In Conversation with the Colonial Cousins

In 1996, a large majority of Indian music followers were still growing up to the concept of fusion, when  Krishna Nee Begane and Sa Ni Dha Pa happened and, to resort to the cliche, took the music world by storm. With an interesting mix of ghazal/film singer Hariharan’s classical style and pop singer/composer Lesle Lewis‘ western sensibilities, Colonial Cousins went on to become a rage, bagging some of the most prestigious recognitions of the time. After two more albums in 1998 and 2001, CC went off on a long break from the indie scene, only to resurface down South for a couple of movie scores in Tamil. And now, after 11 years, the Cousins are back with their newest offering, Colonial Cousins Once More. And here is an account of what the duo had to tell us about the album, their music in general, and future plans.

Special thanks to Ashok Cherian, without whose help this interview would not have happened.

“Colonial Cousins Once More”. A Colonial Cousins (non film) album after 11 years. What can we expect this time? Is it going to follow the same formula as your first three albums? Any film influences that have crept in, given that you have now composed for a couple of Tamil movies too?

Our new album is definitely going to have the old Colonial Cousins magic to it of course, but it’s all new material. It’s fresh and it has a great sound. There’s also a very diverse blend of genres including a rock blended track, a ballad, some soul and just a whole lot of great listening. I don’t think there is much film influence in this album. It’s just the two of us jamming together and creating something we both love.

Aatma came out in 2001. Modhi Vilayaadu in 2008. And now it is 2012. Why the long hiatus? And how did the movie stint happen? Was getting into movies on your mind at any point when Colonial Cousins had formed?

The long hiatus was due to our time constraints. We both started doing our own thing and working on our individual careers and we just didn’t have the time to meet and do anything substantial.

The other big issue was that there’s no platform for independent music in the country. Music/other TV channels don’t play non-film music. Ditto for radio. So what does an artiste do if there’s no airplay?

Now, the time is better, Universal Music has been a great partner, digital distribution is alive and kicking-in, indie music is back.

Movies was never really a goal at that point, all we really wanted to do was make music. (There was Chikku Bukku also by the way)

Your albums so far have had the two of you as featured artists. Any change this time? Have you featured any other artist in a prominent role, singing or otherwise?

This album is 100% pure Colonial Cousins, we’ve worked together after so long that we just had so much material to churn out. We’ve really put ourselves into this album so there isn’t anyone else on it. Collaborating with each other was the big deal.

How do you go about composing your music? Remember reading about the first album being born out of an extempore jam. Is it the same even now? Does each song come out of a jamming session?

H – We compose ourselves and the songs get composed. 🙂
It’s like a block building. Lesle adds say A, B and C. I add D. Then we re-arrange those blocks. And that’s how it happens.

L – That’s exactly how we work. In fact it’s not really work because we love doing it, we love jamming and exploring different sounds and when something amazing comes out of it, it doesn’t feel like we’ve worked. We also believe that simply jamming does not necessarily produce good music.

Your past albums have all had at least a couple of song videos. Plans regarding “Colonial Cousins Once More”?

Two videos for now. Time will tell about the rest.

You were in Trivandrum recently to seek the blessings from the goddess at Aattukaal Temple. Why Aattukaal in particular? Any special connection?

We had gone there long back… and had promised at the temple that when we do our next album, we’d present the album there. So we went back when our album was ready.

Even while Colonial Cousins was in pause mode, you both have had individual indie projects – Lesle with Tanha Sa Hoon, and Hariharan with Lafzz, to pick examples. How would you compare the two – composing as a team, and composing individually? 

H – It’s a totally different experience. Because the subjects which I do is more of ghazals & R&B.

L – The process is not very different, we doing our own thing when we’re apart but we’re also doing our own thing when we’re together. The only different would be that when we’re together we experiment and see what works, we play with each other sounds and that how we make music together.

Independent music seemed to have gone out of style in India for quite some time post the 90s, but now there seems to be a resurgence in the scene, with a lot of mainstream platforms promoting indie music. Your thoughts on this?

As answered before. This is definitely a good time for the indie music scene. In fact, that’s one of the reason we felt that this was the right time to release an album together. Audiences are opening up once again to independent music and there are definitely more platforms to support these genres now.

What other projects do you have coming up? Anything on the movie front?

Well for now we’re focusing on the launch of our current album … and hopefully a tour and then the next album hopefully soon.

To Hariharan: You sing Hindustani, Carnatic, and film songs. If you were asked for a first love among these, and why?

Ghazals. Because I have spent a lot lime learning the art, and I do the music composition. So that is a big thrill for me.

To Hariharan: Lesle has done solo composing in movies starting with Apna Aasmaan. Have you considered going that way yourself, apart from composing ghazals?

Yes I’m open to it. It just depends on the offer.

To Lesle: There was a time when you were behind the rise of singers like KK, Suneeta Rao etc. You did feature some new talent in Coke Studio last year; have you thought of launching any of them the way you did with the earlier mentioned artists?

Wait for January. There are plans to promote a young artiste. Details later.

You can follow the Colonial Cousins on twitter and facebook

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