In Conversation With Clinton Cerejo

You might not be very familiar with the name Clinton Cerejo, but the man has been making his mark on almost every major musical work in Bollywood in the past few years, as vocal arranger, music programmer, music producer and as vocalist. Just to be naming a few of his works – Enthiran, Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Saathiya, My Name Is Khan, and every work of Vishal Bharadwaj since Omkara. His faculties as vocalist started getting him limelight only recently with Kya Karoon from Wake Up Sid and Hey Ya from Karthik Calling Karthik, but the man started singing long back, rendering hits like Endrendrum Punnagai from Alaipaayuthey. Outside of movies the man has been busy in the ad field too, scoring ads for many big brands like Pepsi, Tata, Vodafone, Philips, Colgate etc.We are proud to present Music Aloud’s interview of Clinton.

Tell us a bit about your musical journey from your childhood to college, your days making ad jingles, and finally in the film industry.

I was already doing a few backing vocal sessions while in college but I never thought about taking music seriously. I was in fact to do my MBA. But by the time I graduated I changed my mind and decided to do music full time. Ad jingles and film work came much later.

You have made quite a name in the industry as a music arranger and vocal arranger. Could you please tell our readers what exactly is it that a vocal arranger does?

A vocal arranger is specific to vocals. When I’m called in as a vocal arranger, usually the track will already be programmmed and produced. I then decide on what type of harmonies and vocal textures will work with the song. Deciding whether to use a gospel choir fell or a pop vocal sound.. etc… All these decisions as well as writing harmonies and musical vocal sections are part of vocal arranging.

You started your career as a singer for ad jingles. How did the decision to become a music producer come around? How difficult was the transformation?

When I started off as a singer I quickly realised that my voice was not versatile as some of the other singers around at the time. Besides whenever I listened to music I always listened to what was going on behind the vocal. Hence the decision to make the switch. It was not easy in the beginning but it felt natural at the same time. It came to me quite automatically.

Working with Rahman is a dream for a lot of people. Your real break into mainstream film industry was because of A. R. Rahman and the meeting was quite accidental. Tell us more.

Mr Rahman accidentally heard some of my arrangements in a studio in mumbai. At the time no one told him it was me… Exactly a month later I met him at another studio for the Jana Gana Mana project. That’s when I told him that I was the one who had arranged the song he’d heard. I started working with him shortly after that.

I am personally a huge fan of Vishal Bhardwaj (of his every talent). You have worked with him on almost each one of his films. Tell us how you met him and about your experience of working with him.

I had met Vishalji a long time ago and only did vocal harmonies for him back them. Then Hitesh Sonik who used to do all Vishalji’s arrangements at the time – gave me a song to produce. Both Hitesh and Vishalji loved what I had done. Soon after they asked me to be a part of Omkara… And I’ve worked on all his films thereafter.

I read somewhere that you along with Dominique dream of producing a Gospel album. Are we going to see it coming out any time soon?

We have been writing for a long time now… But not sure when I’ll actually get down to completing and releasing an album. I think whenever it comes out will be the right time.

Along the same line, how do you look at the scene of independent music in India today? There are still very few artists that can survive as independent artist. Do you think the picture will improve in coming years?

It may change in the coming years. I hope it does because as of now – Bollywood is all powerful.

Do you like performing in live shows or would you rather do studio work?

I do enjoy live shows but I’m a lot more comfortable in the studio.

Recently you have had quite a success as a singer with hits like “Kya Karoon” and “Hey Ya!”. What do you enjoy more now, singing or production?

I like both actuallly. They’re both different things and require different faculties.

What projects are you currently working on? Any particular songs we should be looking forward too?

Watch out for the soundtrack of Saat Khoon Maaf.

We all love listening to your songs. What is it that you love listening to?

Too many favorites to name…

You were almost on the verge of entering a B-School. Have you ever thought what life would have been like if you were not a musician?

I can’t imagine what I’d be doing sitting at a desk nine to five. Thank God I’m a musician!