From Bollywood to Hollywood: Beth Hilton's Q&A with Producer, Composer & Engineer Samir Bodhi
Beth: Hi Samir, I know that your new album has been getting a lot of great reviews and many compliments. The subhead is “A musical journey into Awakening” which is really beautiful and the CD is a six panel digipak, which is very nice. It's a very modern design for this kind of music, and I think that is part of what's been resonating with people.
It has a traditional sound, as well as World Fusion, and incredible musicians, so we’ll get into all of that. But it also has an ambient warmth as well. So, it's a very unique mix that you've come up with for your debut as a composer/producer.
Samir: Thank you, yes.
Beth: Samir Bodhi is your artistic name, you’ve been a resident of Southern California for several decades, and you’re a tenured professor as well. Wow! Your music life includes sharing your talents as a guitarist, composer, producer and recording engineer on a multitude of projects, including and involving legendary Indian musicians such as your wife Madhumita Chatterjee - a renowned Bollywood singer, and of course for your new project Stairway to Nirvana. So that is quite a vast background. You go from being a tenured professor to this very creative composer and engineer.
Samir: Yes, this has always been a parallel to me. After getting my Ph.D, I became an academic; I love to teach and do my research, and I work with a lot of graduate and doctoral students. At the same time, I'm married to my wife who is a full-time musician, singer, performer, teacher, and we do gigs together, we do concerts together. So I have always been performing on stage, and producing her music. The music has been going along parallel with all my research and my teaching activities.
Beth: So is it a comfortable balance? Does it balance your left brain/right brain in a creative way? And does it bring you relaxation at the same time?
Samir: Yes, It is a perfect balance for me. And again, my specialization is in computer science. So, ever since music went digital and the two worlds came together, it embraced software, recording, everything is what I'm very comfortable with. The digital music world has been a great change for me.
Beth: Yes that’s the perfect storm. Everything came together in recent decades?
Samir: Yes, it did.
Beth: You've been in this world for a long time. Did you see it coming and when? Was it pre-2000?
Samir: The first composition that I had shared on the internet was in 1997. There used to be a site or a company called mp3.com. I believe you are familiar? And in the world music category was one of our songs sung by my wife. And on that song was a very famous musician who played the sarod called Aashish Khan. That song was actually number one in the World Music category for like 30 days. So that was my first realization that, “ok, things are going digital.” Of course, I anticipated it, but I didn't expect that the world of CDs would disappear to the extent that it has.
Beth: Right. I don’t think the mp3 folks did either; one of my friends was an engineer on the team who developed Mp3 tech, and this was not the vision they had for it. They really just wanted a more convenient file sharing system. So, now the digital world is here and you are able to embrace it because of your gifts and knowledge of Computer Sciences, and YET you're also out there playing live, which is so great!
|Samir Bodhi in the studio.|
Samir: I love to play live, which hasn't happened for the last nine months as we are all in lockdown mode. I am seeing the growth of digital concerts which is good, but I don't see how it can replace the ambience and feeling of a live concert.
Beth: Yes, and especially with world percussion, you really feel it. When you're talking about healing music and vibration you can never quite replace that power; there’s no substitute for a live performance.
Samir: Fortunately, all the tracks on Stairway to Nirvana were recorded live in India right before the pandemic happened. My wife and I were both in India, in both Calcutta and Mumbai, and the musicians came to the studio. So, everything you will hear on that are live instruments. We were very lucky timing wise; I thoroughly anticipated that we would go into lockdown. If we had not finished recording right then, we would have figured out how to use samples and other things. But there are no samples on this, just live recorded tracks.
Beth: I guess that's why the word “warm” keeps coming to me to describe the vibe; it’s a very warm sounding album, and yet a little bit edgy. It has a little bit of sexiness for lack of a better word, you know? It's kind of a little loungy, too sometimes yet very modern.
Samir: Yes, there are five tracks; some enjoy the lounge music type, some of the tracks are very new age, and some feel quite meditative, especially the ‘Om’ track. We have a variety of different things on this album, I’m happy people are enjoying it right now.
Beth: Is this a message album?
Samir: I think one of the reasons why I did this album, was that in the last several years -- being an immigrant in the US -- I was very disturbed with this rise of anti-immigration and racism. The Black Lives Matter movement is so important, and I kind of felt that this is America, right? America stands for the best, however, we were drifting away and there was no peace or unity. In the back of my mind I always felt like I wanted to produce and create an album which, when somebody listens to it, they feel inner peace. It can calm people down, it can help them reflect on the goodness of human beings. So that was my backstory.
Then when I reached out to some of my fellow musicians in India, actually in a zoom call, this was in 2019. I was telling them about all of this. They were not very aware of the New Age genres. They are very much mainstream commercial musicians in Bollywood, so I was trying to educate them and inform them that this is the type of music that we would start to work on, and I shared some of the famous New Age artists, like Kitaro. I was kind of bringing them up to date to where the New Age World is right now. And then I said, “that's what they have done, now we have to do our own.”
|Friends in the studio, laying down tracks pre-pandemic.|
Beth: Very Interesting! And you definitely did your own thing. I like that there are longer tracks on here, too...some that are seven minutes plus. We have Tranquility, Om, Harmony, Peace, and Nirvana. So it sounds like -- and I think I've heard you refer to this in other interviews -- this album is about moving through stages of life with the music. Would you like to expand on that a little bit for us?
Samir: At the very beginning I had already come up with the names of the tracks. And In my mind I want ‘Tranquility’ to give tranquility and calmness to people. We need that calmness. And then I went on to ‘Om’ which is a very sacred symbol, a sacred sound which is a chant, and that's when you get into this meditative feeling. The third track was ‘Harmony’ because I really felt the world needs to come together for harmony. There is so much divisiveness that I was just so bothered by. The fourth track is ‘Peace’ which is a call for unity because we are one humankind under God. And the last track is ‘Nirvana’ which is basically the enlightenment, confirming that you go through life, through the stages of life and you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. And if you look at the album cover, that was the full idea; the stairway through light and the om symbol at the end. That is the idea behind the artwork, done by a friend of mine.
Beth: I love that. I would like to point everybody to the fact that the full album is releasing January 15th, 2021. Are you happy with the reviews to date? They’re quite good! JW Vibe wrote, “The title and vibe of each track on ‘Stairway to Nirvana’ each reflects one aspect of what Samir and his Ensemble believe the world needs to work through in these troubled times and achieve an enduring sense of nirvana in the here and now.” I know that other writers like Dick Metcalf, Contemporary Fusion Reviews have said things like “this is one of the best albums for this year, and for this time.
Samir: I’m very grateful for the terrific reception by music writers, yes. I didn’t know what to expect.
Beth: I wanted to ask you a little bit about the phenomenal musicians who are on this album with you, before we say goodbye today. Can you highlight a few performers, and some of their special contributions?
Samir: Absolutely. First of all, these are all very, very, very close friends. I have either composed and recorded with them in the past, or I have even performed live onstage concerts with them. So to begin with I’ll mention Sanjoy Das, his nickname Babi, we call him Babi. He is the arranger and he's just a phenomenal musician in Bollywood. He works with pretty much every music director and composer in Bollywood today. He is the busiest of the busiest musicians, but is like a younger brother and working with Sanjoy has been a delight. I share my concept and vision, and he's up and running, creating different kinds of sounds. So Sanjoy is a guitarist, he played guitar and bass on these tracks. Rajeeb Chakraborty and I go way back, twenty years. He is a sarod player, he's also an educationist, and a brilliant composer himself. He and I, and my wife Madhumita Chatterjee did a live concert tour in 2019; we had 20 different concerts in California. I’ve known him for a long time. Suvodeep Mukherjee sang the ‘Om’ song and composed the song with me! He is a fabulous classically-trained singer; he and my wife released an album in 2015, and I have known Suvodeep since then. When he was in the US we also did a live concert with him.
|Samir Bodhi, singer Madhumita Chatterjee and lyricist Rajiv Dutta|
Then you have a sarangi player - a very unique Indian instrument - played by Pankaj Mishra. Pankaj and I have perhaps performed together in at least a dozen concerts all over the US. The lyricist is Rajiv Dutta. He wrote lyrics to all the songs that I composed for a Bollywood album for my wife called ”Tum Bin,” with the legend Kumar Sanu, who was the number one Bollywood singer for like 15 years in a row! I have known Rajiv Dutta for a long time, we are quite close. Subhajyoti Guha, the tabla player, is also a good close friend of mine. He is a very, very brilliant tabla player who is really making waves in India right now. And of course, you know my wife, Madhumita, is the special guest artist.
Beth: Don’t forget her!
Samir: Of course, no! She did a brilliant rendition of the ‘Peace” song. Ah, I should also mention that this was the first time that I had an opportunity to work with Biswadeep Chatterjee, who's a mixing engineer in Bollywood. He is probably the biggest name in Bollywood. He has won 8 International awards, and four times the Oscar's equivalent in India. So he's an absolute gem, and a fantastic sound designer.
Beth: Wow, you are truly blessed, with all these absolutely amazing people around you.
Samir: Absolutely. And the mastering was done by John Polito here in LA, so that was another honor, to work with John.
Beth: Yes, yes. His studio is just blocks away from where I am right now!
Samir: These are all great, great musicians in their own rights, but it was an absolute pleasure to collaborate with them and work with them on these tracks.
Beth: Well, they delivered. It’s a very rich, rich album in both sound and in spirit. I'm going to enjoy some downtime just listening to it. I think it's a very good album for immersive meditation. I don't know if that was your intention, or if it was just for relaxing and enjoying.
Samir: It’s for both, but I definitely would say relaxation and meditation is what I had in mind. I wanted people to feel tranquility and calmness. Let people relax, and at the same time, they can be very reflective. Especially with covid and all the things that have happened. I hope that it gives people a good calming effect.
Beth: Yes, we have so much time at home, and we need to keep our homes serene and calm amidst all trials and tribulations of homeschooling and homework. Seeking out the right music is more important than ever. Thank you, too, for your positive intention to bring peace and to get America back on track through your musical contribution.
Samir: Thank you. It's a very small contribution on my end.
Beth: If everyone could do it...we’d be in great shape. A little something right? This final question goes directly to that , and I suspect I know the answer, but how would you say music has changed your path? Can you imagine if you had just stuck to the Computer Sciences and not incorporated your musical interests into your life?
Samir: You know that that's a great question and I'll tell you that, in my academic research work and computer science, I actually have written a book on something called the signs of design. And design, in my case, it is technology design that I do to solve problems of society. There is a certain level of thinking that I have developed over the years on doing design science research. And, now I can tell you that the same thinking has manifested into my music. Essentially, in my technology world I am dealing with health care problems, or energy problems, and I'm designing information and communication technology solutions to solve those problems. Now when I come to my music, I am seeing problems around me and I'm still doing the same thinking, such as “How do I design a track? How do I build something that can solve that particular problem?” But there’s a lot of overlap, and as you said, it is the left brain/right brain kind of coming together. So without music, I don't think I would flourish as an academic scientist, and without my scientific thinking, I don't think I would do full justice to the music.
Beth: That’s a great point. I know that you also have some videos that you've already created that are very interesting so can you tell us your YouTube channel please?
Samir: Yes, on YouTube, I am under my full legal name Samir Chatterjee.
Beth: Well, thank you so much, Samir, I really appreciate this time with you today. Congratulations to you and the entire team on a gorgeous contribution to new age music.
Samir : Absolutely. It has been a pleasure talking to you Beth. Thank you so much.
Beth: You’re most welcome.
Contact Samir: https://www.samirbodhi.com/