in different forms of music and interacting with it. Its great that we are able to understand the beauty of music. Music has no langauge, so whatever comes from the heart with pure elements will definitely be accepted, whether it is classical or world. Specially in case of music like classical, people like it because that is their tradition. So its fun to make such music.

A lot of your compatriots, like Sivamani, Louiz Banks, Mandolin Srinivas etc are part of a lot

of fusion ensembles. Are you part of any such group? Or are the film assignments keeping

you too busy for all that?

I am performing with the title Fluid in public. Have done a couple of shows locally, Jaipur and Delhi. Also being a free-lance musician I have also played with Mr. Sivamani, Louiz Banks, Sultan ji, Mandolin Srinivas etc. We have done a show with Mr. John McLaughlin. I have also performed in places like Blue Frog Mumbai. But I am mainly into sessions with composers, working in main stream Bollywood and commercials.

Tell us about the experience of performing live with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

It was a wonderful opportunity to be playing along with them. With our music (ARR’s compositions), and the Symphony playing with a lots of dynamics and different variations being introduced by them it sounded so..ultimate! I was so thrilled to play, felt a sort of happiness equivalent to coming back home.

You have worked with almost every leading composer in India over your long career, though,

your best contributions almost always happen for ARR. How would you compare the

experience of working with ARR and with others?

I am so well branded as ARR’s musician that whatever I play gets likened to ARR’s tunes. Of course I always try to give my best output with every one. All my work with Pritam, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Sajid-Wajid, Salim Sulaiman and others have been very good. Dhoom,Veer Zaara, Taare Zameen Par, Rab Ne Banaa Di Jodi, Mujhse Shaadi Karogi..lots..
Not many people know that I have also sung seconds for about 20 songs in Tamil, for ARR, MM Keeravani and Deva. Songs like Kaadhal Sadugudu from Mani Sir’s Alaipaayuthey and Deva’s Salam Gulamu from Hello.

Flute is an instrument which is highly expressive and capable of portraying a complete range

of emotions. How much of the same depends on the skill/technique and how much on the

instrument itself?

It needs a personal touch for any instrument, the way you play. An instrument is an instrument at the end of it. Unless you try to put ur heart on it it will never sound its best. This requires a lot of practice, and belief in God and his works.

Following from the above question, from the vast array of flutes that you use, which is

your favourite and why?

I like the bamboo flute the most, because that is the one I have had from the beginning. It was presented to me by my dad Sri. Dharma Chari. And whenever I have a very sorrowful or very happy time in life I play it and get comfort from it.

What was the inspiration behind “The Naveen Flute”? Are you working on more sounds/flute


Once in studio while I was doing riyaz I noticed a sort of vibrating sounds, some kind of reverb. I found that it is coming from a guitar. So I thought why not introduce a string by the side of the flute. Thats how it started. I also invented a glass flute and an overtone flute. A lot more are coming up.

Could you tell us a bit about the current/upcoming projects you are engaged in?

Right now I am travelling with ARR for his world tour. Heading to Europe this week. Have done a couple of sessions for Pritam n SEL. Other than that I am doing a devotional album. And also my 3rd flute album. I am in fact looking forward to Hollywood, and have been getting a few offers.

Which are your favourites from tracks you have played for?

Some of my favourite tracks are Bombay Theme, Meenaxi movie album, Veer Zaara, Kal Ho Naa Ho title track, Harris Jayaraj‘s Zara Zara from Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein and Jab We Met

Just out of curiosity, is there any ARR project that you have had to miss?

Actually I have missed some of his projects, though very few. My last work was for Raavan, Khilli Re. I moved to Mumbai 7 years back, so whenever I go to Chennai I record projects for him if thats manageable, or at times when there is urgent requirement. For movies like Couples Retreat I played from Mumbai and he recorded me sitting in L.A. Having said that I am sure he doesn’t miss me. Whether I play for him or not he will complete his projects with full satisfaction.

Sonal says:

Nice interview. Pleasure to listen to him any time. Very soul stirring. I still feel he has not got his due. Wish him all the best for a very bright future.